What I liked about ‘The Power of Habit’ is that it’s not a self-help book. It’s a thought provoking look at how things either become very successful or are devastatingly destroyed because of habits. Aside from a brief Appendix (called Reader’s Guide to Using the Ideas in the Book), New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg provides a framework for understanding how habits are formed, changed, and how they affect our lives. One thing is for sure, we all have habits and they can either work for us or against us.
Since Duhigg is a reporter, he knows how to make the science interesting and he doesn’t stick to the usual demons like smoking and drinking. Why do I distractedly start driving my route to work when I’m actually headed somewhere else? Why does toothpaste make your mouth tingle? Would we drive ourselves crazy if we had to think each time about which shoe to put on first, where to leave our keys, or decide to buckle up? Our brains use habits to make life more manageable.
I enjoyed the chapter on advertising and how habits have helped those in the marketplace analytically predict what we will buy next. Duhigg talks about music and how radio stations manage their playlists to keep our listening habits happy. He looks at society as a whole, and how behavioural aspects have even affected our communities and social movements. The author uses examples of those who have committed crimes because of habitual conditioning. Is the insecurity in South Africa so insidious that Oscar Pistorius automatically reached for a gun and discharged it when danger threatened? My example, not the author’s, and of course in his case it may just be a clever defence. Either way it involves habit.
When Duhigg explains the neurology, he points out how cravings and willpower work. He offers practical advice but not in a “one size fits all” way. The author provides the tools to examine your own habits and help you decide which ones to change and which are already working well for you. It’s simple. Your habits should be what you choose them to be. That’s powerful.
If you don’t have time to read the book, just watch the 15 minute TED Talk!