For the next step in my self-help book obsession… I just finished The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. This was a really interesting read from a psychology standpoint. It discussed a multitude of experiments and case studies that give insight into habits.

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with or endorsed by the publisher or author, and am receiving no compensation for writing this article.

The Power of Habit Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit book is structured into three sections: 

  • How habits emerge
  • Habits of successful companies and organizations
  • Habits of societies

For actionable instructions to improve habits, focus on section one. There is an appendix that gives specific instructions for changing a habit as well. (So don’t miss that at the end!)

A habit can be changed by modifying the “routine” part of the habit loop. (Cue -> Craving -> Routine -> Reward.) You can’t eradicate a habit, but you can replace it.

Habit Case studies

There were some really fascinating case studies referenced in this book. One was about a man who had brain damage that prevented him from retaining new memories. Even though he lost a decade of memories and couldn’t create new ones, he was still able to develop new habits. He couldn’t draw a map of his home. Yet, his habits guided him to the bathroom when he needed to relieve himself. He could walk to the kitchen and grab some nuts from a cabinet when he was hungry. He went on daily walks alone, guided only by the cues and routines he’d developed after his brain damage.


The Power of Habit discussed Starbucks’ training system. The company has developed a successful education program that teaches its employees about willpower. It had an enormous impact on an employee who credits Starbucks for turning his life around. Before getting a job at Starbucks, he was the son of drug addicts and couldn’t hold down a minimum wage job. Starbucks’ training taught him willpower and other skills that allow him to succeed and manage large cash transactions for the company.


Target tracked purchase habits and was able to identify which customers were pregnant. After using the information to directly advertise baby products to them, there was some backlash from the father of a teenage daughter. (He later took back his accusations after talking to his daughter and finding out that she was, indeed, pregnant.) Target revised their approach and now sandwiches baby product coupons between seemingly unrelated products for a more subtle approach.

Montgomery Bus Boycott

The book also discussed the Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and the social patterns involved in the Montgomery bus boycott. Rosa Parks was not the first person to be arrested for not giving up her seat for a white passenger, but you probably haven’t heard of Viola White, Geneva Johnson, Claudette Colvin, Mary Louise Smith, or Katie Wingfield. (Claudette Colvin was a teenager who was arrested nine months before Rosa Parks in the same bus system and city.) Charles Duhigg asserts that Rosa’s arrest sparked the Montgomery bus boycott because she had ties to many different groups within the community. Strong friendships and weak ties to Rosa Park created a peer pressure that sparked a year-long protest against the bus system.

Gambling Addiction

The discussion of gambling addiction and abnormal sleep habits (sleep-walking/sleep terrors) was also really interesting. They did brain scans while people watched a screen showing the spinning pictures resembling those on a slot machine. Gambling addicts’ brains were active in the same areas that are activated during a habit loop. They also responded the same way to a “near miss” as a “win.” Brains of people without a gambling addiction didn’t respond the same way.

The Power of Habit

I thought the overarching theme that habits are dynamic was really empowering. Everyone develops habits (“good” or “bad”). We couldn’t manage everything in our daily lives without our brain helping us automate tasks. But the real power comes when you recognize your habits. Then, you have the ability to change the ones you don’t want to keep. (If you are willing to put in the work.) I recommend you check out a copy yourself!

Looking for another great self-help book about habits? Check out Atomic Habits!

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