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



Charles Duhigg

We cannot change behaviors – including visual behaviors – without changing habits. Habits are behaviors which have become so automatic that they require little or no conscious thought. We can override a habit through conscious attention but this exhausts our available working memory. We have all experienced the errors that we tend to make when our working memory is taxed, such as not being able to remember why we opened the refrigerator.


To change a habitual behavior we need to form a new habit which becomes more automatic and more efficient than the prior habit. This requires successful repetition under increasingly demanding conditions. Learning to drive a car is a good example of the development of automaticity. The more automatic the task becomes, the more resilient it is to stress. The following excerpts provide a sense of the author’s message….

  • Habits serve many purposes, but when an act becomes automatic, we don’t have to exert as much conscious thought which is demonstrated by less brain activity.
  • When multiple tasks become unified, less attention is required.
  • Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize – they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense. p. 25
  • The Golden Rule of habit change, confirmed by multiple studies, is that you can never truly extinguish bad habits. Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine. p. 62
  • Researchers began finding that habit replacement worked pretty well for many people until the stresses of life got too high. When they dug into the people’s stories, they discovered that replacement habits only become durable when they are accompanied by something else; until the person started believing they could change. pp. 84 – 85 Small wins are important. Once a small win has been accomplished – and recognized – forces are set in motion that favor another small win. pp. 112
  • With more than 137,000 current employees and more than one million alumni, Starbucks is now, in a sense, one of the nation’s largest educators…. At the core of that education is an intense focus on an all-important habit: willpower. Dozens of studies show that willpower is the single most important keystone habit for individual success. In a 2005 study, for instance, researches from the University of Pennsylvania analyzed 164 eighth-grade students, measuring their IQs and other factors, including how much willpower the students demonstrated, as measured by tests of their self-discipline. “Highly self-disciplined adolescents outperformed their more impulsive peers on every academic-performance variable – more robustly than IQ.” P. 131
  • Willpower is a learnable skill, something that can be taught the same way kids learn to do math and say, “thank you.” P. 134
  • That’s why signing kids up for piano lessons or sports is so important. It has nothing to do with creating a good musician or a five-year-old soccer star. When you learn to force yourself to practice for an hour or run fifteen laps, you start building self-regulatory strength. A five-year-old who can follow the ball for ten minutes becomes a sixth grader who can start his homework on time. P. 139 – 140piano-523050_960_720
  • The Power of Play
  • A for Effort
  • Worried Sick
  • Welcome to Your Child’s Brain
  • The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control, Part One
  • The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control, Part Two