Spruced Up Spaces Ann Arbor

Summary of the book THE POWER OF HABIT

Posted at November 4, 2015

I recently read the book The Power of Habit (Random House, 2012) by Charles Duhigg. I found this book to be incredibly engaging, well researched, and the bearer of an inspiring message: any habit can be changed if we understand how it works. I highly recommend this book!

the power of habit charles duhigg

The Power of Habit is helping me to look at the organizing work that my clients and I do together from a new and compelling perspective. It’s also giving me fresh ideas for how to support clients in making and sustaining the changes (i.e. changing the organizing habits) that they’re committed to.

There are many excellent summaries and reviews of The Power of Habit on the internet, so I am not going to pen a lengthy review. If you wish to read one of those, I might suggest:


Charles Duhigg also has a good video on his website which explains habits, and a nice diagram summarizing how to break (change) habits.

What follows, then, is a list of my main takeaways from the book. Perhaps something here will catch your interest and lead you to explore the book yourself.

    • Habits are directly affected by our neurobiology. As a routine becomes become more familiar – the more and more we perform an action – our brain doesn’t have to work as hard and it gradually learns how to execute the routine ‘automatically’.
    • Habits work because of a feedback loop which was discovered by scientists at MIT. The loop is made up of 3 parts:
      — The CUE (the trigger which tells your brain to go into automatic mode)
      — The ROUTINE (the action you take because your brain tells you to)
      — The REWARD (the positive outcome that happens as a result of the Routine; this is what helps your brain figure out that this loop is worth remembering)
    • With repetition over time, the Cue and the Reward eventually become intertwined and combine to create a powerful sense of ANTICIPATION and CRAVING. It is the Craving which makes a habit so powerful.

Habit Loop

  • Research shows that if we learn the structure of the habit loop we can come to understand, anticipate, control, and ultimately change the habit.
  • You can never fully extinguish an old habit. You can only change a habit.
  • You change a habit by developing an awareness of the Craving – recognizing it when it’s coming on, recognizing the power it has over you. Once you’re able to recognize the Craving, you then then learn to replace the old Routine with a new Routine. You keep the same Cue and Reward in place, you ‘simply’ insert a new Routine.
  • The change formula described above must be accompanied by a genuine Belief that change is possible. Without belief in one’s potential, failure is almost certain.
  • Mental toughness (willpower) isn’t just a learnable skill, it’s a “muscle” and as you exercise it more and more it gets stronger. It allows you to regulate your impulses and distract yourself away from temptations. Writing down one’s goals is a powerful way to strength willpower.
  • Small wins often fuel transformative changes. Instead of trying to change lots of habits all at once, pick one and master it. Then move on to the next. You will be stronger and more prepared this way for the next change.
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