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Friday, March 17, 2017

Book Review: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (029)

I have Singerreise book review for you! This time, I went back to reread Charles Duhigg's "The Power of Habit." This book has done a lot to reshape how I think about, well, a lot of things. It's a great book that empowers, even demands that you become a better person.

Both times I read the book, I did so via an audiobook. Audiobooks are, by far, my preferred way to "read" nowadays, because I can be exercising or doing housework while I read. In this case, the book was performed by Mike Chamberlain - incidentally a job that I'd love to explore myself someday.

The Power of Habit obviously talk about habits. Charles Duhigg gets into the particulars about how they've been studied over the last few decades, including the most recent stuff. He uses hard science and research, but it doesn't read like a dry academic article from a science journal.

Instead, he takes more of a story-telling approach. There's probably a dozen major stories that he weaves into the book, and it forms a sort of narrative. This makes it really easy for anyone to pick up and immediately start applying, even with the hard science in there.

He starts by describing what he calls the "habit loop," which, briefly is cue, routine, and reward. Each of the parts he deals with in detail — again, by using stories — even talking about what happens in the brain.

This would be a pretty good book if it merely described what a habit is. The real value of this book, however, is how he applies knowledge about habits, into, well, everything.

He starts on a personal level, talking about changing habits in an individual. For those that are interested in personal development, these sections have the most immediate application.

A few key points from here: He contends that when habits are formed, they leave a permanent imprint. This in on an older part of the brain, evolutionary speaking. Doing that allows brain to conserve its "thinking" energy for more complex tasks, and run efficiently. However, this means that the only way to correct a bad habit is by overwriting it with a new one.

In the "habit loop" of cue - routine - reward, habit replacement is accomplished by keeping the cue and reward, but changing the routine. That sounds easier than it is, but Duhigg addresses that too.
For example, cravings are a huge part of how habits are developed. Identifying them can be a challenge, but once you identify them, replacing what happens as a result is easier.

Things called "Keystone Habits" were also fascinating to me. These are habits that are so important, that, when they are changed, it causes other habits to change along with them.

Changing a habit within a community (for example, AA) also came up. In short, it guards against relapses when a crisis occurs, because you can see around those who have persisted. It gives you this magical, yet quantifiable, power called "Belief." Belief that you can change.

Another fascinating subject was the concept of limited willpower. He mentions a study that was done with college students, trying to complete an impossible puzzle. Those that were told to resist eating radishes ahead of time persisted in the task far longer than those that had to resist eating cookies.

Exercising willpower over a lifetime leads one to be pre-disposed to be disciplined. But the brain is quite malleable - so those without discipline are without excuse.

By this point in the book, however, Duhigg has already moved on to talking about forming habits on an organizational level, like advertising, or developing a business's culture. From there, he moves on to the habits of entire societies, and then he finishes by discussing the moral implications, like whether or not we a morally culpable for our actions.

Throughout, though, he is telling fascinating stories about famous and not-so-famous, relatable figures in history. And even when he is talking about habits in business, there is always immediate relevance to what how we look at our own, personal, lives.

This is why I really love this book. No matter what the subject is, I am always learning something about myself as I read it. It's engaging and fascinating from cover to cover.

And yes, that includes the appendices.  Especially the one where he breaks down the how-to of habit replacement.

So check out The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. It will change how you work, perform, teach, learn, and how you approach every day.

In the next episode of the Singerreise Video Podcast, Episode 30, I'll be talking more about Patreon. It's absolutely critical that you watch that one.

Also, when that episode airs (with its accompanying article, I have another, very fun project to launch, so stay tuned!

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