Book Review: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

by | Apr 23, 2019

The Power of Habit and its follow-up, Smarter, Faster, Better, by Charles Duhigg were some of the bright shining spots in my nonfiction reading over the past year. You never know what you’re getting into with any kind of reading, but at least with fiction, you know that both you and the author are seeking some form of entertainment. With nonfiction, the cover of a book often tells you what the publisher thinks you want to hear, and you may find yourself reading the words of some blowhard who figured s/he had a pile of knowledge that you didn’t, and spends hundreds of pages telling you just how smart they are. OR it could be written with humility but because it’s not supposed to be entertaining it… isn’t… which makes it suck super hard, even if the data is useful.

Charles Duhigg’s Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism was clearly well-deserved. With both books, he provided interesting, well-investigated information, scientific studies, and an outstanding grasp on the art of storytelling. If you enjoy the cleverness of words and structure even a little bit, you’ll enjoy both the book and the way it is written.

The book is divided into three very clear parts:

  • Part One: The Habits of Individuals
  • Part Two: The Habits of Organizations
  • Part Three: The Habits of Societies

Each part has between two and four chapters, which masterfully weave seemingly unrelated true stories – including the marketer who made toothbrushing popular, the California man who lost a chunk of his brain, a fire in the London Underground, the rise of Febreeze, and how Starbucks creates individual success – into a single, relatable and telling narrative that engages you every step of the way.

Who should read it?

Anyone who is truly curious about how human beings (alone or together) can create success – whether that success comes in the form of physical achievement, productivity, relationship management, memory improvement, team work, or fat wads of cash. If you have ever read Freakonomics or listened to the podcast, it’s that kind of fascinating information, plus all of the ways to make that knowledge useful in your life.

The Power of Habit not only provides scientific backing to the information provided but also great stories, from real people, and a beautiful writing style designed to inform, provoke, and entertain. It’s a fun, interesting read, with lots of practical steps you can put into use right away. 

If you only have time to read one chapter:

Honestly, if you only have time to read one chapter, you should consider implementing some changes to your schedule because this book is worth the entire read. Despite that fact that I am a relentless, inkthirsty reader who happens to enjoy just about every form of the printed word (including the four books I recently read about cross border tax that I considered subjecting you to, but didn’t), I wouldn’t say that for all books.

For example, I had a great time reading Radical Candor by Kim Scott, but I am also pretty confident that you wouldn’t need to read more than the first third of the book. Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, the book that sent us on Spring’s 2019 theme of design thinking, is worth the first two thirds, for sure. You can skip the last third if you’re not actively looking for a new job. But The Power of Habit… it’s worth the whole read.

If you just can’t do it for whatever reason, get Part One into you, which encompasses

  • Ch 1: The Habit Loop: How Habits Work
  • Ch 2: The Craving Brain: How to Create New Habits
  • Ch 3: The Golden Rule of Habit Change: Why Transformation Occurs

This works out to 93 pages in total, in reasonable 30 page bites.

Why all three (very small!) chapters? Because if you’re interested in implementing positive change in your life, and working towards success, that’s exactly where the blueprint sits. Go get it.

If you only have time to read one paragraph:

Then I definitely am giving you some serious side-eye about how much time you’re really giving yourself to do “you” things. But I digress. Read the below but remember that it took 92 pages, a pile of studies and several truly interesting personal stories about success and failure, with actionable recommendations, to get here:

“The evidence is clear: If you want to change a habit, you must find an alternative routine, and your odds of success go up dramatically when you commit to changing as part of a group. Belief is essential, and it grows out of a communal experience, even if that community is only as large as two people.”

(Chapter 3: The Golden Rule of Habit Change, page 93)

If you only have time to read one sentence:

I don’t even get how just one sentence is helpful so I’m going to give you four. I am breaking the rules. Again. I’m pretty okay with that because that is exactly what these four sentences are all about:

“At one point, we all consciously decided how much to eat and what to focus on when we go to the office, how often to have a drink or when to go for a job. Then we stopped making a choice, and the behavior became automatic. It’s a natural consequence of our neurology. And by understanding how it happens, you can rebuild those patterns in whichever way you choose.”

(Chapter Prologue, page xvii)

Big thanks to our Associate Planner, Chris, for recommending this and many other books to me over the past year. Hmm. Perhaps you’re writing our next review…

Julia Chung