Thu 22 Mar, 2012 10:16 am
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
by Charles Duhigg
Publication Date: February 28, 2012
A young woman walks into a laboratory. Over the past two years, she has transformed almost every aspect of her life. She has quit smoking, run a marathon, and been promoted at work. The patterns inside her brain, neurologists discover, have fundamentally changed.
Marketers at Procter & Gamble study videos of people making their beds. They are desperately trying to figure out how to sell a new product called Febreze, on track to be one of the biggest flops in company history. Suddenly, one of them detects a nearly imperceptible pattern—and with a slight shift in advertising, Febreze goes on to earn a billion dollars a year.
An untested CEO takes over one of the largest companies in America. His first order of business is attacking a single pattern among his employees—how they approach worker safety—and soon the firm, Alcoa, becomes the top performer in the Dow Jones.
What do all these people have in common? They achieved success by focusing on the patterns that shape every aspect of our lives.
They succeeded by transforming habits.
In The Power of Habit, award-winning New York Times business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. With penetrating intelligence and an ability to distill vast amounts of information into engrossing narratives, Duhigg brings to life a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential for transformation.
Along the way we learn why some people and companies struggle to change, despite years of trying, while others seem to remake themselves overnight. We visit laboratories where neuroscientists explore how habits work and where, exactly, they reside in our brains. We discover how the right habits were crucial to the success of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and civil-rights hero Martin Luther King, Jr. We go inside Procter & Gamble, Target superstores, Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, NFL locker rooms, and the nation’s largest hospitals and see how implementing so-called keystone habits can earn billions and mean the difference between failure and success, life and death.
At its core, The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, raising exceptional children, becoming more productive, building revolutionary companies and social movements, and achieving success is understanding how habits work.
Habits aren’t destiny. As Charles Duhigg shows, by harnessing this new science, we can transform our businesses, our communities, and our lives.
A Q&A with Author Charles Duhigg
What sparked your interest in habits?
I first became interested in the science of habits eight years ago, as a newspaper reporter in Baghdad, when I heard about an army major conducting an experiment in a small town named Kufa.
The major had analyzed videotapes of riots and had found that violence was often preceded by a crowd of Iraqis gathering in a plaza and, over the course of hours, growing in size. Food vendors would show up, as well as spectators. Then, someone would throw a rock or a bottle.
When the major met with Kufa’s mayor, he made an odd request: Could they keep food vendors out of the plazas? Sure, the mayor said. A few weeks later, a small crowd gathered near the Great Mosque of Kufa. It grew in size. Some people started chanting angry slogans. At dusk, the crowd started getting restless and hungry. People looked for the kebab sellers normally filling the plaza, but there were none to be found. The spectators left. The chanters became dispirited. By 8 p.m., everyone was gone.
I asked the major how he had figured out that removing food vendors would change peoples' behavior.
The U.S. military, he told me, is one of the biggest habit-formation experiments in history. “Understanding habits is the most important thing I’ve learned in the army,” he said. By the time I got back to the U.S., I was hooked on the topic.
How have your own habits changed as a result of writing this book?
Since starting work on this book, I've lost about 30 pounds, I run every other morning (I'm training for the NY Marathon later this year), and I'm much more productive. And the reason why is because I've learned to diagnose my habits, and how to change them.
Take, for instance, a bad habit I had of eating a cookie every afternoon. By learning how to analyze my habit, I figured out that the reason I walked to the cafeteria each day wasn't because I was craving a chocolate chip cookie. It was because I was craving socialization, the company of talking to my colleagues while munching. That was the habit's real reward. And the cue for my behavior - the trigger that caused me to automatically stand up and wander to the cafeteria, was a certain time of day.
So, I reconstructed the habit: now, at about 3:30 each day, I absentmindedly stand up from my desk, look around for someone to talk with, and then gossip for about 10 minutes. I don't even think about it at this point. It's automatic. It's a habit. I haven't had a cookie in six months.
What was the most surprising use of habits that you uncovered?
The most surprising thing I've learned is how companies use the science of habit formation to study - and influence - what we buy.
Take, for example, Target, the giant retailer. Target collects all kinds of data on every shopper it can, including whether you’re married and have kids, which part of town you live in, how much money you earn, if you've moved recently, the websites you visit. And with that information, it tries to diagnose each consumer’s unique, individual habits.
Why? Because Target knows that there are these certain moments when our habits become flexible. When we buy a new house, for instance, or get married or have a baby, our shopping habits are in flux. A well-timed coupon or advertisement can convince us to buy in a whole new way. But figuring out when someone is buying a house or getting married or having a baby is tough. And if you send the advertisement after the wedding or the baby arrives, it’s usually too late.
So Target studies our habits to see if they can predict major life events. And the company is very, very successful. Oftentimes, they know what is going on in someone's life better than that person's parents.
Praise for The Power of Habit
“Entertaining, an enjoyable book…a serious look at the science of habit formation and change.” —New York Times Book Review
"Duhigg brings a heaping, much-needed dose of social science and psychology to the subject, explaining the promise and perils of habits via an entertaining ride that touches on everything from marketing to management studies to the civil-rights movement… a fascinating read.”—Newsweek Daily Beast
“A fascinating exploration of our pathologically habitual society — we smoke, we incessantly check our BlackBerrys, we chronically choose bad partners, we always (or never) make our beds. Duhigg digs into why we are this way, and how we can change, both as individuals and institutionally.” —The Daily
“Charles Duhigg’s thesis is powerful in its elegant simplicity: confront the root drivers of our behavior, accept them as intractable, and then channel those same cravings into productive patterns. His core insight is sharp, provocative, and useful.”
—Jim Collins, #1 bestselling author of Good to Great and Built to Last
“The Power of Habit is not a magic pill but a thoroughly intriguing exploration of how habits function. Charles Duhigg expertly weaves fascinating new research and rich case studies into an intelligent model that is understandable, useful in a wide variety of contexts, and a flat-out great read. His chapter on ‘keystone habits’ alone would justify the book.”
—David Allen, bestselling author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
“Charles Duhigg masterfully combines cutting-edge research and captivating stories to reveal how habits shape our lives and how we can shape our habits. Once you read this book, you’ll never look at yourself, your organization, or your world quite the same way.”
—Daniel H. Pink, author of #1 New York Times bestselling Drive and A Whole New Mind
“William James once observed that ninety-nine percent of human activity is done out of mere habit. In this fascinating book, Charles Duhigg reveals why James was right, documenting the myriad ways in which our habits shape our lives. Do you want to know why Febreze became a bestselling product? Or how Tony Dungy gets the most out of his football players? Or how the science of habits can be used to improve willpower? Read this book.”
—Jonah Lehrer, bestselling author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist and How We Decide
More About the Author
My name is Charles Duhigg, and I'm a reporter for The New York Times. I'm also the author of a forthcoming book from Random House, The Power of Habit, about the science of habit formation in our lives, companies and societies.
I've worked at the Times since 2006. I'm currently working on a series about Apple named "The iEconomy," and before that, I contributed to other series, including "Golden Opportunities" (which received the George Polk Award, the Sidney Hillman Award and a Deadline Award), "The Reckoning," (which won the Loeb and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), and "Toxic Waters," (which received The Scripps Howard National Journalism Award, the Investigative Reporters and Editors' Medal, the National Academies' reporting award and others.)
I'm a native of New Mexico and I studied history at Yale and received an MBA from Harvard Business School. Before becoming a journalist, I worked in private equity and - for one terrifying day - was a bike messenger in San Francisco. I have appeared on This American Life, N.P.R., The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, and Frontline.
By Ethan Jones:
In this wonderful book, Charles Duhigg, an investigative reporter for The New York Times, tackles an important reality head on. That is, people succeed when they identify patterns that shape their lives--and learn how to change them. This idea--that you can indeed change your habits--draws on recent research in experimental psychology, neurology, and applied psychology.
As you can see from the TOC below, Duhigg really goes after a broad range of topics. He looks at the habits of individuals, how habits operate in the brain, how companies use them, and how retailers use habits to manipulate buying habits. This provides some fascinating research and stories, such as the fact that grocery stores put fruits and vegetables at the front of the store because people who put these healthy items in their carts are more apt to buy junk food as well before they leave the store. The author's main contention is that "you have the freedom and responsibility" to remake your habits. He says "the most addicted alcoholics can become sober. The most dysfunctional companies can transform themselves. A high school dropout can become a successful manager." He makes a convincing case for all this. The only problem is that's all he does. He doesn't show you how to do it.
PART ONE: THE HABITS OF INDIVIDUALS
1. The Habit Loop - How Habits Work
2. The Craving Brain - How to Create New Habits
3. The Golden Rule of Habit Change - Why Transformation Occurs
PART TWO - THE HABITS OF SUCCESSFUL ORGANIZATIONS
4. Keystone Habits, or The Ballad of Paul O'Neill - Which Habits Matter Most
5. Starbucks and the Habit of Success - When Willpower Becomes Automatic
6. The Power of a Crisis - How Leaders Create Habits Through Accident and Design
7. How Target Knows What You Want Before You Do - When Companies Predict (and manipulate) Habits
PART THREE - THE HABITS OF SOCIETIES
8. Saddleback Church and the Montgomery Bus Boycott - How Movements Happen
9. The Neurology of Free Will - Are We Responsible for Our Habits?
My chief complaint is he doesn't really show you how to break bad habits. For this you should consider Emotional Intelligence 2.0. That book was great for my self-control.