The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Charles Duhigg, Random House 2012

The science of habits is a fascinating subject, one that held Charles Duhigg, the Pulitzer Prize-winning business reporter with the New York Times, in a ten-year thrall and inspired his 2012 international bestseller The Power of Habits.

It is a book that promises much and delivers more.

After reading hundreds of scientific papers and interviewing many of the experts who wrote them; after observing organizational and societal behaviours (Parts Two and Three of the book are devoted to the Habits of Successful Organizations, and Habits of Societies); after tracking his own ‘cookie’ habit, Mr. Duhigg identified the ‘habit loop’ which is a cue; a routine; a reward.

Using his own afternoon cookie craving, he then designed a process of interruptive actions:
• isolate the cue;
• identify the routine;
• experiment with rewards.
(See flowcharts below)

To his surprise, the cookie was subterfuge; his real need or craving (a behaviour won’t become a habit without a craving), was to connect with colleagues. When the need was met, the cookie craving faded away.

“The specifics of diagnosing and changing the patterns in our lives differ from person to person and behavior to behavior,” Duhigg writes. “Giving up cigarettes is different than curbing overeating, which is different from changing how you communicate with your spouse, which is different from how you prioritize tasks at work.”

So, it seems we must look at our own habits, formulate our own solutions, and also, the author adds: “…believe our behaviour can change”.

Individuals, and Organizations and Societies all share the same underlying habit/routine formation and structure, and all can create new behaviours … if they focus on keystone habits. (The book defines a keystone habit as a habit that starts a process that over time, transforms everything.)

The power of a keystone habit is most clearly seen in the book’s second section: The Habits of Organizations. Chockfull of great narratives (E.g., How one woman’s bed-making habit with Febreeze prompted yearly earnings of $1 billion for P&G; or how a CEO’s seemingly cockeyed fixation on safety and fire exits rather than on profits, turned Alcoa into the third largest producer of aluminium in the world), this section is a true page-turner.

Though instructive and enjoyable, the book is 400 pages; so, if time is short, you can glean the essentials through either the two flowcharts below, or the link to a 30-minute summary ebook:



  1. I got to see Charles Duhigg speak at a conference and I had already bought his book when it first came out. What I really enjoyed about his book (and his talk) was that it’s more than a forensic dive into the creation of habits, but he also talks about steps you need to undertake to replace bad habits with good ones. I wish he had said more about how to start a good habit (e.g. there is no bad habit to replace – if you want to run every morning, for example – it’s not that you were doing anything “bad” or “wrong” – you just want to start something new and better…) but it was a great model, and easily understandable. Definitely worth the read!

  2. Lisa – thanks very much for your comment. You make an excellent point. I’m glad you found the book valuable, and I agree that the easy to understand and implement model is a real benefit.
    Best wishes,

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