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Book Review: The Power of Habit

Juvaughn Mahabeer
Juvaughn MahabeerPublished on May 21, 2022

1. The Author’s Backstory.

Charles Duhigg is a renowned American Journalist who was part of the team that won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for a series of ten articles about the business practices of Apple and other technology companies. These articles illustrate the darker side of a changing global economy for workers and consumers.

Charles currently writes as a Journalist for the New Yorker Magazine; before this role, he was a reporter for the New York Times.

As a young adult, he earned his undergraduate degree from Yale University in History. He then graduated with a Masters in Business Administration from Harvard University.

He currently lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two sons.

2. Why did the Author write the Book?

I believe that Charles Duhigg wrote this book to inform the general public about the science of habits and how we can live more meaningful lives by cultivating good habits.

His inspiration came after realizing that he was spending far too much time in the office and not enough time with his sons.

After being exposed to the life of Atul Gawande, he realized that there must be a better way to be more productive while not sacrificing personal or family life, and his answer was to develop better habits.

Throughout this book, he sought to answer 3 questions about habits, these include:

How are they formed?

How are they maintained?

and if needs be,

How can they be eradicated?

He referenced scientific research as well as a wide array of stories to illustrate his points.

His arguments throughout the book were laid out in three categories:

1. The Habits of Individuals

2. The Habits of Successful Organizations

3. The Habits of Societies

3. What is the Author’s Thesis?

Habits can be changed if we understand how they work (Prologue xvii).

4. What is the Author’s Purpose?

The author aims to help the reader understand the effects that habits have on individuals, organizations, and societies.

Another purpose of the book was to explain why habits exist and how they function (Page 288).

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5. What were two arguments the Author used in defense of his thesis?


In chapter 1, ‘The Habit Loop,’ Charles Duhigg shares the biology of habit formation through scientific case studies and habit-forming research done on animals.

Scientific Case Studies

The case studies followed two males who had brain damage that caused them to lose all ability to remember anything past a few seconds.

He shared how one retained his functionality through the use of habits while the other didn’t.

The science was that habits are ingrained in the brain’s core, the basal ganglia, which is completely separate from the outer cortex, which deals with cognition.

In the man who retained his functionality, the interior part of his brain remained intact, while the other man’s basal ganglia and surrounding brain tissue were damaged.

So even though the outer portion of the brain could be damaged (which disrupts memory), if the inside of the brain (in charge of autonomic behavior) remains intact, we would still remember how to perform various tasks or habits.

Habit-Forming Research Done on Animals

The Author also shared how when a rat is put in a new environment; the brain works overtime to process all the cues. Once a cue/routine/reward loop has been established, the brain becomes quiet, and only the habit portion of the basal ganglia becomes active.

This then results in an autonomic response getting through the environment and finding the reward.

Overall the chapter was a good read, I wasn’t sure where he was going during the first 10 pages (this is where he was talking about the case studies), but once he shared the story of the rat and the habit loop (cue/routine/reward), it all came together.

Which is that we form and maintain habits without being completely aware that we are.

This was a great chapter because it gave a deeper look into habit formation from a purely scientific standpoint. Thus laying the groundwork in helping us understand the behavioral side of habits in later chapters.


Chapter 8, ‘Saddleback Church and the Montgomery Bus Boycott,’ highlights Rosa Park’s story of her refusal to give up her seat at the front of the bus.

Charles Duhigg used it to illustrate how community habits begin and spread.

He shared that the act of her refusal wasn’t as important as the many connections she had in the community.

These connections would later be the fuel that helps to ignite the protests.

Rosa Parks wasn’t the first person to be defiant and be jailed because of that bus law; it’s just that she was the first person to have refused and had powerful friends that cared.

Long story short, the author shared how connections, peer pressure, and strong ties played a role in igniting the fire of the civil rights campaign.

The 3 things (page 217) stated by the author that makes a movement includes:

1. A movement starts because of the social habits of friendship and the strong ties between close acquaintances. 2. It grows because of the habits of a community, and the weak ties that hold neighborhoods and clans together. 3. And it endures because a movement’s leader gives participants new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership.

The author also talked about peer pressure (page 225) as a method to mold social habits.

This section had me thinking about how I have been persuaded to act in a certain way due to my community. I believe this is the case in many instances for fear of being outcasted by peers.

Overall I thought his research behind the portrayal of the story of Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights Movement to be very detailed. I felt like he covered all the angles and processes of how it all happened.

The readability was excellent because he started by sharing what happened–>then why it was different from the previous incidents–>what immediately followed afterward–>he then analyzed the broader scope of why the movement caught fire by defining other influential factors like the role that peer pressure and strong ties played.

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6. What was the Author’s Conclusion?

In the last chapter of the book ‘The Neurology of Free Will‘ Charles attempted to answer the question:

Where does responsibility lie?

He argued this question by comparing how much free will two different individuals had when they followed habit loops that led to grave consequences.

The first case was a housewife named Angie, who became addicted to gambling and eventually gambled away her inheritance. These actions, she later said in an interview, had caused much pain to her family and much guilt to her.

She also incurred a large amount of debt at the casino. The casino would later sue her for the unpaid balance.

The second case was a devoted husband named Thomas who experienced a night terror (A form of dream) that someone had broken in and was harming his wife.

He then followed his most basic instincts to protect and strangled the perpetrator; moments later, he awoke to realize that he had strangled his own wife to death.

The book identified night terrors as having cues, routines, and rewards. Thus night terrors are a form of a habit loop.

This is the habit loop that was used to justify Thomas’s action. The cue, someone strangling his wife, the routine, Thomas defending his wife from the perpetrator, and the reward his wife remains safe.

Both individuals later went through the judicial system to account for their actions, and both took the same stance that their habits had caused them to commit the crime, and thus they were not responsible for their actions.

In the first case with Angie, the system deemed her responsible for her behavior and thus guilty.

In the second case with Thomas, the system found him not guilty.

Thus because Angie was aware of cultivating her habits, it was her responsibility to change them if they cause harm to her or those around her, and in the case of Thomas, he was not aware of the habit that led to the murder of his wife; thus he was not responsible (Thomas didn’t have any pre-existing behavior of harming his wife in or out of sleep).

The author concluded that free will lies where we are aware and have the ability to change our habits. Thus this is where responsibility lies.

If you believe you can change—If you make it a habit—the change becomes real. This is the real power of habits: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be. Once that choice occurs—and becomes automatic—it’s not only real, it starts to seem inevitable (Page 273).

Below is a basic framework for habit change that the author included (Page 288).

1. Identify the routine

2. Experiment with rewards

3. Isolate the cue

4. Have a plan

The author also concluded on page 285 that all habits could be changed, no matter the level of addiction. We can make the change, but only if we exercise the will to do so.

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7. What is my Conclusion about the Book?

I found the book to be very informative, not just on habit change but also on elaborating on people’s backgrounds who have had success in their respective fields and learning about historical events.

If someone mentions Michael Phelps, I could add to the conversation by sharing his background and how he trained when he was a boy.

I found the stories entertaining; thus, they were easily remembered after I finished reading.


A strength that I have found was that each chapter builds on the next. Thus, I could paint a clearer and clearer picture of the habit loop from chapter to chapter.

Another strength I found was the use of visual aids. The visual aids were mostly diagrams of different habit loops. The habit loop’s visual representation always helped me paint a clearer picture of what I was reading.


A weakness I found was that his conclusion didn’t account for ‘Habits of Successful Organizations‘ or ‘Habits of Societies‘, in which such arguments occupied two-thirds of the book.

His conclusion summarized the need for exercising our free will to change and the responsibility that follows if we don’t.

An alternate conclusion could have included, in an organizational setting, the responsibility of habit change lies on the leadership or those in charge of setting the rules.


I believe the intended audience is anyone currently trying to change their habits; the science in this book would give that individual the tools to do so.

Also, anyone who is trying to bring a new product to the marketplace. This book will give insightful marketing tips on how to capture your target audience.

And lastly, I believe this book is for anyone who is currently leading people in any capacity. It discusses the importance that habits play in the success of any venture that entails a group of people.


In terms of effectiveness, the author gets his points across primarily by recounting historical events around certain people or research. The author then ties the story or research into habit change that he is currently being discussed.

The stories definitely kept me engaged.

Couple the stories with excellent elaboration, a great flow of arguments from chapter to chapter, and well-done diagrams. I can conclude that this book and the author’s writing style were highly effective.


In terms of Readability, he goes back and forth, sharing stories throughout each chapter.

So he might start a chapter with one story, then break and start discussing a second story, then go back to the initial story to elaborate his point further.

I found this writing style very effective in helping me understand his point and keep me engaged.


You should expect a vast array of advice on how to break bad habits and adopt good habits. This advice centered around the theme—by understanding how habits work, we are better equipped to change them.

You should also expect to receive golden marketing advice through many case studies that elaborated on successful products through strategic marketing.

After reading this book, I can say that I indeed see the world differently. Down to the placement of goods in a grocery store, all those little details have meaning for me now.

I have yet to encounter literature that has broken down the science of habits as good as this book.

Expect a very entertaining book to read because of the many real-life success examples and effortless flow of arguments.

I would give this book a rating of 4.8/5.

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