The Power of Habit summary

How to Change Your Life with Small Habits


“The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg is a book that tells many interesting habit-related facts. The book is based on research from over 100 academic studies, over 300 scientists and executives, and dozens of companies.

What are habits, and how do they affect people, organizations, and society? How are new habits formed? How to bring about changes in habits according to need? The author explained all these facts with very good examples in this book, “The Power of Habit.” And we try to tell these things related to habit in this resume of “The Power of Habit” resume.

Who should read The Power of Habit?

People who want a better change in their lives. Those who want to be successful and happy personally and professionally. This book will work as an ideal for them.

People who are victims of bad habits consciously or unconsciously, but even after thousands of efforts, cannot abandon the habit. Therefore, this book will guide them to eliminate their bad habit.

This book will be effective for those who want to create or improve new habits.

In this book, besides people’s personal habits, the focus has also been put on work-related habits. So this book is ideal for everyone who wants to change their habits in any area.

This book is divided into three parts:

  • Individual habits: How do habits arise in personal life? What is the trick to creating new habits?
  • Habits of organizations: What are the habits of a successful company and organization?
  • Habits of societies: What are the habits of society, and what is their impact?

Habits result from our own choices, made at some point, repeated many times, and brought to automatism. They shape the lives of not only individuals but companies and even society as a whole.

Individual Habits

Habit Loop. The Principle of Habit Action.

How are our daily behaviors shaped? The brain is an incredibly efficient mechanism that seeks to conserve its efforts. Therefore, it interprets any repeatedly reproducible action into a habit, allowing it to avoid wasting energy in performing elementary manipulations, such as walking or dressing, and more complex processes, such as parking or making breakfast.

The brain needs a signal- a “sign”-that triggers a habitual action-physical, emotional, or mental to trigger a habit mechanism. A reward is the third important step in making the brain remember habits. After receiving a reward, brain activity increases again to see if everything is going as it should and to prepare for further actions.

For example, in the simplest case of lab rats running through a maze, the reward is a cookie waiting for them at the end of the tunnel. In the human case, the reward is the feeling of freshness after a shower.

Thus a “habit loop” is formed: sign – habitual action – reward.

The Habit Loop
The Habit Loop

The good news and the bad news: habits fixed in the structures of the basal nucleus of our brain never go anywhere with time, they wait for their time and familiar signs to start functioning again. Two sides to the coin: yay, we don’t have to learn how to ride a bike again and again, but, alas, we have trouble changing bad food habits or quitting smoking. Changing habits isn’t easy, but it’s real; you must learn to pay attention to the signs and rewards.

Learn to be passionate about the right things, allowing you to form the right habits. Even Aristotle asserted, “One must prepare the mind and habits to love and hate the right things.”

The Thirsty Brain. How to create new habits?

The brain has responded to a sign and triggered a habitual action but has not been rewarded. What happens in this case? Unsatisfied anticipation at the neurological level gives rise to longing, another important “ingredient” of the habit loop. In this passionate desire, which in most cases is formed so gradually that we do not have time to realize it, lies the secret of the power of habits, including the most harmful ones.

It turns out that a sign and a reward are not enough to create a lasting habit – the brain also needs to desire the reward strongly. The sign must trigger this desire along with the habitual action.

Do you know how Pepsodent got Americans to brush their teeth 100 years ago? It chose the right rewards in the first place – removing plaque from the teeth and a beautiful smile. But their competitors also offered these same rewards, so why didn’t other companies succeed? The fact is that Pepsodent also added a pleasant tingling sensation to their toothpaste that consumers loved and were eager to experience again.

Metal bottle of Pepsodent Tooth Powder
Metal bottle of Pepsodent Tooth Powder

What reward are you looking for? Is there another way to do it?

The brain associates signs with corresponding rewards, resulting in a passionate desire. Passionate desire can be shaped by yourself. Teach yourself to want to feel pleasantly tired after a run! Teach yourself to want to feel light in your body and energized after a serving of vegetables for dinner, not a carton of ice cream! Learn to induce cravings when you need them, and creating the necessary habits will become much easier.

The Golden Rule of Changing Habits. Why do habits change?

The golden rule of changing habits is that you can’t kill a habit but can replace it with another. To do this, you must establish a new habitual action, leaving the old signs and rewards unchanged. Think about why you do things this way and not that way.

For example, what reward are you looking for when you are constantly snacking in the workplace – to satisfy hunger or get rid of boredom? Your reward is a brief distraction from work. So, if you don’t want to get better, replace the usual activity – switch to a short walk, jogging, or conversation with a colleague.

Of course, alcoholism cannot be characterized only as a habit. It includes genetic and psychological components that turn it into a physical addiction. But the methods of work of the Alcoholics Anonymous Society, largely based on changing habit loops, demonstrate that even the most stable habits can be reshaped.

A young woman asked a therapist for help with a compulsive neurosis-she was biting her nails to the point that it was harming her health and social life. The psychologist identified the trigger for the habit – a slight tension in her fingertips. Identified the reward – physical stimulation. And developed a new habitual action: instead of biting her nails, she would stretch her hand or tap her fingers on the table.

Soon this chain of movements became automatic, and the girl replaced the old harmful habit with a neutral new one. Her life got better.

But in many cases, it is not enough to change a habit – it is necessary to fix it. To do this, it is necessary to have faith in the possibility of change. Such belief is most effectively formed in groups, which is what many addiction societies, including Alcoholics Anonymous and other support groups, are based on.

The famous American soccer coach Tony Dungy managed to lead a rather weak team to success by changing the habit of players thinking about their next action on the field into the habit of acting without thinking, according to tried-and-true schemes.

"Dare to be Uncommon" by Tony Dungy
“Dare to be Uncommon” by Tony Dungy

But they could not win the Super Bowl because the new habit failed at a critical moment – the players were lost and began to think feverishly, losing precious seconds. They managed to win the top prize only when they finally believed in their coach, trusted his new strategy completely, and began to believe that victory was possible.

Train your children’s willpower – sports, clubs, and music schools can help. Even if the child does not become a champion or a famous musician, he will learn to be diligent, concentrate and persevere. Such children in the future are more successful and resistant to bad habits.

So, if you want to change the habit, think of a substitute action and try to find the company of like-minded people. And be absolutely sure – change is possible!

Willpower As a Habit. When willpower reaches automatism?

One of the main factors for success is willpower. The best way to strengthen willpower – is to turn it into a habit, to bring it to automatism, coaching, as muscles in the gym.

Forcing yourself to do something, you change your way of thinking. So you have to learn as often as possible to use your willpower. Then self-discipline will effortlessly engage at the right moment, allowing you to cope more quickly with temptation, curb negative emotions and achieve your goals.

Twenty-nine people took part in a financial management program where they were asked to limit themselves in buying luxury goods, going to restaurants, and going to theaters and movies. They were also asked to scrupulously keep a spending log, which initially irritated the participants, but later they became accustomed to recording their expenses.

Over the course of the experiment, the financial status of the group improved considerably. But it was noticed that they also smoked less, drank less alcohol, ate less fast food, and performed better at work. Their willpower muscle strengthened, improving other aspects of their lives as well.

How do you make self-discipline a habit? Analyzing and writing down your goals, rewards, and habitual actions will help.

The recovery period after knee or hip surgery is challenging and painful. Still, it also requires constant joint development, so that scar tissue does not rob it of mobility. Constant movement is necessary, causing incredible pain. Elderly patients who had undergone similar surgery were invited to participate in an experiment to see if such people could strengthen their willpower. They were asked to keep a diary, writing down specific daily goals.

The results were astonishing: those who had written down goals began to walk and perform complex movements twice as quickly as those who had not! The goal diary disciplined the patients, allowing them to analyze their most painful moments and figure out how to cope.

In addition, they formulated concrete rewards for themselves along with the goals. For example, the joy of seeing their wife at the bus stop outweighed the fear of the difficulty of getting to the bus station. In this way, the convalescents strengthened their willpower, getting used to coping with pain, which they could do better every day.

Interesting fact: The “muscle” of willpower can also get tired, just like real muscles. It can exhaust its reserve and must be restored before performing new difficult tasks. If you have something important to accomplish in the evening that may require a great deal of self-control and willpower, try to conserve your willpower muscle during the day.

The Neuroscience of Free Will. Are we responsible for our habits?

A difficult ethical question is how responsible we are for our habits.

Kloe Martin, a housewife, lost about a million dollars at the casino out of boredom and unfulfillment. She owed money to banks and casinos, mortgaged her house, bankrupted her family, and went bankrupt. She was guided by a loop of habit: signs (stress or boredom) – habitual action (gambling) – reward (money or a dose of adrenaline).

During a sudden anxiety attack in his sleep, Eric Douglas strangled his wife – he thought he was fighting a burglar. Eric called the police himself, tormented by unbearable guilt and loss. Fear attacks in dreams are like sleepwalking, states in which the controlling areas of the brain are dormant, and the parts of the brain responsible for basic habits are awake. That is, Eric, too, albeit unconsciously, without brain control, was guided by the habit loop: sign (fear) – habitual action (struggle) – reward (defeated enemy).

Khloe’s guilt was disproportionately less than Eric’s because human life is more important than money. But the court acquitted Eric and even sympathized with him, while Kloe was convicted, although the lawyers tried to shift the blame on the casino, which seduced the woman with VIP offers. Why did the judges think Kloe Martin could control her habits and Eric Douglas could not?

Because Kloe knew about her addiction and, therefore, could have influenced it. On the other hand, Eric was unaware of his habit, a tendency to fear in his sleep, leading to aggression, and consequently had no control over it.

One key useful habit attracts other useful habits. This is true in life situations as well. People who start exercising, over time, improve their entire lifestyle–food, sleep patterns, communication style with loved ones.

So if we are aware of our habit, we are responsible for it. This knowledge in itself can already be the beginning of the road to change. Yes, habits have a huge impact on our lives. Yes, they are more complex. But we should not think of habits as destiny. Man is endowed with will and consciousness, which means he always has a choice.

The habits of Companies and Society. How successful organizations create and use habits

What are the most important habits?

Companies always operate based on thoughtful decisions and rational analysis of many factors. More often than not, most companies are governed by formed habits and patterns created over the years from the individual decisions of numerous employees.

The habits of organizations are like the habits of individuals; they can be just as strong and fatal. Some of them, the most important and strongest, are key habits. Changing them or creating new key habits starts a chain reaction of changes that take over other company areas and spread like circles on water.

An example of introducing positive habits in a company by changing a key habit is the work of Paul O’Neill as CEO of an aluminum company (Alcoa). He came to a major holding company when the company was in crisis, and his first proposal was to strengthen safety requirements in production.

This caused bewilderment among investors, who expected other actions at a difficult time for the corporation. However, Paul insisted on the flawless execution of the new policy he proposed because he understood that changing the habits of such a static industrial giant is hundreds of times more difficult than dealing with the habits of one person.

Alcoa`s Logo
Alcoa`s Logo

Paul was sure that safety would be a litmus test for changing the company’s habits. And so it did. A change in one area led to changes throughout the company. The company, the leader in injuries, soon became a symbol of safety, aided by direct lines to employees, explanatory talks, and other innovations.

But the changes did not stop there: workers became more open and motivated in their communication with management, offering many useful ideas; replacing old equipment resulted in less wastage of raw materials; workers’ responsibility and self-discipline increased, and consequently productivity and quality increased. The company’s profits and the stock price increased dramatically.

People like to retain control over their lives. It strengthens their willpower.

Key habits allow you to work in another direction – to form structures that allow other necessary habits to develop. For example, the key habit of keeping a food diary, even without a strict diet setting, creates a structure for menu planning and changing eating patterns. That, in turn, disciplines the person and introduces new eating habits that promote weight loss and wellness.

How do I identify key habits? One of the special signs accompanying them is the emergence of many small victories. These seemingly disparate small victories often underlie global changes and have tremendous power. They open up previously unknown resources and sweep away previous barriers, leading to great change. This is as true for companies as it is for individuals. You can start wishing for and achieving great things when you have succeeded in small things.

How Self-discipline Becomes an Organizational Habit?

Successful companies turn employee self-discipline into an essential organizational habit. Strengthening the skill of self-discipline will help to create schemes of habitual employee actions for different problem situations.

Starbucks Mug

A certain set of rules was developed for Starbucks employees, which helped in crisis situations when the employees’ own willpower and calmness failed. Role-playing simulations of difficult situations cemented the right response patterns, creating a loop habit of calm response and self-discipline. The sign in the loop was a disgruntled customer or another problem that arose.

The reward was good customer satisfaction and encouragement from peers. Especially popular was the usual LATTE (Listen to the customer – Listen, Agree with the complaint – Acknowledge the problem, Take action to resolve the problem, Thank the customer for bringing the situation to your attention, Inspire the customer to return – Encourage the customer to return).

Crises are useful. They force a change of habits. Take advantage of it!

How else can a company strengthen the willpower of its employees? By giving them a sense of control and choice.
When people work on things that feel useful or align with their own choices, when they feel confident that their voice decides something, they work more responsibly, patiently, and productively.

Starbucks deliberately encourages a sense of responsibility among its employees, allowing them to make many of their own decisions, from the layout of the sales floor and product placement to the way they address customers. This strategy significantly reduces employee turnover, motivates employees, and increases customer loyalty.

The Power of Critical Situation. How do leaders shape habits through chance and design?

The habits of large organizations with complex structures are easier to change in the run-up to a crisis.

The 1984 London Underground fire exposed the London Underground’s uncoordinated services, the space shuttle Challenger explosion that revealed violations of NASA’s safety standards, and the Rhode Island Hospital medical errors that resulted from, among other things, an uneasy relationship between doctors and nurses.

There is only one bright side to all these unfortunate losses of life events: these crises have spurred needed reforms. The hospital improved teamwork and controls, NASA overhauled its safety systems, and the London Underground fundamentally changed its structure.

Leaders, aware of the useful property of crises to open up new opportunities, can sometimes artificially create or prolong the feeling of impending disaster in order to make the company more flexible and initiate the necessary changes. Either way, a crisis is a valuable resource for changing habits, whether the threat is real or exaggerated.

How Successful Companies Predict and Manipulate Your Habits?

In today’s world, competition is incredibly high, says Duhigg. Therefore, successful sales require a personalized approach; you must closely examine and skillfully influence customer behavior. Buyers are usually hostage to their own habits, and marketers take advantage of this.

Often organizations are not perfect families, but teams made up of rivals and even enemies who have declared a temporary truce, as was the case at Rhode Island Hospital, where a disagreement between doctors and nurses caused several patients to suffer. Any crisis can disrupt fragile peace and paralyze work. But it allows us to redefine internal relationships between employees and make them more harmonious, which is important in the long run.

Experienced companies, such as the largest U.S. retail chain Target, no longer limit themselves to traditional merchandising techniques (such as placing the most profitable items to the right of the supermarket entrance because customers instinctively turn to the right when they enter).

Supermarket chain specialists comprehensively analyze the habits of their customers, comparing their age, marital status, Internet activity, participation in social groups, and tracking previous purchases. This makes it possible to understand the habits and interests of customers and attract them to the stores with special offers on relevant products.

Target Store
Target Store

For example, if you are married, pay for big garbage bags with your Target credit card in the summer and fall, and once a week, you stop in for a big tub of ice cream. You probably have kids and a lawn from which you remove leaves in October and mow in July. Consequently, you’ll be interested in lawnmowers, trampolines, toys, and garden furniture specials. And after tiring work, you’ll need to relax so discount beer coupons won’t hurt either. That’s how stores use their knowledge of you.

However, people prefer to avoid being followed and having their lives invaded. Sure, everyone benefits from appropriate special offers, but will women be pleased if the store finds out about their pregnancy before they’re next of kin does? Hardly. Therefore, in order not to annoy customers, companies need to disguise their knowledge. This means offering the new and unfamiliar under the guise of something familiar and recognizable. Dress up the new habit in the clothes of the old familiar action.

Want to promote a new song on the radio in an unfamiliar style to the public? Put it in between two established hits day in and day out.

Target’s marketers, when sending out discount coupons to prospective moms-to-be, “diluted” targeted discounts on baby products with neutral specials on dinnerware and TVs, which created the feeling of a randomly generated newsletter. This was enough to “cover their tracks” and not raise suspicions that the retailer was too interested in customers’ privacy and calculating pregnant women.

Why do people’s buying habits change? Modern marketing theory states: any critical event, such as the birth of a baby or moving into a new home, causes people to change habits and become more susceptible to the tricks of marketers.

According to the author, social habits consist of hundreds or thousands of individuals, creating a vector of movement for the entire society.

Learning your customers’ habits is an essential tool. Collect and analyze information, suggest what you need, hide awareness, and hide the unfamiliar new behind the familiar old.

Social habits. How Social Movements are Born?

Social habits have a devastating power to change the world. They lie at the root of both world revolutions and small school conflicts. Social habits are challenging to describe with a single scheme; they do not coincide with our idea of habits because they consist of the behavioral patterns of many individuals. Nevertheless, it is possible to analyze the mechanism of the emergence of social movements based on social habits.

Social movements, according to numerous observations, consisting of three stages:

It sounds like an oxymoron, but “weak ties” are often stronger than friendships. “Weak ties” are second or third-level connections through your friends’ acquaintances or relatives’ friends. Finding a job, learning new information, and organizing a protest can be easier with “weak ties,” because they open up new horizons of opportunity beyond the circle of friends you’ve already explored.

  • They start with strong friendships;
  • continued through “weak ties” and social organizations;
  • and then consolidated through new habits formed by movement leaders.

The fight against segregation on public transport in Montgomery was sparked by the arrest of Rosa Parks, a black woman who would not give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger. The respected, outgoing, and good-hearted woman was interceded for by her many friends from all walks of life. Rosa’s socially active friends proposed to boycott the bus fleet through “word of mouth” and leaflets.

So the next stage came into effect – the “weak connections” started to work, friends’ acquaintances joined the fight – the circle widened. The boycott was declared, the buses ran empty, and public transport suffered severe losses. But the boycott was soon under heavy pressure and arrests, so the struggle could have been over before it had even begun.

Rosa Parks on the Montgomery Bus
Rosa Parks on the Montgomery Bus

What saved the movement was that its leader, Martin Luther King Jr., offered the black population a new pattern of behavior, much of it built on Christian principles – belief in the rightness of their ideas, non-resistance to evil by violence, love of neighbor, and consistent movement toward the goal. This third step motivates people, teaching them self-reliance and self-respect. Black society was no longer sleepy and submissive; it learned to control its own historical destiny.

Martin Luther King, Jr., waves to supporters in this August 28, 1966
Martin Luther King, Jr., waves to supporters in this August 28, 1966

The new social habit began to spread, the social movement capturing and attracting more and more participants. Soon segregation was abolished, which was a significant impetus for other changes in the legal sphere of American society.

Social habits are not easy to unify, but the mechanism for the emergence of social movements is well understood, and it is based on friendly ties at different levels. So, if you want to change the world, learn how to make friends.


People, organizations, and society as a whole all have habits. They are not given from birth but are the result of a choice made at some point, and repetition over and over again brought to the automatism. You are the one who “triggered” the birth mechanism of your habit, which means you can influence any of them.

How does a person form a new useful habit or change an old one that does not suit him?

The main recommendations of Charles Duhigg`s book:

  • A habit cannot be destroyed, but it can be replaced—the scheme of the habit: a sign – a habitual action – a reward. To change a habit, you must replace one habitual action with another, leaving the same signs and rewards.
  • The driving force behind a habit is a passionate desire for reward. Passion drives bad habits; it also creates useful habits. Choose rightly what you want, and let yourself be drawn to the best.
  • Two important conditions for fixing a changed habit:
  • Your own belief that change is possible. Believe that habits can be changed.
  • Support from like-minded people. Seek out, support groups.
  • Help your helpful habits. Create structures in your life that allow the right habits to develop.
  • Willpower is also a habit. By making an effort to yourself, you change the way you think. Strengthen this habit, then willpower and self-control will effortlessly engage in the right situation. Willpower is stronger when you have choices and are in control of your life.
  • If you know your habits, you are responsible for them.
Charles Duhigg visiting the Microsoft Research speaker series

The habits of organizations and society are harder to describe because they are made up of thousands of individual habits. But the book provides some useful guidelines:

  • Changes in key habits lead to a chain reaction of changes in other habits. This is true for both individuals and organizations.
  • Small victories for people and companies are just as important as big ones. They are the foundation on which major accomplishments are built.
  • The habits of large organizations are easier to change in anticipation of a crisis.
  • Learning habits are an important marketing tool. Successful companies manipulate people’s habits but try to do it as discreetly as possible.
  • Social movements begin with friendships, continue with distant connections, and are cemented by new habits formed by movement leaders.

F.A.Q. about “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg

What are the key points of The Power of Habit?

“The Power of Habit” explores habits, how they are formed, and how they impact individuals, organizations, and society. The book emphasizes the habit loop, which consists of a sign or cue, a habitual action, and a reward, and explains how this loop can be used to create and change habits.

What is the habit loop?

The habit loop is a process that describes how habits are formed. It consists of three steps: a sign or cue, a habitual action, and a reward. The brain interprets any repeatedly reproducible action into a habit, allowing it to avoid wasting energy in performing elementary manipulations, such as walking or dressing, and more complex processes, such as parking or making breakfast.

What is the golden rule in The Power of Habit?

The golden rule of changing habits in “The Power of Habit” is that you cannot kill a habit but replace it with another. To do this, you must establish a new habitual action, leaving the old signs and rewards unchanged.

How does “The Power of Habit” impact how we do things?

“The Power of Habit” emphasizes the role of habits in shaping our behavior and highlights the importance of understanding how habits are formed and changed. By understanding the habit loop, individuals and organizations can develop strategies to create new habits and change existing ones, leading to more successful and fulfilling lives.

How can I use the power of habit to improve my relationships?

We can use habits to improve our relationships by identifying the cues and rewards that drive our behavior. For instance, if we habitually respond angrily to our partner’s criticism, we can identify the cue, habitual action, and reward and replace the negative action with a more positive one, like expressing gratitude or taking a deep breath. This way, we can change the habit and improve our relationship.

Is it ever too late to change a habit?

No, it is never too late to change a habit. While habits may become more deeply ingrained over time, they can still be changed with effort and persistence. “The Power of Habit” emphasizes that individuals can replace old habits with new ones by establishing a new habitual action and leaving the old signs and rewards unchanged. With time and practice, the new habit can become automatic and lead to positive changes in behavior.

Quotes from “The Power of Habit”

“Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped”

“Habits are the choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day”

“Small wins are a steady application of a small advantage”

“To change a habit, you must keep the old cue and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine”

“When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making”

“Champions don’t do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other team to react”

“The Golden Rule of Habit Change: You can’t extinguish a bad habit; you can only change it”

“The brain’s ability to reshape itself holds true regarding habits.”

Disclaimer: This blog post is a summary or resume of the book and is not intended to dispense the reading of the original book. This post aims to provide a general overview of the book’s main ideas and themes and encourage readers to read the complete book to gain a deeper understanding of the material. The information presented in this post is intended to be something other than a substitute for the original book and should be used as a supplement to, not a replacement for, the entire book. We strongly encourage readers to read the complete book to benefit from its ideas and teachings fully.

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