Stephanie's Reviews > The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
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's review
Jul 27, 2012

really liked it
Read from July 27 to August 09, 2012


Last year, I saw an article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine that intrigued me. I began to read it, but got distracted. The gist of it was that unless you've never shopped at Target, they know everything about you. That's because we are creatures of habit, and when those habits change and someone's been watching, what happens next could be a great revenue source for Target.

Scary, huh. The article revolved around how researchers wanted to know when a woman was pregnant because expecting and new parents are the motherlode of retail opportunity. By tracking habits and when they change Target can send you coupons specifically targeted to you, buried in with other coupons so you won't think big brother's watching you.

Coincidentally Charles Duhigg was a speaker at a BEA-related Random House event I attended. He is a captivating, often humorous, public speaker and I immediately wanted to read his book. And, Random House provided a copy to all the attendees of the event. When reading the book I recalled the article I had almost finished and realized that Duhigg had written it and that it was, in fact, a partial or complete excerpt form the book.

Duhigg's book is engagingly written in a conversational style and meticulously researched. The connections between anecdote and theory are well-made. The anecdotes themselves are generally very interesting. The subject is thoroughy explored. At times the book reminded me of THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT by Oliver Sacks, and at others it was more reminiscent of the revolutionary 1980's business bible IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE by Tom Peters.

The book is arranged at looking at the habits of people, business and society. It's followed by a short how-to guide on putting the theory into practice. There is also an index; something I often find lacking in non-fiction these days.

One of the anecdotes intrigued me because it is a habit I would like to change, finger nail biting. I have been trying to apply it since I finished the book yesterday. My cuticles are still a mess, but perhaps that will change.

I don't read that much non-fiction; I have always preferred the escape of fiction. But, this book offers something other than an escape. It offer hope that we can all change our most ingrained habits. So can businesses and societies. Just about a hundred years ago people did not use toothpaste. Understanding habits changed that and made one advertising executive very rich.

But ultimately, the business and societal sections seemed to drag on for me. But, I rarely finish an article in the New York Times for which Charles Duhigg is a reporter. That says more about me than the book. There were high points in all the sections, but I have a short attention span and I found myself rushing to read through it.

But, the findings of the research he cites are written in terms one doesn't need any background in mathematics, statistics or any science to understand. Some of the stories are very moving, some are inspiring. It is insightful and well written.

Another reason I was interested: the part about Target and changing habits via communication is what I learned in college. Only then the mathematics and the theory were just being developed.

I can highly recommend this to anyone interested in learning more about themselves and humanity. Or, if you have a habit you have not been successful in altering, this book may be just the ticket to providing you with insight into why. The book has useful information for people in business, government or who are activists. There are several case studies of activists in civil rights, and religion.

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