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Book Summary • The Power of Habits

Cover of the book

I read a book about habits and didn’t want to forget the core ideas in it, so here’s my small summary!

The book is written well but the writer takes the idea to far. Half way in the book there’s a point he starts writing about organisations instead of individual habits and it goes downhill from there. Everything becomes a habit. Civil movements, church, addictions…

Another smaller point of criticism is a trick the writer uses too often: introducing a story in the beginning of a chapter and resolve the story only in the end. That was fresh and exciting in chapter one, but when used for every chapter it’s a bit much.

Other than the two points above the book was enjoyable. Here’s my quick summary:

  • 80% of what we do is based on habits
  • the brain has a separate area for storing habits (which is why people with lesions who cannot make memories, can still store habits)
  • making a new habit is very difficult. Instead it’s better to ‘rewrite’ an older one (BJ Foggs adds: or add a new habit onto an existing one)
  • habits consist of a cue and a reward. You keep doing the habit because (unconsciously) you’ve developed a craving for the reward
  • to change a habit: investigate the trigger, behavior and reward. Then adapt the behavior. Make it easy for yourself (put the running shoes next to your bed) and start small (that’s not in the book, but from BJ Fogg’s tinyhabits, better start by flossing just one tooth then to never start at all)
  • you need a ‘goal’ to maintain willpower to change your habit (‘running the NY marathon’)
  • relapse is dangerous: when things aren’t going your way it’s easy to go into your old habit and stay there (which is why a ‘buddy-system’ like alcoholics-anonymous works well)
  • “never waste a good crisis” › a crisis is a moment where change can happen. Some managers prolong (or stage) a crisis for this reason
  • there are ‘keystone habits’. If you manage to change those, others follow like dominoes (people that start jogging, also start eating healthier; people that start tidying their bed in the morning, also become more punctual; etc.)
  • habits can be dangerous. Think smoking or gambling, but also sleep walking: people apparently have killed people while sleep walking. In the latter case the actions were so ‘automatic’ that the people were not convicted.
  • the power of weak-ties: apparently it’s better to have a big group of ‘acquintances’ than a small group of friends. With a big network you can easier get new information (like a job-opening)

There were some interesting examples:

  • Fabreze: the company could not sell the product (an apparently revolutionary air freshener) until they got the idea to make it part of the habit loop. Fabreze is now marketed as the ‘reward’ for cleaning your house
  • Starbucks: offers a lot of courses (“it’s maybe the US’ largest educator”), also on habits. It changed some peoples lives (for instance by letting words of angry customers not get to you: “the apron is your shield”)
  • the army: to avoid a huge demonstration in Iraq/Afghanistan, all you have to do is remove the hot-dog stands from the square
  • Target uses a lot of data to find out your habits and promote or change your ‘shopping habit’
  • Alcoa: a new CEO changed the company by completely focusing on safety of the workers. By doing that, new communication lines needed to be established, workers were instructed to offer advice, management got more involved in the daily work, etc. Net-result: a more profitable company. (example of changing a keystone-habit)
  • a hospital: where the culture was so rotten that nurses came up with secret codes to indicate which surgeons were assholes and which ones were just ‘sloppy’. In the end the coverups no longer worked and people started dying.

Here’s another readable article on the book: https://collegeinfogeek.com/power-of-habit-5-lessons/

book cover not under the Creative Commons license