Thursday, January 23, 2014
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
If you like: self-help * lifehacking * cookies
The Power of Habit seeks to help readers understand why they do many of the things they do throughout their lives. Many of us have created habits without realizing it. Large parts of our day have been conveniently automated by our brains, but sometimes we need to recalibrate those automations in order to achieve the best results. Though this automation sounds problematic, it is often very helpful, and frees up our minds to focus on more complex tasks and intellectual achievement.
Determining what you do by habit and by choice can be difficult. All too often people find themselves acting out habits that they don’t even notice they have. Uncertainty is problematic, and so our brains quickly learn to apply prior choices and results to everyday situations. Though this can calm anxieties and smooth transitions, it can also lead to a narrow life view or unhealthy habits. It takes careful observation to determine what actions are part of a habit loop. Some things are easy to see: you make your sandwich the same way every morning when you pack your lunch. Other things are more difficult: you find yourself eating a cookie from the plate by the water cooler before you even notice you have picked it up. This may start because you take a cookie to be polite, and then your habit loops take over and you automatically take a cookie when you walk by. Realizing this is only the first step. You must carefully experiment to figure out the real reason you always take a cookie, and then find alternatives that provide the same reward as eating a cookie. (I find very few things can compete with the reward of eating a cookie!)
The Power of Habit is primarily focused on identifying the parts of habit loops. First, it addresses the role of habits in both evolution and our day-to-day lives. Then, it seeks to explore just what is misunderstood about habits and what drives them. After that, there are several chapters about people and organizations with successful habits, and ways that transformation is possible. Though it does not give the impression that it will improve your habits, many readers might be disappointed that a guide for rewriting habits is relegated to an appendix, rather than the final focus of the book. The vignettes are inspirational, but do not in any way resemble a how-to manual. Perhaps this is the first habit that needs to be changed. Readers look to these type of books as a magical cure that will fix everything they are doing wrong. Rather than guaranteeing your success, Duhigg asks readers to live their lives with awareness. Rather than spelling out each step for succeeding in all aspects of life, he provides the template for self-reflection and empowerment. There is no power besides personal drive that will get you through the process of finding out the habits you’ve created and improving the ones you don’t like. It is not enough to understand that your life is made up of sequences of repetition; you must accept that this is okay, and see how this could make cold turkey changes difficult. More than anything, The Power of Habit will help you understand how to make meaningful shifts in your life using the joy of experimentation instead of the dread of deprivation.
If you flick the light switch when the power is off, read The Power of Habit.
Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Random House Publishing Group, 2012. Kindle Edition.