The Not Worth Your Time Series: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg

by: Adam Jason

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We Think You Can Leave The Power of Habit off Your Reading List

The Power of Habit, unfortunately, goes on our list of books that you can leave out of your library. I wanted to be able to recommend this book. I read it twice to see if it is worthy of your time because of all the attention and praise that it has received. It just did not get there.

My critique is not the lessons that it teaches. In fact, I will share some things I learned from The Power of Habit below that have real value. My criticism solely is that, when we have so many things on our plates to do, spending the ten hours or so it takes to get through this book is just not justifiable when really it should be about half its length.

The Key Lessons of the Book

I want to save you the time, but also share with you the value-add that this book provides. Here are the lessons that I took away:

How to Form a Good Habit

This topic is relevant whether you are trying to form a new habit in your own life or, in the case of us entrepreneurs, business owners and investors, form a new habit in our customers´ buying habits towards our products or services or amongst our employees.

Habit formation results from (1) having a cue (2) that is strong enough to create a craving. For an action (or omission) to become a habit, there must be a reward that you are reasonably likely to receive if you take or refrain from taking an action that would satisfy that craving. An example would be helpful to make this a bit more concrete. Let’s assume that you are in the business of selling a new product or service. If you are looking to ramp up sales, your marketing should focus on a cue that you know that for many people results in them having a craving that your product or service is designed to satisfy.

I will use Corona for example. What is their cue? Fun, good-looking people, on a beach, with perfect weather, bonfires, etc. I imagine you have seen the commercials. What craving do they cultivate? The desire for a beer? Not really. Instead, they use that imagery to create a customer craving for that type of experience, weather and enjoyment. Through those advertisements they work to make the customer feel that if they purchase Corona they will get the reward of satisfying that craving for those kinds of moments. See how the cycle works? Cue = fun, beach, enjoyment, good looking people. Craving = have those kinds of moments. Reward = buying Corona beer gives you a better chance to have those kinds of moments.

When forming a new habit in your own life or trying to cultivate one in customers or clients, focus on cue, craving and reward.

How to Quit a Bad Habit

Habit transformation or quitting a bad habit, on the other hand, focuses most critically on the response to the craving. The Power of Habit gives us the lesson that you can effectively break bad habits if you can truly identify the craving that a cue creates and then adjust your response to the craving to be something more beneficial, rather than harmful to you.

Again, by way of example. People, as we know, often overspend on things or buy things they don´t need. Is the craving that drives that actually the need to have the car, boat, clothes or whatever it is that they buy? Or is the craving really to have the emotional spike of the praise, sense of importance or other outward appraisal and admiration that comes from being able to afford these high-ticket items? It probably varies. But, undeniably, we all often make decisions and do things because we think it is what other people want of us that, at the same time, actually come at a detriment to us. Are there better ways to satisfy this craving for approval that also benefit us? The easiest example that I can come up with is real, hard-work-driven achievement, rather than buying it, if we want praise and admiration.

To create a new habit, find a new response to a craving that is more beneficial but that can still give you the reward of satisfying that craving.

Small Wins Snowball

Focus on momentum. Building a habit or breaking a bad habit in you or your customers happens slowly over time. Pile small wins on top of each other until further habit transformation occurs subconsciously.

Leverage Crises to Break Old Habits or Form New Ones

The Power of Habit was right about this point: Sometimes habits are so ingrained that they lead to crisis. When crises occur, use them as an opportunity to reform bad habits. Never let a crisis go to waste, as the saying goes.

So why the criticism of this book despite these strong lessons? I think that with this article you will go a long way towards learning what reading The Power of Habit in full would teach you.

Some Alternative Book Recommendations

Want a few books on habit transformation that I do think that you should read cover to cover? I just finished reading The Compound Effect, by Darrebn Hardy. Excellent. Did you know that – and pick any are of your life, business, income, investing – if in that area in which you want to improve you can get better by just 1/10th of 1% every week day (so you get weekends off) that, doing the math, the compounding result of that would be 0.5% better in a week, 2.0% better in a month, 26% in a year and 1,000% better in ten years? You´ll love this book.

Forming a good habit or breaking a bad habit often comes down to values and the standards that you hold for yourself. There is no better book on values, discipline and how commitment to those two root causes lead to great habits and the benefits that come from building great habits than Wooden: A Lifetime of Observation and Reflections On and Off the Court, by Coach John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach. I love the story in Wooden about the Coach requiring his players to spend 90 minutes on the first day of practice just learning to put their socks on correctly. Small habits prevent blisters and difficulties running and performing. Eliminate those, and you have an edge over the competition. You can see how this lesson and metaphor can apply across disciplines!

Have a book that you want us to read and review? Don´t hesitate to write to us.

One more tip: Want a better way to get through all these great books that we are recommending? If you don’t have your subscription yet, get signed up for Audible by Amazon so that you can listen anytime, anywhere. I have to share with you what my wife told me after I bought her an Audible subscription: She told me, “Really I was thinking that this is the best gift you ever gave me.” Actually, giving her the subscription was the best gift I ever gave myself! Now she listens while she cooks, makes desserts and does things around the house that I hate to do. The best investment I have ever made! Get your subscription or buy one for the cook in your life! 

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