Book Review: The Power of Habit

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Duhigg, Charles. The power of habit : why we do what we do in life and business. Random House, 2012.

In January, Duke University’s wellness program sponsored a 10 week contest called the Duke Moving Challenge.  Duke employees formed over 200 teams who competed for “most steps taken” or “most pounds lost.”  The Ford Library staff finished 7th in the category “most minutes exercised,” yet four months after the contest ended, only half the library staff is still exercising  — the same people who were exercising regularly before the program started.*

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, would not be surprised.  Using recent research in brain science, Duhigg explains how a sequence of actions becomes automatic and a habit is formed.   For every habit there is a three step loop — the cue, the routine and the reward.   After repeating this loop a number of times, people begin to anticipate the reward.  They crave the reward, which then powers the habit loop.   Once this cycle is formed, it becomes resistant to change.  But once the formula is known, it is possible to recognize a habit and to understand how to modify it.  And conscious decisions to cultivate good routines can reprogram other bad habits.

After discussing how personal habits are created and changed, Duhigg turns to habits in companies and organizations.  He shows how leaders can transform their organizations by identifying keystone habits, those that change the dynamic throughout the organization.  These leaders establish a culture where new values are engrained and change flourishes.  Duhigg also discusses the habits of societies, explaining how social movements are created and maintained.

The Power of Habit is an engrossing book.  Author Duhigg weaves stories of people, companies and brands with studies of brain science to produce a work that is highly recommended for readers who want to transform their lives by making simple modifications.

*So what happened during the Duke Moving Challenge?  During the contest, it was fun to update our results on a website and to check our progress against other teams every day.  But at the end of the contest, the website came down and we got rid of our pedometers.  Our esprit de corps dissipated.   For exercise novitiates, the reward was gone.   Anyone already in the habit of exercising, however, had previously developed an intrinsic reward, the sense of accomplishment or the satisfaction of taking care of our health.  These people continued to crave that emotional boost every day, contest or not, so it is no surprise that these people are still exercising.

Also available in audiobook format.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

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