The Power of Habit Summary
One Paragraph Summary The Power of Habit shows us how we can bring positive change to our lives. We want to exercise more regularly, we want to eat better, and we want to stop our harmful behaviors. Charles Duhigg, an investigative reporter for the New York Times, shows how we can do this by replacing bad habits and forming new, supportive habits.
The Power of Habit—Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
A book by Charles Duhigg
By writing this book summary, I learned the following three things:
- Keystone habits are the most powerful habits
- You cannot get rid of bad habits
- Habits stick because they create a craving
Habits hold enormous power over our lives. It is no exaggeration that bad habits can ruin a life.
On the other hand, you can use the power of habits to change your life for the better.
A habit is a routine that is triggered by a cue and which you perform to get a reward.
When you perform a routine for the first time, you need a lot of brainpower to achieve it. When you carry out the routine more often, then the required brainpower for that sequence of actions diminishes.
The basis for forming a new habit is chunking. Chunking is the process of building a sequence of single actions into one big automatic routine.
At Duke University, a researcher discovered that around 40 percent of our actions could be based on habits.
A habit has three constituents:
An external cue, for example, the sound of an alarm clock A routine, for instance, to grope for your glasses A reward, for example, that you can see more clearly and can go to the bathroom
If you have a bad habit which you try to break, you will find out that it is harder than you expected. This difficulty stems mostly from the fact that we crave the reward at the end of the habit loop (cue, routine, reward). When we do not get what we expect, we are disappointed and become grouchy.
We can use this knowledge to form new habits. For example, you might want to get into the routine of exercising regularly. Then it is a good idea to put something at the end of your new routine that you will begin to crave. This award might be a tasty protein shake or a visit to the steam room.
Did you ever try to rid yourself of a bad habit like smoking, for example?
The habit of smoking has an external cue like suddenly feeling stressed. The routine would be to light a cigarette. The reward is that you suddenly feel more relaxed.
When you are a smoker, you will have found out that stopping the habit of smoking is particularly hard, or even impossible. Therefore, a much better idea is to keep the practice and replace the routine. If you find a routine that gives you the same feeling of relaxation, you can swap the routines. A suitable replacement might be to take a walk for 5 minutes or to do some relaxing exercises.
Replacing the bad routine with a suitable method will only work when you believe in the new routine.
There are some habits, the author calls them keystone habits, that are much more important than other habits in your life. Keystone habits have the power to create positive effects not only in one area but in many simultaneously.
An excellent example of a keystone habit is the habit of keeping a food journal when you want to live a healthier lifestyle.
When forming new habits, you must have early successes that are relatively easy to attain and provide small wins nearly instantly. When you establish a keystone habit, you will teach yourself that change is indeed possible. Then it will be much easier to build upon that belief and create even more positive habits.
Studies show that students with high levels of willpower have better grades.
You can compare your willpower with a muscle; if you use it a lot throughout the day, it will tire. But this also means that you can train your willpower muscle to become stronger.
Interestingly, your willpower muscle will get tired faster when you do something that you have to do, instead of something you want to do. So autonomy seems to strengthen your willpower.
Imagine a supermarket, what is the first area you will probably enter? It is the area where you can fill your basket with fresh fruits and vegetables. Why is that? Well, because marketers were watching, recording, and analyzing our shopping habits.
They found out that when we already put some healthy food in our baskets, we are much more likely to grab some unhealthy food as well.
Everything in a supermarket is optimized to increase profit. You will find cheaper brands near the bottom of the shelf. On eye-level, you will see the well established and more expansive brands. The marketers have chosen this order because they know their customer's habits. Everybody is looking for products at eye-level first.
When we have harmful habits, it is our responsibility to address and change it.
The moment you become aware that you are following a bad routine, only you can stop it and make the necessary change.
Remember, it is far easier to change the routine than the complete habit.
Typically, people who exercise, start eating better, and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.―Charles Duhigg
Before I had read the book, I never heard of keystone habits. But the concept makes total sense. Some practices will influence a couple of areas in your life simultaneously. Here is a list of keystone habits:
- Making your bed early in the morning. This practice will start your day with a small quick success and will improve your overall productivity
- Exercise will have beneficial effects on many areas in your life. You will become healthier, you will likely eat better, and you will feel more relaxed.
- Keeping a food journal will prevent you from overeating, it will support you in making better food choices, and it will help you to control your weight
- Visualization of desired outcomes
- Planning your day
- Establishing morning and evening routines
- Getting up early
- Protecting your sleep
The Golden Rule of Habit Change: You can't extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.―Charles Duhigg
A considerable insight I got from the book is that it is nearly impossible to remove a harmful habit from your life. And you probably don't have to remove the habit in the first place.
It is much easier just to replace the routine of that harmful habit with a beneficial routine. You can keep the old cue and the former reward.
It is facile to imply that smoking, alcoholism, overeating, or other ingrained patters can be upended without real effort. Genuine change requires work and self-understanding of the cravings driving behaviours.―Charles Duhigg
To change bad behavior, we need to find out why we do it. Looking for the craving that is satisfied by the action will provide you the answer.
We all want change in our life. To bring positive change into your life, forming new habits is the way to go.
You can make lasting change more manageable when you find and implement keystone habits first.
If you want to change a harmful habit, remember you can keep the cue and reward, and change only the routine.
Try to implement a keystone habit. Make your bed first thing in the morning and see whether it increases your well-being.
- To form a new habit put a reward at the end of the routine that you will crave.
- To change a habit, substitute the routine, and believe in the change.
- When you want to bring positive change into your life, focus on keystone habits first
Read more about Charles Duhigg on his website.
Charles Duhigg has also written Smarter Faster Better.
If you liked reading the The Power of Habit Summary, you should also read the Atomic Habits Book Summary.