The Power of Habit

I love non-fiction. I love books about history, people, and culture. When I saw The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg I was intrigued. I started reading the first couple of pages in the bookstore and had to put it down before I found a corner in the store and finished it. Naturally it came home with me.

I think the title is pretty self explanatory but basically Duhigg looks at our habits, how they form and how they influence nearly everything we do. He illustrates his points with really interesting case studies, of individuals overcoming their own destructive habits, of companies using our habits to understand their markets and finally of societies and how changing one habit can influence an entire movement.

I enjoyed the look at why we do what we do at home and found the society chapters really interesting but I LOVED the corporate sections. Parts of it were actually terrifying, like how Target knows what every customer buys and can actually send everyone a flyer customized just for them. Do you remember that whole uproar about Target finding out women were pregnant before the women wanted anyone to know? That was Charles Duhigg. I had to take a moment and realize that what I was so fascinated by was actually intensely creepy.

But there were also good examples. Like the aluminum company that changed one keystone habit, focusing on being number one in safety, and ended up changing the whole culture of the company and becoming extremely profitable. Or how Starbucks changed its training program to ensure that people were getting a superior coffee experience while simultaneously transforming the lives of its partners (employees). I think that example was probably my favourite.

If you’ve ever worked somewhere with a terrible corporate culture (I have. Several times now) then I think you will be really interested in how people change this kind of thing. Obviously it takes a lot of people buying in, but its totally possible.

At the same time, sometimes I found the book a little cheerleader-ish. Like now you understand how to change your habits, you can do anything! I’m not naturally a peppy person so that kind of positivity makes me uncomfortable. The other thing is that sometimes it felt a bit like I was reading a teleprompter. The segues and foreshadowing could be a little heavy handed. But I think he’s actually a journalist so I see how that might happen. I think it does account for the long reading time on this one though. The book is only 286 pages and it took me 5 days to read it.

Overall this book was interesting and informative and if you are at all interested in learning about your habits and the potential to change some of your more destructive ones, I would give this a read.

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