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The Power of Habit - Book Review


In this post, I wanted to summarize the key lessons I learnt from The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.The author employs investigative journalism to study human behaviour.

Ever felt stuck because of your bad habits or addictions? Then this book is for you. The book will provide you the real reasons we develop bad habits & addictions, and how to make immediate changes for positive results.

An additional bonus from the reading the book is understanding how companies use predictive analysis to get you to buy more of their products.

Decisions vs Habits

We are under the misconception that most of our daily decisions are conscious and we have a high degree of control. However, this is farther from the truth.

Studies have proven that about 40% of our daily actions are not actual decisions, but habits.

Our Brain acts as our central command system, and its job is to make decisions for us. However, the brain likes to spend less of its resources on making those decisions for us.

The human brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. And for this, it uses habits. The brain subordinates this function to habits. As a result, the brain spends less time making decisions.

So most of the things that we do are actually habits – brushing our teeth, eating, showering,etc. we don’t consciously think of daily tasks. Similarly we don’t consciously think of our habits (good or bad).

Habits are not permanent

This comes as a relief. Because if our habits are set in stone (especially the destructive ones) then it is detrimental for our success and even survival.

So it is good news to know that – they are not permanent. They can be modified, changed,replaced for our benefits, if we make a conscious effort.

Another key thing to note is that just because you have started a positive habit (exercising,etc.) – it does not mean that it does not require oversight. There will be times that we can get side-tracked, and lose our streak. However, understanding how habits are formed and how they work helps us to shape our actions.

The Power of Craving

Most of us have experienced this. In some cases, on a daily basis.

Why is it hard to say no to junk food? Why is it hard not to overeat (especially this time of the year?

It is because of the relationship between our brains and our habits.

Habits create neurological cravings, and we are blind to their influence. For instance, we don’t necessarily love the taste or smell of cigarettes, yet people smoke. Because there is an underlying reason we want to smoke, and it has less to do with the taste of tobacco.

For example, I always have a tendency to check my Facebook status on my phone. It is because of the notifications. Anytime my phone buzzes or beeps, I have to pick it up and check my Facebook account. And many times, I don’t necessarily get anything out of browsing Facebook. The thing that entices me is the craving of connection and validation. Anytime someone likes my posts -it provides social validation.

On a positive note – most people love the endorphin rush that comes from exercise. For those who lift weights, it is the pump that feels awesome. People are not attracted to exercising because of the pain or physical exertion. We crave endorphins so we exercise. It is like a drug, and a really good one.

Cue – Routine – Reward

Most discussions on habits talk about the concept of routines. We have been bombarded with messages about we need to focus on the right routines, and we will form good habit.

Researchers have found that – there are 2 more things that we need to pay attention to. Cue and Reward.

Cue is a trigger that prompts you to take action. In the Facebook example,the buzzing of my phone causes to me to check Facebook. And the Reward is the feeling of social validation or connectedness that I feel.

In the case of exercise, a cue would wearing your exercise clothes. And the reward is the endorphins we get immediately after exercising. Or the reward could be the tangible results – better physique, the weight on the scale,etc.

To change any habit or create a new one – take a closer look .

Understand the cue, the routines and rewards. By noticing the cue and focusing on the rewards, we can fall in the routines



The Importance of Belief

This is crucial. For any habit to be permanent, we require for it to show immediate benefits. In the case of exercise, it is the immediate endorphin rush. And the long term benefits of exercise will be a better physique.

However, when we do not see any benefits or changes – we start to doubt ourselves and eventually go back to or old self-limiting habits. If we don’t see changes of a better physique, we start losing hope and there is a probability that we stop exercising.

That is why, it is very important to use the power of belief. The moment we believe that things will get better, the habits start to get stronger.

Take the case of Alcoholics who have fought for months and in some cases years -their addiction of alcohol abuse. They see the damage it has done for them, and they do want to change, however the journey looks dismal.

This is where groups like Alcoholics Anonymous have done a great job. People joining the group/attending meetings are exposed to other’s success stories. And this slowly gives them hope. They start believing that they too can change for the better.

Weight Watchers is another such program. It has been successful for decades, and continues to attract new members. When members meet, they see constant progress in their peers. And this helps them to believe that they too can succeed.

The Importance of Group Support

Another advantage of the groups concept such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Weight Watchers, is the support of the peer group. Numerous research has proven that the odds of forming a positive habit increases many folds with the help of a group.

We are social creatures, and there is subconscious craving to look good infront of our peers. And this motivates us to keep moving forward. This reinforces positive behaviour.

Keystone Habits

There is a correlation between the different spheres or elements of our lives. Often we notice that when we change one particular habit, things start changing in other areas of our lives. It seems as if we start fixing one area of our life- soon other areas are positive impacted.

Take the case of exercise for example. Anyone who starts exercising soon see the immediate benefits in energy levels. They slowly start making changes with their diet and nutrition. And instead of spending money on junk food they start spending it on healthy alternatives.

They also notice that this affects their spending habits. They are no longer buying groceries on impulse and overspending. They become more conscious with money. And slowly they start to change their social life because of the new found vitality. And then sooner or later, they start making changes to their career.

If someone is looking to make a positive change in their lives, start off by identifying one keystone habit and start applying it right away. Soon things will start to change in other areas.

There are numerous other nuggets of wisdom that you can obtain from reading the book. The author uses lots of real-life case studies and examples that validate each of the point.

If you are looking to make positive changes in your career of life – start off by reading this book.

Additional Reference

How Habits Work

Goodreads Page

What has been the most important thing you have learnt from reading this book?

Written By
Nissar Ahamed is the Founder & CEO of CareerMetis.com. He is also the host of The Career Insider Podcast and the co-host of The C.A.R.E. Podcast

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