The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:

Super-interesting, mostly-research-based book that details the habit loops of people (from athletes to addicts) and organizations. It’s full of interesting anecdotes and small business history lessons and functions mostly as a quick and easy read, one that is full of little snippets of advice on how you might change your personal habit loops, as well as concrete examples of how such patterns have worked in the past. There are definitely times when he’s chosen to present one particular side of a very controversial event, and other times where things seem to be a bit glossed over, but it’s a fun read (which I valued slightly more for entertainment/habit-thought-provoking, than actual research).

Greater Detail:

Parts of this book get a little repetitive (and the end feels tacked on/dragged out/tone-shifted), but the basic ideas is that it examines:

Part 1 — Habits of Individuals takes you through MIT research on rats, other brain and cognitive concepts to show you that habits are part social, part neuroscience, and that we do have some ability to affect our own loops.

Chapter 1: The Habit Loop — foundational ideas about why/how we develop habits

Chapter 2: The Craving Brain — which should be about how new habits are created, but really this is sprinkled into different sections throughout the book

Chapter 3: The gold Rule of Habit Change — which takes you through how we can be successful (already, there’s a fair bit of overlap between some of the main points of chapters 2 and 3, but there are enough interesting personal stories, etc to keep you engaged).

Part 2 — Habits of Successful Organizations goes through a variety of businesses that have successful transformed themselves through thoughtful change of bureaucratic structures.

Chapter 4: Keystone Habits — discusses that not all habits are created equal, sometimes a small shift (or better yet a small shift in a key place) has overarching positive benefits.

Chapter 5: Starbucks and the Habit of Success — talks about the importance of willpower (that it’s a finite resource, that you can give yourself scripts to overcome trying situations).

Chapter 6: The Power of a Crisis — looks at how sometimes older, more entrenched organizations need a crisis before they can see how unhealthy their habit loops have become.

Chapter 7: How Target Knows What You Want Before You Do — describes how companies like Target gather rewards-level information to be able to predict which of their clients are pregnant (and also how to advertise to such clients without seeming creepy and stalker-ish).

Part 3 — Habits of Societies gives us historical and current events perspectives on how everything from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to individual addicts are controlled (either implicitly or explicitly) by our habits/addictions.

Chapter 8: Saddleback Church and the Montgomery Bus Boycott — talks about how Rosa Parts was not the first person to be arrested for not-giving-up her seat, but was well-connected in social circles above and below what you would’ve expected, and also that there were social and peer pressure factors that all became confounding factors to the eventual start of the Civil Rights Movement.

Chapter 9: The Neurology of Free Will — really goes a little off the rails here at the end, talking about a gambling addict and a man who accidentally murders his wife while asleep. It was a very… odd chapter to end the book on.

Overall? It’s a fun book that’s full of more in-depth looks at some news-worthy controversies on a deeper level, as well as business successes that anyone who’s interested in business will find worthy. It’s not really, completely a how-to-change-habits book (though it makes some general strides in that direction in the afterword and throughout), but it’s entertaining despite the fact that I felt like some of the research bits were either beaten-to-death or, alternatively, oddly glossed over.

Comparison to Other Books:

This was probably more entertaining/interesting than my first Jim Collins book… as I’ve said before, Jim Collins can get a little repetitive (and Good to Great, Great by Choice, Built to Last, How the Mighty Fall… they all start to blur together after a while). It’s also more well-written than First Break All the Rules¬†and easier to swallow than the Stephen Covey books (which I found a little too prescriptive).

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