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The Power of Habit: The Book Report

Updated on December 3, 2012

Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Author: Charles Duhigg, award winning reporter (print and TV) and finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer.

Publisher: Random House, 2012; Hardback $28.00US. 274 pages exclusive of appendix, notes and index; 371 pages total.

Discussion: There are any number of books on how to change bad habits, such as smoking and over-eating. Truisms regarding change, including the author's own, are well known. They include:

  • "This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you chose them to be." (The Power to Change, p. 274)
  • "If you do what you have always done, you will get what you always got." (Variously attributed to Mark Twain, Henry Ford and Anthony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, Socrates, and others)
  • "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result." (Variously attributed to Albert Einstein, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, Rita Mae Brown, Benjamen Franklin, and others)

The problem isn't that we fail to recognize bad habits, know that we want to change them, and have some idea of how to do so. The problem is making the decision to change. The author explores how a decision become an automatic behavior, or a habit. He also explores the neurology of habit formation, how to build new habits and change old ones in one's personal life, business life and in society. He uses various examples of individuals who have changed major areas of their lives, such as quitting smoking, losing weight and making other life changes consecutively or at the same time. The point is to analyze how the decision to change is triggered, identify the steps necessary to change the behavior, and then act. In its most simple iteration, the steps are:

  1. Make a decision.
  2. Believe in the decision that you have made.
  3. Do something to carry out the decision.

The author uses a conversational tone in exploring the area of habit formation. His book is the proverbial "easy read." He cannot, however, put to rest the central issue: what happens in the moment that we commit to change. I don't think it is known, and may not be. Perhaps it is that flash of insight and commitment driving change that makes up our essential human nature. The path, certainly, is there. First, you must decide to put a foot on it.

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