The Power of Habit

Summary Written by Herbert Lui

The Big Idea

Insight #1

Creating Belief and Conviction

"Once people learned how to believe in something, that skill started spilling over to other parts of their lives, until they started believing they could change. Belief was the ingredient that made a reworked habit loop into a permanent behavior."- The Power of Habit, page 85

Scoff as you may: genuine belief has consistently been the difference between successfully creating a good habit or crushing a bad one, and failure to do so. Belief can be created through many vehicles, and The Power of Habit highlights some that have worked in the past.

Tragedy: This is the story of how the Indianapolis Colts began to adopt their coach Tony Dungy’s style and strategies. It began with the death of his son.

“Dungy has always said that nothing is more important to him than his family. But in the wake of Jamie’s passing, as the Colts started preparing for the next season, something shifted, his players say. The team gave in to Dungy’s vision of how football should be played in a way they hadn’t before. They started to believe” (page 87). Instead of worrying about contracts or salaries, players were compelled to play according to coach’s strategy. The Colts won the Super Bowl that year.

Religion: Similarly, a spiritual or supernatural experience can create the belief or conviction required to endure through tough times. “Bill Wilson stopped drinking when he found religion and cried out to God (and apparently received a vision). Then he went on to found Alcoholics Anonymous and didn’t have another drink.”

Bill Wilson is not the only person who has succeeded as a result of religion: “However, those alcoholics who believed, like John in Brooklyn, that some higher power had entered their lives were more likely to make it through the stressful periods with their sobriety intact” (page 84).

Changing beliefs often don’t require tragedy or religion. Even changing social groups (page 88) and environment can have their own effect on belief and conviction. Belief is the element that will hold you to building your habit when things seem darkest.

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Insight #2

Small Wins

"Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach."- The Power of Habit, page 112

When a new leader took over aluminum company ALCOA’s reigns, he chose to focus purely on workplace safety. (Shareholders freaked.) “O’Neill never promised that his focus on worker safety would increase Alcoa’s profits. However, as his new routines moved through the organization, costs came down, quality went up, and productivity skyrocketed” (page 108).

As O’Neill started making ALCOA safer, he also made it more productive, less wasteful, and more profitable. Each safety measure ended up helping the bottom line in some way. Safety was a habit that bled over to every other habit; a ton of tactics used to increase safety (like shorter feedback loops, safer machinery, and an employee suggestion system) eventually helped ALCOA rise to the top of their industry.

This phenomenon expands beyond the corporation. Physical exercise spills over into our lives. Once we start exercising, we start eating healthier and become more productive at work — two benefits we don’t usually correlate with going to the gym.

Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit is an invaluable tome if you’re interested in breaking the habits that are holding you back.

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Charles Duhigg

My name is Charles Duhigg, and I’m a reporter for The New York Times. I’m also the author of a forthcoming book from Random House, The Power of Habit, about the science of habit formation in our lives, companies and societies.

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