Thursday, May 5, 2022

On the Coffee Table: Charles Duhigg

Title: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
Author: Charles Duhigg

via Amazon

Habits rule our lives in ways we don't even notice.  That's the point, after all.  Habits are the things we do without thinking.  It's the simple routines: you floss before you brush, you put on the right sock before the left, you always leave your keys in the same place so you can find them easily, etc.  It's the more complex operations, too: you always follow the same route when you walk your dog.  Some of them, like smoking after a meal or always having dessert even if you're not exactly hungry for it, are deeply unhealthy.  Others, like eating fruits and vegetables every day, can prolong your life.  Charles Duhigg explores all of this and more.  Most importantly, and optimistically, he demonstrates how bad habits can be transformed into good ones.

Duhigg devotes a lot of the book to self-destructive personal habits: alcoholism, gambling addiction, overeating, etc.  However, he also explores how the manipulation of habits - on both the individual and interpersonal levels - can transform organizations like Starbucks, Alcoa or the Indianapolis Colts.  Further, he chronicles how all-time champion swimmer Michael Phelps used the power of habit to excel.  On the Big Brother end of things, he exposes how companies, particularly Target, are able to monitor customers' habits in order to successfully predict who is likely to buy what and when.  

A couple of principles were particularly interesting to me.  The first is the idea of "keystone" habits.  Exercise is a good example.  When someone successfully establishes a habit of regular exercise, they start to form other good habits along with it.  They sleep better.  They eat better.  I can confirm: my life definitely feels better balanced when I am exercising regularly.  Other keystone habits are less appealing to me: bed making, for instance.  I don't believe in it.

"Inflection points" are moments when an individual is confronted with a choice.  For instance, a Starbucks barista is chewed out by an angry customer.  The employee can react in a variety of ways, many of them reflexive and counterproductive.  But if such an employee plans a different, healthier reaction ahead of time, the likelihood of a positive outcome increases significantly.  The possible applications to public education, my own profession, are obvious.

I'll definitely be keeping The Power of Habit around.  I didn't read the book's appendix (I usually skip that, along with any Roman numeral pages in the beginning) but I expect I will at some point as it's all about how to use Duhigg's principals in one's own life.  

But I'm still not going to make my bed.


  1. I read this several years ago and thought he had some good points, but not sure I learned from any of them ;)

    1. Ha!

      I find the thinking useful. I haven't applied of it directly yet but I'll keep the book around for reference.

  2. I agree with you about making beds.
    I also understand why my wife likes doing it.

    1. Absolutely! I've just never seen the point myself. Then again, who knows? Maybe my whole life would be transformed if I started doing it...