Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do and how to change is really two books in one.
One starts with medical science and is a fascinating tale of how the way the brain works. It shows how much of our behaviour is driven by habits – often subconscious and frequently hard to alter. What in a moment of calm reflection we wish to do and what we actually end up doing is often not the same, thanks to our habits.
Making the right decisions when you are making quick or pressurised decisions is often a matter of habit, and this part of the book is a great guide to how habits form and can be changed.
Although the idea is not novel – it was Aristotle who said, “We are what we repeatedly do; excellence is not an act but a habit” – the book uses the latest in brain research to fill out the idea.
The other book in here uses the language of habits but is not really about habits. Instead, it is an interesting meander through different aspects of business and life, looking at how people seek to influence others. It is, however, not about habit.
The accounts of how shops try to work out people’s buying patterns and so maximise their marketing and special offers is interesting and a good read. Yet the accounts would be pretty much the same whether those patterns were caused by people shopping out of habit or shopping out of careful, explicit rational thought.
It means the book does not quite hang together as a whole. Consider it instead as a collection of different articles and it is a great entertaining read – and one which means I now understand why easily damaged goods such as fruit are sold when you walk into a supermarket rather than in the more convenient location of just before the tills, where there would be less risk of them being damaged in your basket or trolley (get people to put healthy food in their baskets first and they’re then more likely to be happy to also put in less healthy food, making for a larger overall shop).
If you like this, you might also be interested in Language Intelligence.
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