The Power of Habit

Excellent review of the neurobiological basis for habits, the essential components of a habit loop, and how to use this science to effectively change habits. Duhigg leverages powerful anecdotes from medicine, science, business, psychology, and more to illustrate the key principles he describes.

At its core, this book is about understanding that habits are routine processes encoded into brain tissue to make regular tasks easier and more efficient. Habits consist of a cue, a routine, and a reward; this cycle or loop forms the basis and once these are understood, habits can be changed by changing the routine/reward response to rewrite the automatic response to cues.

Habit change also requires a substantial element of belief—faith that you can modify the habit, a positive outlook (or positive attributional style, in psycho-lingo) that you can control elements of your world. Significant change, on the personal level or an organization level, occurs after keystone habits are identified and targeted. These keystone habits are like the lead domino that can affect everything else.

Duhigg speaks to both personal, individual habits and organizational culture throughout this book. He uses the heartwrenching stories of medical errors at a large hospital and of dozens of deaths in a subway station fire to drive home his point that organizational culture is entirely a result of organizational habits—which may be intentional or may have just emerged as workarounds. Leaders who know this and are able to proactively target keystone habits can accomplish far more at changing an organization. Duhigg also explains how moments of crisis provide an opportunity to do this with much more impact.

This book is a fascinating intellectual exploration of what habits are and how they work; it also is packed with applicable ideas to change ones’ own habits. The appendix provides an exact template to figure out what the cues, routines, and rewards driving personal habits are and determining how to change them. Overall, a must-read book to improve one’s subconscious routines.

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