How to Change a Habit

We’re now just a few weeks away from New Year’s Day, when many of us make resolutions to change some aspect of our lives. This is the perfect time to read The Power of Habit by Pulitzer prize-winner Charles Duhigg!  It’s a fascinating look at how habits form and how to alter them.  I discovered this work through my book club last month, and am so glad that we read it.  I found it absorbing, highly informative and even compulsively readable – excellent anecdotes -- in many instances.  Duhigg breaks his subject into three parts: the habits of 1) individuals, 2) organizations and 3) societies.

In his discussion of the habits of individuals, Duhigg explains the “habit loop”. According to Duhigg, the habit loop begins with a “cue” or a trigger which causes the brain to initiate a “routine”, which is some pre-established behavior, emotion or mental state.  Performing the routine leads to a “reward” which is often a sense of well-being. In this first section of his book, Duhigg includes the example of a man who has lost much of his memory but still has the ability to form new habits.  He also examines how former NFL coach Tony Dungy integrated an understanding of habit formation into his players’ training, turning a losing team into Super Bowl champions.

Describing the role that habits play in organizations, Duhigg explains that when former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill became CEO of the struggling Alcoa, he encouraged the creation of a “keystone” habit among workers, which then initiated that company’s dramatic turnaround.  A keystone habit is one that tends to encourage other positive habits.  Duhigg also provides thought-provoking examples of how companies such as Starbucks and Target use an understanding of habits in their employee training and marketing.  In his discussion of the habits of societies, Duhigg provides insight into the role that habits played in the success of the Civil Rights Movement’s Montgomery Bus Boycott and the rise in popularity of Saddleback Church of Orange County.  Duhigg closes his book with a short guide for readers on changing our own habits.

I found The Power of Habit to be a great example of the most engaging nonfiction.  It is clearly written, reinforces its key points in multiple ways and provides anecdotes which connect the reader to the topic of habit formation.  From my own personal experience I know that it would be a great choice for any adult book club, as any reader can relate to and talk about how habits affect their own life, family, social circle and/or workplace.  I think that some teen readers would also find this book intriguing, and of course a good grounding for later success.  Overall I think that anyone who is seeking to make changes in their life will find The Power of Habit to be very helpful.

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