Why We Do What We Do - The Power of Habit

The Power of Habit by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charles Duhigg explores how habits can form behaviors that influence every aspect of our lives.

Why We Do What We Do - The Power of Habit

The Power of Habit by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charles Duhigg explores how habits can form behaviors that influence every aspect of our lives. StudyStream summarizes some of the most crucial parts of the book and simplifies Duhigg’s chapters to understand why we do what we do and the true power of forming habits to change the way we live, work and study.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

So, what is The Power of Habit about? This book is inspired by extensive research into how our habits alter our patterns of behavior. The book is suitable for employees and students, it is for anyone who is struggling to change a bad habit or create a new one. When we understand the reasons behind our habits, we can utilize our brain's abilities to create and continue routines.

At the beginning of the book, the author explains the science behind the unconscious behaviors we have in our daily routines and how our brain can not distinguish the difference between good and bad habits. He also explains that despite their power, our habits are not set in stone, they can be changed and we do have the ability to mold them to fit our academic, lifestyle, or business needs.

The first chapter delves into a story about Eugene Pauly, who lost his memory due to illness and the research inspired by his story revealed that habits were still formed despite his memory loss. During this chapter, Duhigg also talks about the habit loop. This cycle has three elements that each have a critical role, the cue, which is the trigger and tells the brain what action to do, the routine which is the behavior that we do and the reward is the pleasure we feel after completing the routine. Duhigg says “This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental, or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.”

The second chapter uncovers two case studies and how they changed their strategies and found their success. He also talks about the key ingredient that cements a habit, a craving. And we are not talking about a food craving here of course. He is talking about the craving that our brains have for the reward. If we know that by doing a certain task, we will get a reward, something we enjoy, we are more likely to achieve an ongoing habit. If we want to change a habit, we have to develop a craving for a reward.

Following on from this in chapter three, Duhigg talks about the golden rule of habit change. Which is that if we want to change a habit, we must keep the same cue and reward, but change the routine. That way, we are making a minimal amount of change but tricking our brains into shifting into a new habit.

Chapter four explores keystone habits, which are habits that have a domino effect. Duhigg talks about the types of habits we have in our daily lives, such as our eating habits, and how they have a direct impact on other habits such as our exercise habits. He says “Keystone habits offer what is known within academic literature as ‘small wins.’ They help other habits to flourish by creating new structures, and they establish cultures where change becomes contagious.” He goes on further to explain in chapter five, the importance of willpower can have in changing our habits. Duhigg says “This is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.”    

In the further chapters, he discusses habits within society and questions if we are responsible for our individual habits. He concludes that most of the habits in our lives we are conscious of, therefore, we can change them if we wish to. Once you believe that change is a possibility and you have made the decision, there is only you standing in your way.

Duhigg provides “a framework for understanding how habits work and a guide to experimenting with how they might change.” There are four elements to this framework: identifying the routine, experimenting with rewards, isolating the cut that triggers our bad habits, and having the plan to change them.

A few takeaways from this book are that changing a habit doesn’t have to appear like an impossible task. Some simple ways can have a hugely positive effect on your daily work and study life. Once you know what your craving is, it’s easier to force this change. If you enjoy watching videos on social media or reading books, make this your reward once you finish the task you have to complete. There is a lot of power in knowing why you do what you do.


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