Book Summary of The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

We are all creatures of habit; this is a good thing. So asserts Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Duhigg says that our lives are run by a cycle of repeated triggers (or cues) and rewards. These cycles can never be truly eliminated but the good news is that undesirable, self-defeating habits can simply be replaced with more beneficial ones. In his book, Duhigg explains how. Whether your goal is to lose weight and develop healthier eating habits, make more and spend less money, or build a more successful business, the key to success is to harness the power of habit and make it work for you.

Duhigg starts by explaining exactly what comprises a habit and makes it so powerful in our everyday lives. A habit is a pattern instigated by a trigger or cue – something that motivates one to take an action. Once that action is taken, some sort of reward is received. The actual action(s) needed to get that reward is the routine. This repeated cycle of trigger, routine, and reward forms a habit.

He then shares the story of Pepsodent toothpaste and Claude C. Hopkins, the man who succeeded in making it a household name. In the early 1900s, the average American did not regularly brush their teeth. After a bit of research, Hopkins, an advertising executive, identified something in dental textbooks called mucin plaque, a harmless film that covers the teeth. He called this “the film”. In his marketing campaign, he drew attention to the film and then prescribed the “cure” – a quick brushing with Pepsodent toothpaste, which contained citric acid and mint oil to prevent the paste from degrading on store shelves. These ingredients had an unanticipated side effect – they caused a pleasurable tingling sensation in the mouths of people as they brushed their teeth. This “reward” created the pattern, or routine, of brushing teeth with Pepsodent and soon the manufacturers found themselves unable to produce the stuff fast enough to satisfy demand. An interesting side note, and the reason some habits are so difficult to break is that neurologists have found that this “Trigger-Routine-Reward” cycle actually causes fundamental pattern changes within the brain, creating neurological craving.

Using these principles, positive beneficial habits can be substituted for negative self-defeating ones. First, identify the cue – the element triggering the negative behavior. Next, realize the routine – the behavior itself. Then, find a more beneficent reward to redirect the routine, thus creating and reinforcing a new habit.

The important things to remember to effectively absorb the concepts detailed in “The Power of Habit” are:

Habits are a natural part of a person’s psychological makeup. They are neither inherently good nor bad. Whether your goal is personal (e.g., eat a healthier diet) or business-oriented (e.g., double your sales output), the routines in your life are a choice and can therefore be consciously managed.

A habit is a result of a “Trigger-Routine-Reward” cycle. Identify the trigger, alter the reward, and you can easily change that routine.

Habits cause fundamental changes in brainwave patterns, reinforcing repetitive behaviors and creating cravings. Awareness of these cravings allows one to make better choices.

By understanding Charles Duhigg’s ideas about the nature of habits and how to utilize them to institute changes in your life you empower yourself to become the person you’ve always wanted to be. Embrace the change.