on 17 June 2012
The first section of HABIT which focuses on individuals' behaviour is excellent, describing how sub-conscious a lot of daily decisions can be, and how to change these. I was compelled immediately to find the one key-stone habit I would try to change, by keeping the same cue and reward, but changing the actual habit, and finding ways to believe that change is possible. Case studies of drug addicts and Olympic swimmers were gripping and inspiring.
However, the second and third section were less interesting, mainly because I had come across the same material already several times -- about how will-power is a finite resource (that can, however, be incrased over time) and how companies use psychology and data linking to sell you more stuff. Some of the case studies were over-dramatised, with no clear point or conclusion (e.g. on the Kings Cross fire on the London Underground), and I was not moved to change my organisation on Monday morning.
The book is a frustrating and exciting read at the same time. I really enjoyed the journalistic style and for once, the case studies were not boring. Possibly a bit formulaeic, but entertaining. The beginning is really promising, making you sense we are at the edge of some truly transformational insight -- but then it all fizzles out. It could have done with a clearer set of conclusions rather than complexity that seems to be padding it out and only succeeds in confusing the reader.
on 25 April 2012
This is a great book. The New York Times reporter, Charles Duhigg, tackles an important reality head on. In The Power of Habit, Duhigg suggests people succeed when they identify patterns that shape their lives--and learn how to change them. I would recommend, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, as an excellent companion to learn how break unproductive habits and master new ones.
The author's main contention is that "you have the freedom and responsibility" to remake your habits. He says "the most addicted alcoholics can become sober. The most dysfunctional companies can transform themselves. A high school dropout can become a successful manager." He makes a convincing case for all this. The only problem is that's all he does. He doesn't show you how to do it. That's my only complaint.
This idea that you can change your habits draws on recent research in experimental psychology, neurology, and applied psychology. As you can see from the table of content below, Duhigg really goes after a broad range of topics. He looks at the habits of individuals, how habits operate in the brain, how companies use them, and how retailers use habits to manipulate buying habits. This provides some fascinating research and stories, such as the fact that grocery stores put fruits and vegetables at the front of the store because people who put these healthy items in their carts are more apt to buy junk food as well before they leave the store.
PART ONE: THE HABITS OF INDIVIDUALS
1. The Habit Loop - How Habits Work
2. The Craving Brain - How to Create New Habits
3. The Golden Rule of Habit Change - Why Transformation Occurs
PART TWO - THE HABITS OF SUCCESSFUL ORGANIZATIONS
4. Keystone Habits, or The Ballad of Paul O'Neill - Which Habits Matter Most
5. Starbucks and the Habit of Success - When Willpower Becomes Automatic
6. The Power of a Crisis - How Leaders Create Habits Through Accident and Design
7. How Target Knows What You Want Before You Do - When Companies Predict (and manipulate) Habits
PART THREE - THE HABITS OF SOCIETIES
8. Saddleback Church and the Montgomery Bus Boycott - How Movements Happen
9. The Neurology of Free Will - Are We Responsible for Our Habits?
on 24 May 2012
I was impressed by how well this book is written. The author made me think of Malcom Gladwell's writing. Captivating, insightful.
Charles Duhigg is a very good writer, who writes in a way that keeps you wanting to continue reading and, at the same time, take time aside to reflect on your own life and how you can apply what you are learning while reading this book
The subject is extremely insteresting and I would gladly recommend it for anyone looking to change something in their lives, at work or somewhere else, togheter with "Switch" from Chip and Dan Heath. Switch: How to change things when change is hard
On the not so great side, and here's the reason why I don't give it 5 stars, the practical side of the book can truly be improved. The real-life author's example of how a habit can be changed applying the framework of the book is good to understanding concepts, but changing the habit of eating a cookie in the afternoon is generally not a problem for most people. I would have preferred something more practical like the 1-page "How to make a switch" from the Heath brothers or a few more real-life examples of application of Duhigg's framework on harder-to-change habits.
All in all, good book. I can only highly recommend it. I enjoyed reading it.
on 29 June 2012
As a solution focused hypnotherapist I often see people who want to rid themselves of bad habits, and although the book is good at explaining what's going on, people do struggle to change the routine or become aware of the cues, so it's not as straight forward as everyone thinks.
I found the habits of organisations fascinating and it's worth reading just for those insights. Though I found the habit of going from one subject to another and back again a little annoying and lost where I was several times. (I'm reading it on a kindle and need to create a habit using it without feeling irritated!). The chapter on Starbucks and the London Underground were particularly interesting.
Don't buy this if you want explanations of neuroscience, but if you're just interested or nosey it's a good summer read.
on 5 August 2012
We all have our little habits, some of them most likely of the bad kind, and those are the ones we strive to overcome. If only it would be that simple. In his book The Power Of Habit Charles Duhigg approaches the subject of what habits are and how we can ultimately change them.
Written in an engaging style, with just the right balance of scientific fact and actual examples, you can tell straight away that the author has a journalistic background. This certainly pays off and pulled me right into this fascinating field of social sciences, or more precisely, human behavior.
As much as I enjoyed the first few chapters, it soon became clear that despite the different case studies of individuals, organizations, as well as societies, the core of each chapter was repeating itself over and over again, ultimately becoming redundant. The underlying message that habits cannot be eradicated, but must instead be replaced, and the connection between "cue", "routine" and "reward" haven't just been presented once or twice, but countless times, culminating in a guide to using the ideas presented in the book. You could practically skip the actual book and still get the gist by reading the appendix alone. As much as the narrative swept me along and the deliberations proved to be insightful, I felt that the book in its entirety has been unnecessarily blown up by its length.
In short: Interesting yet repetitive study on habits and how to change them!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Random House. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
This is not an easy book to describe because Charles Duhigg offers such a wealth of information in so many different areas. For example:
o What a habit is...and isn't
o What the habit loop is and does
o How and why we form good and bad habits
o Why it is so difficult to sustain good habits and so easy to sustain bad ones
o Which external influences most effectively manipulate both good and bad habits
o How to defend good habits
o How to break bad habits
o How and why our habits reveal our values
In Part One, Duhigg focuses on how habits emerge within individual lives; in the next, he examines the habits of successful companies and organizations; and then in Part Three, he looks at the habits of societies. "We now know why habits emerge, how they change, and the science behind their mechanics. We know how to break them into parts and rebuild them to our specifications. We know how to make people eat less, exercise more, work more efficiently, and live healthier lives. Transforming a habit isn't necessarily easy or quick. It isn't always simple. But it is possible. And now we know why."
There in a brief passage is the essence of what motivated Duhigg to write this book and also perhaps, just perhaps, a sufficient reason for people who read it to then rebuild their habits to their expectations, based on what they have learned from the book.
One of Duhigg's most valuable insights (among the several dozen he shares) is that organizations as well as individuals can develop bad habits or allow them to develop. For example, tolerating incivility and thus condoning it, conducting performance evaluations unfairly and/or inconsistently, and under-valuing employees and/or customers. However, in that event, only individuals can break those organizational bad habits and only if their habits are equal to that challenge. Duhigg devotes all of Part Two (Chapters 4-7) an explanation of how best to respond to that challenge. Stephen Covey also has much of value to say about what meeting that challenge requires of people in his classic, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.
on 30 October 2012
These books are becoming so formulaic. A few good ideas about habits backed up by chapter upon chapter of real life examples drawn from lab research, corporate business, and of course, American football. Having come across many of the examples before, and seeing few new insights into habit changing, I skimmed through the first half of the book, then quite uncharacteristically skipped the remainder. In a nutshell: if you have a bad habit, find a new good habit to take priority over it. A bit of jumbo jumbo about cues and rewards too. Personally I rate the book 2* as it's far too heavy on waffle, and too light on strategies and techniques to modify habit. However, those who have never encountered the topic before or who like a long narrative may find it more appealing so I will put an official rating of 3*.
on 26 May 2013
I work in marketing since 1997 and it is the reason why one particular chapter in the book attracted me and finally made me buy the book (it is also big part of my motivation to write these reviews by the way). The chapter tells a case study of predictable analysis based on customer behavior. The story was revealed previously in New Your Times as a teaser before the book was out in the market and it is about a father discovering his teenage daughter is being offered personalized promotions by one of the big retail chains apparently suggesting she is pregnant. Trouble is parents had no idea whatsoever, but as it eventually turned out, the retailer known better based on algorithms analyzing daughters' purchasing behavior. Worth reading for any marketer at least in B2C from that point of view, but the book obviously tells much more about what we as a human beings do and why we do it and how habits shape our decisions and consequently our lifes. At some point it might get irritating to read about human behavior reduced down to simple cue-routine-reward mechanics as it feels like a physics textbook. Reduced landscape though allows focusing on some pivotal aspects. And it is a much focused book, from the first to the last page not deviating from the core idea behind it. Apart from the marketing case above which I'm quoting as a side effect of my professional background, there are many more examples, most of them of business background. Practical approach to cases is makes the book a worthy investment. The cases supporting Duhigg's reasoning are very realistic. To put it metaphorically, the book was written standing very much on the solid ground of experience, yet it is rich with theoretical insights and the combination is very productive. It's a good, though a bit long read. I hope someday chapter 7 could expand into a book dedicated to analytical techniques of modern marketing.
on 10 August 2012
This book opens with a great anecdote - you can turn round your whole life but you need to start with some particular habit and kick that. Doing so probably means bringing your conscious planning faculties to the fore - if you successfully diet, food stimulates those parts of the brain more. But old habits die hard and are still somewhere in there. And can break through under temptation. Unless, like alcoholics anonymous, you believe in something - such as God.
Moving onto businesses, much the same story. Start somewhere, perhaps with safety. And you can change everything like profitability. (Not in this book but in Rudy Giuliani's book on Leadership, in NY the first point of attack on reducing crime was to eliminate graffiti on the metro - a surprising way to tackle homicide, but this book says something about how that could have worked). Then for me the book somewhat went off the boil with discussions of how a 'good crisis' can be the springboard for change, the Montgomery bus boycott and a discussion of whether murders committed while sleepwalking are like gambling from a legal and moral perspective.
What the book doesn't cover but I wish it had done - and as it's written by a science journalist, I think it might have done - is the relation to other studies in this area. This book give us a picture of habits as like a deeply grooved channel. Other books, such as Thinking Fast and Slow and books on self-control, give us an 'energy' model - whereby we fall back into 'fast' thinking or lose self-control when, for example, our glucose levels are depleted. Then there's the idea of self-control as like a muscle that grows with exercise - not much trace of that idea here, but how does changing one habit lead to total changes in lifestyle, exactly? And finally, there are the views of philosophers. There's a bit of William James here. But Aristotle thought we led the good life only through habituation. We don't get much about habits and moral character, except fleetingly and unsatisfactorily, in the last chapter.
Still, there's much here to interest and to hold the attention - even in the weaker sections.
I've given this book 3 stars but that's a sort of average. For story telling and number of sources I would give it 5 stars, but for logical thinking and critical analysis I would give only 1 star (the lowest available). Only today I noticed that Duhigg, the author, is a journalist. I should have realised earlier.
The book over-uses phrases like "what scientists are discovering" instead of telling us which scientists are currently exploring the latest theory optimistically. It portrays behaviourist accounts of human behaviour as if they are the latest thinking, which is bizarre.
Most frequently the logical mistake is to apply the word 'habit' to many behaviours that do not have the qualities of a habit. Having told us that a person with severe brain damage that knocked out his memory was still able to (nearly) learn associations after a month of daily training, Duhigg then says that this is the mechanism of habit formation but still goes on to talk about patterns of behaviour that form in just one trial.
On a positive note, the Kindle edition offers good diagrams and the reference links work nicely, often going to the URLs of original papers available online. That made it easier to explore beyond the book, which is a good thing.
Overall, if you're going to read this book, remember to stay critically aware throughout so that you don't pick up any of the author's misconceptions, and be aware that the footnotes sometimes say that companies whose stories are featured dispute the factual accuracy of Duhigg's material. Target, in effect, say that his description of their activities is so inaccurate that they won't comment in detail.