Saturday, September 26, 2015

Book Review: The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg

In The Power Of Habit – Why we do what we do and how to change – author Charles Duhigg takes us into the thrilling and surprising world of the scientific study of habits. The book is an eye-opener into how habits change lives both of individuals and corporates. Though all of us know how difficult it is to form good habits and get rid of bad habits, this book made for some very interesting reading. A few examples of what I found fascinating throughout the book follow.

In one example of a man who had lost parts of his memory, one of the doctors makes a beautiful comment, “I saw how rich life can be even if you can't remember it. The brain has this amazing ability to find happiness even when the memories of it are gone.”

Keystone habits” matter more than others in remaking businesses and lives. They can influence how people work, eat, play, live, spend and communicate. Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything. While discussing these habits, the book talks about how they help explain how Michael Phelps became an Olympic champion and how Alcoa became one of the best performing stocks in the Dow Jones index, while also becoming one of the safest places on earth.

Duhigg states how routines are habits which we do without thinking. Habits create cultures where new values become ingrained. Small wins help create widespread changes, for example, keeping a food journal helps monitor one's diet leading to better health.

The book also highlights the power of social peer pressure in leading to worldwide movements. Most movements happen because of strong ties of friendship and weak ties of peer pressure giving protestors a new sense of self identities. A wonderful example is the protests against the race issues in the USA.

Another piece of discussion that I found interesting was the one on sleepwalking. Mark Mahowald, a professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota and a pioneer in understanding sleep behaviours says, “Sleepwalking is a reminder that wake and sleep are not mutually exclusive.” There's also an interesting study conducted by a cognitive neuroscientist Reza Habib where he was particularly interested in looking at the brain systems involved in habits and addictions.

There's a fascinating piece of information on William James whose 1892 quote, “All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.” features in the prologue. James spent 12 months believing he had control over himself and his destiny, that he could become better, that he had the free will to change. He later wrote that the will to believe is the most important ingredient in creating belief in change. And that one of the most important methods for creating that belief was habits.

Duhigg offers a four-stage plan to form or reshape habits. Identify the routine, Experiment with rewards, Isolate the cue and Have a plan. As the author says, Once you know a habit exists, you have the responsibility to change it.

I hope now that I have read the book I will be able to at least change a few of my habits and, thus, change my life as many of the people mentioned in the book have done.

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