The Power of Habit Review + 12 Practical Takeaways

The Power of Habit, written by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Charles Duhigg, is split into three parts.

Part one explores the practical science of habits, how to build new habits, and how to change old ones.

Part two examines the institutional habits of governments, companies, and sports teams.

And part three takes a broader look at the habits of societies, how they change, and how they can lead to revolution!

With such interesting subject matter, it’s no wonder The Power of Habit spent 120 weeks on The New York Times’ Bestseller List!

For a synopsis of the practical takeaways from The Power of Habit, read on.

For the rest on revolutions, ethics, and institutional habit hacking, buy the book!

1. Why Habits Exist

One main reason habits exist is because they help us conserve mental energy.

When reacting to a new situation, your mind is on high alert.

On the other hand, when reacting to the mundane, like brushing your teeth, you autonomously move through the motions with little effort or thought.

These well practiced routines, or habits, exist in our Basal Ganglia, which is an efficient reptile-like brain in the back of our heads.

When this Basal Ganglia is triggered to engage, we effortlessly move through practiced routines.

For the most part, the habits and routines that exist in our Basal Ganglia serve us well.

However, unfortunately, we can’t tell the difference between a good or bad habit, and once our Basal Ganglia is engaged, it’s difficult to stop it from moving through it’s thoughtless routines.

2. The Components of a Habit

Habits consist of a three-step loop.

First there is a cue, otherwise known as a trigger, that alerts the Basal Ganglia to engage and start the loop. Like how at bedtime, you head to the bathroom to brush your teeth.

Then there is our routine that occurs as a response to the cue. Like brushing your teeth for a few minutes.

Then, there is a reward, which causes the brain to value the habit. Like that minty, clean feeling after brushing your teeth.

Finally, once a habit becomes strong enough, we can start craving the habit loop as we associate it with the reward. Like feeling a strong urge to find a toothbrush when you forgot to pack one on vacation.

3. The Golden Rule of Habit Change

In a similar fashion to never forgetting how to ride a bike, we never truly forget our old habits.

However, habits can fade with time, and they can be overwritten.

To break a bad habit, you should focus on keeping the same cue and a similar reward, but change the routine.

For instance, you may crash onto your couch and scroll Reddit everyday after work to unwind.

Your cue is the end of the day, your routine is laying on your couch on your phone, and the reward is that you get to unwind.

To change this habit, you could maybe start going for a relaxing walk at the end of your day.

The cue is still the end of the day and the reward is still unwinding, but the routine itself is different.

Sometimes, habits are a little more complex.

For example, if you’re a smoker, you may smoke for more than one reason.

You smoke sometimes because you crave nicotine, and other times because you crave stimulation, or relaxation, or social connection, or a combination of the above and more.

To help replace this smoking habit — which is incredibly difficult — you may try to think about what reward(s) you are craving, and what cue(s) are associated with these reward(s).

Then, you can choose new routines as a reaction to the cues that provide similar rewards to the ones you were craving.

With smoking, this means you would have to create a new routine for each cue and reward you get from smoking.

For example, a few replacement routines for smoking could be nicotine gum for nicotine cravings, coffee breaks with friends for social and stimulation cravings, and deep breathing for relaxation cravings.

In addition to overwriting old routines with new routines, it can be useful to avoid your old cues / triggers. If the habit is cued or triggered less, then you will have to battle the cravings less, and it will fade in time.

Another key concept to keep in mind is that “individuals and habits are all different, and so the specifics of diagnosing and changing the patterns in our lives differ from person to person and behavior to behavior.”

4. The Importance of Self Belief in Habit Change

On your best day, you may be able to replace a bad habit with a better one.

However, on a stressful day, it can be more difficult. At times like this, Duhigg argues that one must have faith that one can persevere.

Apparently, faith, or hope, that one can succeed at overwriting their old habits is of the utmost importance, and is one aspect of Alcoholic Anonymous that purportedly has brought the program success and renown.

5. How To Create New Habits

To create a new habit, you need to select a cue, a routine, and a reward.

Perhaps the cue is a time stamp, like 5:00 PM when you get off work.

Perhaps the routine is a run, like a quick run after work.

Then, the reward could be the endorphins, the feeling of satisfaction for doing something healthy, and perhaps, even, you treat yourself in some way.

Furthermore, you could even add some additional rewards. Perhaps you run with a friend to make it social, or maybe you put $5 in a jar every time you run!

6. The Author’s Guide to Help You Use These Ideas

If you’ve found the above information relevant, you’ll love the longer-form article by the author about how you can apply these ideas in your life:

Or bite the bullet and buy his book to get all the above and all the rest about habits, sports, and revolutions!

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