The power of habit

A book review to help you grow

Elena Cornwell

Upon recommendation, I read the book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” by Charles Duhigg. While some might expect a dry, research-filled book drowned with statistics, the book surprises with the opposite. Although long, “The Power of Habit” is an easy read and is filled with examples and explanations that will make you want to transform your bad habits into good habits.

Duhigg points out that our lives are based on habits, which is why companies can so easily steer advertising materials towards our direct desires. We are predictable. That predictability makes life easy for us in many ways but harder in others. Imagine that you had to think through the process of brushing your teeth every morning. You would have to remember exactly which cupboard you placed the toothbrush in, how long you hold the toothbrush under the water, measure the toothpaste, and count the seconds while you concentrated on moving the brush in little circles across your teeth. Thanks to a daily habit, most people don’t think twice about the many steps involved in brushing your teeth—it’s natural.

To better understand our habits, the book is divided into three main sections, “The Habits of Individuals”, “The Habits of Successful Organizations”, and “The Habits of Societies.” Within each of these sections, in-depth research on the science of what’s called the habit loop is explored, and real-life observations from companies are provided.

One example given is that of Target and its specialized advertising tactics. Duhigg tell the story of how Target’s analytic team tracked spending habits of a woman to determine that she was pregnant down to the specific trimester. The story wraps up with Target discovering a teenager was pregnant before she had even told her father.

Every habit starts the same way—with a cue. This cue is what triggers a routine that you consistently do. To find out your cue, begin by first tracking the habit you want to change each day. Duhigg uses the example of eating a cookie mid-afternoon. What time of day do you want to eat a cookie? Is it after a specific class? Once you have identified your trigger, you can experiment with doing other activities to replace the original.

After identifying your cue and your routine, you need to find a different reward to replace the original. If a cookie is your reward, than a replacement might be taking a five minute walk or drinking a cup of tea. The habit is still there, but you have replaced an unhealthy reward with a healthy reward.

At 416 pages, a typical busy college student preparing for finals can’t read it in one day. But it is possible over the course of a couple of weeks. I encourage you to find this book at the library and get started. If you were able to change even one bad habit now before finals week is upon us, it would be worth it. For those who really don’t want to commit to a whole book, follow this link to to access an easy chart that walks you through habit change. You won’t regret it.

Elena is a senior pursuing a personalized major.