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Book Review: 'The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business'

Book Review
Title: "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business"
Author: Charles Duhigg
Publisher: Random House, 2012; 400 pages; $28

Many of us crave to change something about our behavior. We want to eat less, spend less, watch less TV. We wish we could exercise more, save more, spend more time with our families. If you’ve ever tried to make any such changes in your own life, though, you have probably already encountered the subject of New York Times writer Charles Duhigg’s new book, "The Power of Habit."

It’s not at all strange for dieters to find themselves autopiloting to the bakery or the bag of chips, nor for smokers to spend decades trying to overcome the sheer force of the cigarette habit.

Duhigg takes a hybrid approach to illuminating the power of habit, and how we can all use that power to change our lives and our organizations.

He breaks down the science of habits into the essential findings that hold the keys each of us can use to understand and systematically transform the habits that largely drive our lot in life, while offering a series of vivid stories from the business world and from the individual lives of relatable people to illustrate and inspire.

Here are four of Duhigg’s compelling takeaways for readers who seek to assert control over their own behavior and the outcomes they achieve at work and in life:

1. Habits are a result of the brain’s constant mission to save effort. The number of impulses, functions, operations and outputs the brain must calculate and create just to execute an action as simple as brushing our teeth or backing our car out of the driveway is stunning, Duhigg points out.

In order to have the opportunity to rest or to think about other things while we’re moving through our daily lives, our brains are constantly unconsciously on the prowl for ways to save effort. (This also allows us to operate with smaller brains than we’d be able to otherwise, handy for getting our heads out of the birth canal.)

Habits are created when our brains create a mental/behavioral autopilot switch for a given chunk of actions.

2. A simple, three-step loop is responsible for forming every one of our habits. Duhigg teaches readers that first always comes a cue, which is "a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use." After the cue comes the physical, mental or emotional routine, which is followed by a reward, "which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future."

After being repeated over time, these cue, routine, reward loops became ingrained — so much so that the cue-reward link creates anticipations and cravings that render the routine a permanent habit.

3. There is a golden rule of habit change. Duhigg declares a rule of thumb that scientists, football coaches and 12-step programs all operate by, which is that "you can never truly extinguish bad habits." Rather, says the golden rule of habit change, "to change a habit, you must keep the old cue and deliver the old reward but insert a new routine."

The game-changing, life-changing, potential of "The Power of Habit" is that it readers on a deep dive into the realm of precisely how to understand their cue-reward associations and replace old, destructive habits with new, desired routines.

4. Focusing on a single "keystone habit" is essential to successful change. Duhigg shows examples ranging from Alcoa to Olympian Michael Phelps, to an everyday woman who stopped smoking and debting and turned her life around very quickly, using these stories to illuminate the power of focusing on implementing a single keystone habit or "small win" to drive much broader change initiatives.

"Small wins," Duhigg explains, "fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach."

For those who truly crave to change their habits, their teams’ routines and their lives, this book offers well-founded hope and simple, concrete tools that have been proven to work, over and over again.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website,


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