The Power of Habit

power

A young woman walks into a laboratory. Over the past two years, she has transformed almost every aspect of her life. She has quit smoking, run a marathon, and been promoted at work. The patterns inside her brain, neurologists discover, have fundamentally changed.

Marketers at Procter & Gamble study videos of people making their beds. They are desperately trying to figure out how to sell a new product called Febreze, on track to be one of the biggest flops in company history. Suddenly, one of them detects a nearly imperceptible pattern—and with a slight shift in advertising, Febreze goes on to earn a billion dollars a year.

An untested CEO takes over one of the largest companies in America. His first order of business is attacking a single pattern among his employees—how they approach worker safety—and soon the firm, Alcoa, becomes the top performer in the Dow Jones.

What do all these people have in common? They achieved success by focusing on the patterns that shape every aspect of our lives.

They succeeded by transforming habits.

In The Power of Habit, award-winning New York Times business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. With penetrating intelligence and an ability to distill vast amounts of information into engrossing narratives, Duhigg brings to life a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential for transformation.

Along the way we learn why some people and companies struggle to change, despite years of trying, while others seem to remake themselves overnight. We visit laboratories where neuroscientists explore how habits work and where, exactly, they reside in our brains. We discover how the right habits were crucial to the success of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and civil-rights hero Martin Luther King, Jr. We go inside Procter & Gamble, Target superstores, Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, NFL locker rooms, and the nation’s largest hospitals and see how implementing so-called keystone habits can earn billions and mean the difference between failure and success, life and death.

At its core, The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, raising exceptional children, becoming more productive, building revolutionary companies and social movements, and achieving success is understanding how habits work.

Habits aren’t destiny. As Charles Duhigg shows, by harnessing this new science, we can transform our businesses, our communities, and our lives.

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The Power of Habit is an interesting split between self-help book and scientific / medical study. It follows multiple cases where people have changed their habits, due to serious developmental changes, professional sports analysis, or psychological intervention. Some have changed their habits on their own, others were guided by medical professionals. But they have all drastically altered their lives.

I decided to read this book because habits are a topic of interest of mine of late. After all, who doesn’t have a few they would like to get rid of?! Or good ones to they’d like to start. I have also heard that this book is recommended by many health professionals, from mental health experts to general practitioners, as a tool for creating changing in one’s own life.

Also, I listened to the audiobook version … the narrator has a smooth and pleasant voice!

I am not sure how practical and relatable most of the dialogue is, but this book is definitely one to get you thinking!

The author explores habits on an individual level, as well as in larger social contexts. He explains some of the behaviours that can lead large groups of people, particularly protesters, to occasionally turn into mobs. He explores why some professional sports teams always seem to lose (his example was the 1990’s era Indianapolis Colts, but I couldn’t help but think of the Toronto Maple Leafs), and the habits of multinational companies.

Wait. Multinational companies?

Yes. They have habits too, a concept I had never thought too hard about before. But companies – large and small – are made up of collective habits that we all abide by, because they are made up of human workers, from the lowest employee to the CEO.

Think of it this way. If you had a new co-worker start with you at work, what insider tips would you give them to help them fit in and succeed? Would you say, this person is awesome and can be trusted, stay under the radar of so and so, or make sure you keep this person in the chain of command for the most simple of things or they will lose it on you? These are common social habits of a workplace that we all learn quickly upon starting, and we all agree to abide by, even though they aren’t official rules that you would find in any employee handbook. Habits are everywhere.

I personally found most of these examples thought-provoking and was able to apply them to my own workplace, and see certain communal habits in a new light. I did have to skip ahead on some of the more medical-based institutional examples though. I’m pretty queasy when it comes to things like listening to a description of neurosurgery. Not my thing at all.

Overall, The Power of Habit is enlightening and thought-provoking, a book I would definitely recommend to a dedicated reader looking to change their life, or improve their lot in the workplace. I would especially suggest it for a manager struggling to lead in a toxic workplace.

However, I am not sure how helpful it is to the average person who wants to start working out and drinking more water, or stop that habit of picking up fast food on the way home from work. This is because it is difficult to identify keystone habits, and understand why they affect us and you have to be able to do this before you can change an established habit. This isn’t easy to do.

Luckily, the author includes an appendix which lists a step-by-step guide to helping readers go through this process with the least amount of anguish and missteps possible. I was expecting this easy-to-read guide to be a much larger portion of the book, however, and I am unsure how much it will help me to actually change those habits I don’t like, although I am more aware of them now. So at least that is a step in the right direction.

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xx

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