Review & notes of The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Sub-heading: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
By: Charles Duhigg
Narrated by: Mike Chamberlain
Length: 10 hrs and 53 mins
Release date: 02-28-12

Initial thoughts

This is one of those books that has been around for a while, and people tell you to read, but because they have done so… it immediately goes to the back of the list.

The usual phraseology is, “oh I think it could be very beneficial to you”, in a kind of condescending way… without actually telling you anything of value.

I got this book a little while ago and it took my dad to start listening to it and cite some specific examples.. that always helps for me, for me to think…that does sounds interesting… let’s give it a go.

It IS pretty good.

Way its written

You may think, as I did, ‘oh it’s another self-help book’, but its written much more like a scientific story progression if that makes sense.

In fact it reminds me a lot like any of the Malcolm Gladwell books, in the way that it tells a story of some person that was suffering from a problem, then doctors or people wanting to make change find out that there’s a habit involved, and then go about trying to create new habits to make the situation better.

The big difference is that this book has a lot more empirical evidence behind it. (A lot of Malcolm Gladwell books deal with social science subjects, ie. The Tipping Point, the 10,000 hours point from Outliers etc.)

Its example, problem, habit, solve the problem by adding or changing the habit.

Yet in most of this, it doesn’t aim to tell you exactly what to do, rather it gives you examples of what others have done and then lets you draw your own conclusions.

That being said, at the end of the book it does tell you what you can do. With an example of the author and his cookie eating habit.

You can also learnt a bunch of general & maybe weird information, like the company Cinnabon taking advantage of people habits in their store locations, or supermarkets in the layout of their shops and where they put certain kinds of foods, all very fascinating. See notes for more details.


Its honestly a very worthwhile book, and I like the format.  It’s easy to listen to, you don’t have to take that many notes. Although drawing your own conclusions from the examples given is of course important.

And it allows you to learn something, which was probably always at the back of your head, reflect on it in the context of your own situation and easily begin putting those lessons into practice.

What are my own take away points?

Fascinating points about the different levels of thinking – actually thinking, recalling memories and habits.

You can create ingrained routine habits and therefore save brain or memory power by having done them so many times you don’t have to think about it.


The general formula = cue + routine = reward
When I see cue, I will do certain routine in order to get a reward.


For my bad habits & wanting to create good habits there’s a certain framework to problem solving:


The frame work =

Identify the routine

Experiment with rewards

Isolate the cue

Have a plan.


5 keys things to write down/ to think about when the craving for a habit hits.

  1. Where are you when the habit hits?
  2. What time is it?
  3. What’s your emotional state?
  4. Who else is around?
  5. What action proceeded the urge?


Things that I will start to do going forward:


  1. Write a ‘day after’ journal of things that I’ve accomplished (only things that I’ve accomplished, not what I haven’t) at the end of each day & then reflect on that list straight after reading it.

-(Much like fat people do for food journals so they can track just how much and what things they’re putting into their body.

-The idea is to become conscious of the inputs & outputs and the ‘achievements’ of each day

2. Visualise the task that I need to do before I do it. Don’t launch straight into a task, 1st visualise it in my mind, run through how I think everything is supposed to play out and how I want to work on something.

-Then after I’ve done the task, visualise and playback exactly how I’ve done it

-Why? To better understand what I should be doing, think about things carefully, to not just act without proper thought…(or not act at all), and to hopefully improve for next time a similar task comes up in the future.

‘Small wins ‘ gives you confidence and feel like bigger wins are inevitable.

A good review & sum up to watch


The power of habit.

Chapter 1 – Individual habits

Talks about chunking. Just like the Mezzofanti guild for languages.

Chunking for habits. 2 small parts or many small parts = 1 chunk. Out these chunks together and you have a process or a full memory of a process. Without actually having to use your memory recall functions or thinking ability.

Interesting. Says this is routine, this is habit.

Basil ganglia. Part of the brain that I guess focuses the brain on what can become a habit and what needs to be thought about.

Habit is the brain trying to use less energy and be more efficient. Trying to do less thinking work.

The brain looks for cues to understand which habit to follow.

Chapter 2 – The craving brain. How to create new habits.

Claude Hopkins advertising rules. He’s supposed to ha e a book or something.

With relation to the toothpaste example.

Pepsident company? Hepsident?

Cue and reward.

Habit loop.

Procter and gamble example. On Febreeze.

Talks about cue and reward with monkeys bit essentially creating cravings and neurological addiction .

Which I then guess they’re using to do this to market products.

Remove the buzzing for messages or we chat as it is the cue to check your phone, email or social media. The cue feeds the addiction.

Solution, remove the cue.

Cinnabon freely flowing smells wafting on corridors this the placement if the shops.

How to ignore the temptations?

The CEO of Alcoa. Aluminium company of America

Michael  O’Neil.

Talks about the terrible medical system and how governments were dealing with it.

Turned around Alcoa by the safety record and because he managed to get the workers involved and believing in the company.

Me. I would guess why Woolworths does the thing it does for listing the share price above the warehouse entrance. Etc. Get people to believe in the company.

Individuals have habits, groups have routines.


Visualisation after the fact. And before the event. To help you to concentrate in what you’re going to do.

Me. I’m going to try doing that.
Visualise the events I’m going to do first before I try to launch into it.
Visualise it after to make sure I didn’t miss anything even after I’ve finished it.

So I can improve for later.

‘Small wins ‘ gives you confidence and feel like bigger wins are inevitable. I think that’s his point.

Talks about fat people and taking a journal of what they eat.

Me. Perhaps I could do a day after journal of what I’ve actually accomplished. And the reflect on it each day.

What I’ve actually accomplished.

This sounds like a really good idea.

If it can work for the fat people to get them to think about their daily inputs…Not just get out of hand, then get overly fat.

I could understand what my inputs and outputs are so that things don’t get out of hand.

Paint over the President parking spots to send the message that whoever gets there early can park there. Everyone is important.

Chapter 5 Starbucks and the habit of success

When will power becomes automatic.

Me. How to be more self-disciplined?

How do I increase my will power?

Those who were more disciplined outperformed those with higher IQ almost every time .

Me. I think that backs up my thinking that Asian people in general aren’t necessarily smarter, yet because they have more self-discipline they are more successful and get higher grades. And are therefore more employable.

Says beat what to get greater sled discipline is to make it into habit.

Studies of will power in children with the marshmallows.

States that will power is a muscle. And it can be trained.

That’s why getting young kids involved in piano lessons or sports activities is so important. Not necessarily because they will become Greta musicians but because the will power the need to practice 15 mins a day as a 5 year old (even if it’s forced by the parents) will translate to a 6 year old that more likely has will power built up so that they can do homework for 20 mins a day.

Me. That’s an interesting point.

Is it then that Asian people have a lot more will power that non-Asian kids?

Many of us don’t get taught the will power growing up or there’s no habit of it. It’s either there or not there and we don’t know that we can train it.

Star bucks trying to give their employees self-discipline.

LATTE method.

Let the customer explain
Acknowledge the problem
Take action to solve the problem
Thank the customer
Explain to the customer why it happened.

Is a routine to use when a customer is angry. Stops people from freezing up or flipping out.

Cue then habit.
Cue = angry customer…Probably yelling at you.
Habit = the process.

Chapter 6 – The power of a crisis

How leaders create habits through accident and design.

The Yale professors book on how companies actually work with regard to habit.

Sounds like a good book to read.

Book. An evolutionary theory of economic change 1982 . Richard Nelson & Sydney Wilson.

He basically says that crisis’s are major chances for change.

However even though suggestions are made to change before, nothing really gets implemented until a crisis and a big loss or mass public awareness is brought in that threatens the company or person.

THEN the habits change.

Me. Sounds like a loss of face that makes the change.

He states the London underground fire example and the Rhode island hospital example.

Leaders often wait for crisis moments to convince others that change is absolutely needed before something incredibly bad happens.

Sometimes they will fabricate a crisis because they know that people get behind crises.

Chapter 7 – How Target knows what you want before you do

How companies predict and manipulate habits.

Example of target and collecting big data.

Of course this is exactly what absolutely everyone does today.

How Google and Amazon advertising algorithms work.

At a grocery store. It’s arranged so that healthy items are the first ones we see…Then going towards the unhealthy and then dairy isles.

If we start with healthy items like fruit and vegetables, were much more likely to buy ice cream later on as it feels like we deserve it.

Dairy needs a wall for fridge power outlets.

Most people turn right when they enter a store. Most of the expensive items are on the right.

Infinograph  a company that monitors people’s chat logs online.  Me. How is that legal?

Rapleaf a company that sells users private data.

Predictive analytics world. Company that also did what target does.

Manages to predict when women are pregnant based on their changes in buying habits. For example baggy pants, skin lotion, mini towels etc.

Sometimes target knows before closer family of the woman knows. Even cites an example where advertising for baby products was sent to a man’s 16 years old daughter. Target knew but the father did not. It took the advertisement and a conversation with the local targets manager for the daughter to come out to her father that she was pregnant.

Polyphonic HMI a company that predicts hit songs.

The project is called hit song science

Stickiness of songs. Listening habits.

From Wikipedia.
Several stars are suspected to have used the system to improve their chances of having a hit, including:
Norah Jones
Maroon 5

Chapter 10 – The neurology of free will

And if we’re responsible for our own habits.

Angie Baulkman the gambler.
Guilty of her habits for gambling.

Talks about a man who murdered his wife in his sleep due to his sleep walking habit and a habit gambler. And how their crimes were dealt with in terms of how people looked at how their habits manifested themselves.

Final chapter

You must know that you have self-control. And be devoted enough to use it.

Once you know that habits can be changed, you have the power and the responsibility to do just that.

Your habits are what you choose them to be.

Me. I wouldn’t really agree with that, some people have habits forced upon them, and if they’re ingrained it’s very difficult to change.

The frame work:
1. Identify the routine
2. Experiment with rewards
3. Isolate the cue
4. Have a plan.

Step 1. Identify the routine.

Figure out the habit loop.

The routine is the behaviour you want to change. Where you go what you do.

What’s the cue?

What’s the reward?

Rewards are powerful because they satisfy cravings.

Instead if doing what you normally do, do something completely different. Or change it marginally.

Eg. Instead of bringing up YouTube, find something else to do.

Are you craving eating a cookie or a break from work?

Is it an excuse to socialise?

After each activity not down the first 3 things that come to you mind after the usual routine is done.

Set an alarm for 15 mins. After it goes off, ask yourself , do you still feel the need for that cookie?

3 things. Even if they are meaningless. 2 fold gains.

1.It forces a momentary awareness of what you are thinking.

  1. Helps in later recalling what you were feeling at the time.

Why the 15 minute alarm?

He point is to determine the reward you’re craving.

If after 15 mins from eating a donut instead of a cookie, you still what to go to the counter….Then it’s not a sugar craving that’s driving your habit as donuts are full of sugar.

5 keys things. To write down to think about when the craving for the habit hits.

  1. Where are you when the habit hits?
  2. What time is it?
  3. What’s your emotional state? , bored.
  4. Who else is around? , no one
  5. What action proceeded the urge? Answered an email.

Step 4 have a plan

When I see… cue…I will instead do a different action.

A habit is a choice we deliberately make at some point and then stop thinking about it as it because habit.

Normal formula = when I see cue I will do routine in order to get a reward.