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

Tying together the latest neurology, psychology and neurology research, Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit presents a compelling description of habits: how we get them, how we change them and their wider appearance in companies and entire societies. With the framework he builds it becomes possible to understand why I can’t resist sugar and why Rosa Parks (and no one else) truly set the Civil Rights movement in motion. What’s more, it becomes possible to change my sugar addiction and understand how BigRetailChain is pulling my psychological levers to make me buy more. Well written, interesting and enjoyable, I strongly recommend this book.The following is a synopsis for my notes and to help cement what I’ve learnt:

Key to all habits is the cue-action-reward loop. Creating a habit can be achieved by deliberately associating the craving for the reward with the cue for action. Changing a habit can be done by substituting one action for another.

Believing that change is possible is needed to successfully substitute one action for another, and belief can be found by focusing on the small and analogous successes. Similarly, willpower can be trained like a muscle, and efforts in one area of life transfer easily to others.

Organisationally, it is important to leverage crises as a motivation for change. Perpetuating or magnifying a crisis can be useful can be helpful in the same way. Nonetheless, individuals, organisations and societies are resistant to change. Therefore, disguising the unfamiliar as something similar can make it easier to habituate.

Ultimately, the key framework to changing a habit for an individual is:

  • Identify the cue-action-reward routine
  • Experiment with rewards to see what’s effective
  • Isolate the cue through note taking and deliberate experimentation
  • Have a plan to make a change
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