One of my personal goals for 2014 is to read a new book every couple of weeks. I started the year off with Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit.
Why did I read this?
I first became interesting in this book after hearing two interviews with the author. The first from NPR, and the second from Ramit Sethi. I think psychology is interesting, even more if I can use an understanding of that psychology to help reach my goals, or help others reach theirs.
What did I think?
The Power of Habit is easy reading. It is largely anecdotal, sharing its message in narrative form. When the book tells of someone who acquired, broke, or changed a habit, it tells their story. When it talks of the psychology/neurology behind the habit, it tells the story of how the science was conducted and the conclusions discovered. When it speaks of powerful organizational and social change that can happen because of habits, it tells stories of companies, churches, and nations who have done exactly that. Some of the stories include:
- How a woman gave up smoking and drinking in one day
- How another woman slowly acquired a multi-million dollar gambling addiction over the course of years, encouraged by a casino that understood the psychology of her habits far better than she did
- How an alcoholic learned about the principles of habit formation and used them to start the largest organization dedicated to positive personal change in the world
- How Alcoa aluminum multiplied its profits 5x by focusing on an organizational habit that had nothing to do with sales, margins, shareholder value, or even profit
- How Michael Phelps set a world record in the 200-meter butterfly at the 2008 Olympics despite an “equipment malfunction” which left him blind for most of the race
- How the habits of individuals and groups contributed to the Montgomery bus boycott, and ultimately the civil rights movement of the 1960s
- How Target knows what products to advertise to you before you even know you want them
- …And a lot more
In my opinion, the book started strong, and then lost momentum towards the end. I think, though, that it’s because the ideas of personal habit formation and change strike close to home for me – they are things I can do. I don’t run a large organization or have any major social cause to champion, so the sections on organizational and social habits were a little less interesting (though I did find Alcoa’s story, and Target’s, to be absolutely fascinating). The book concludes with an appendix that teaches an actionable system for habit change, and walks through how the author discovered, diagnosed, analyzed, and changed an afternoon snacking habit that was causing him to gain weight.
Would I recommend it?
If you’re interested in psychology, behavior, and things like that, then YES, I would absolutely recommend it. Also, if you’re a parent, or you run an organization like a business or church, you and your family/organization could gain a lot from you reading this book.
The Power of Habit explores how habits work, how we can change them, and how we can use them to our advantage. If you want to change something about any aspect of your life, you should read it.