The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg) - Book Summary

The Power of Habit book  is about the power of habits, how to form, change and create positive habits of people, organizations, and communities. The author has proven that habits play an extremely important role in the success of individuals and organizations – just as the famous saying goes: “Sow a habit, reap a character; sow character, reap destiny.”

Author Charles Duhigg is a business columnist for The New York Times. He received many awards – including a Pulitzer Prize – for his articles and books. He graduated from Yale University and Harvard Business School.

Due to the limited space, I have only summarized the most important part of the book, which is about the habits of individuals and companies.


Many actions we do every day, from simple things like bathing, brushing teeth, eating breakfast, tying shoelaces, checking email, walking, eating dinner, watching TV... to complex things like class thriftiness, organization of work… seems to be the result of thoughtful thinking, but it is actually a habit. A scientific study at Duke University in 2006 concluded that more than 40% of people's daily behavior comes from habits.

Habit is an activity or sequence of activities that people do quite often without much thought. For example, when driving a car: the control movements seem very complicated and need to think before doing, but because they have become a habit, we can do it easily without thinking. think. According to scientists, habits are formed because the brain is always looking for ways to reduce the work of the mind.

The brain is always trying to turn most of the daily activities into habits because when the brain is active, the brain will be rested more often. Thanks to daily routines, patients with memory loss due to illness or injury retain the ability to perform basic activities. Patient Eugene with viral encephalitis doesn't remember his age, doesn't recognize his grandchildren and of course can't draw a plan of his house, but can still find his way to the kitchen when he wants to eat.

Habit formation

Researchers at MIT - with microtechnology - study habits by studying the brain activity of rats as they search for chocolates placed in a maze. They separate the mouse from the maze by a partition. After a loud click, the partition opens and the mouse enters the maze to find its way to the chocolate.

Following the lead of the chocolate smell, the mouse went up and down, sniffed and scratched the walls... The experiment showed that the brain of the rat is active to process information (smells, sounds, images... ) on the way to a piece of chocolate.

This experiment was repeated many times, and the rats became so used to the direction that they didn't need to use their brains to figure out which way to go. At that time, the actions of going straight, turning left… and eating chocolate were stored in the basal ganglia and performed automatically.

The process by which the brain converts a sequence of activities into automatic behavior is called "chunking," and is the source of habits.

Our car driving habits are also formed similar to the above experiment. Initially, our brains have to work hard to perform a series of actions: open the garage, unlock the car door, adjust the seat, put the key in the ignition, start the car, adjust the glass, check the obstacle. obstacles, put foot on the brake, observe the distance, judge the situation to control the steering wheel, accelerator and brake pedal… After a while, we can do all of the above without thinking. a lot of. The complex acts of driving have turned into habits – or automatic behaviour. As a result, we can think about other things or talk to others while driving.

The three-step cycle of repetition of the habit

The three-step cycle of habit repetition is developed and formed in the basal ganglia of the brain.

The first step in this cycle is "activation," which acts as a trigger to put the brain on autopilot and choose a habit to use. For the mouse in the experiment, it was a click, and for the driver, it was the act of plugging in the key.

The next step is the unfolding of the “chain of action” – be it physical, mental or emotional: the rat begins to walk, observe and smell; The driver starts the movement.

The final step is the “reward” for the past actions. For the mouse, it's a piece of chocolate, and for the driver, it's movement from one place to another. The brain evaluates this reward and will decide whether the loop needs to be memorized in order to repeat and become a habit.

Over time, the “trigger-action-result” loop becomes automated. When “trigger” and “reward” tie together, our brains develop a strong sense of expectation that leads to habit formation.

The role of “rewards” in maintaining a habit

Studies show that “triggers” and “rewards” create habits but fail to make a new habit sustainable. Only when the brain desires those “rewards” will the habit last.

Scientists at the University of New Mexico studied 266 people to find out their regular exercise habits. 92% say that exercise makes them feel better thanks to the pain-relieving hormones and other neurotransmitters brought about by exercise. 67% say that fitness gives them a sense of accomplishment, victory over themselves.

Only when their brains were expecting a reward – pain hormones or a sense of accomplishment – ​​did tying their shoelaces every morning (“trigger”) became automatic. Thus, in addition to creating an automatic sequence of behaviors, “triggers” also create cravings for “rewards”.

Applying habits in marketing

In the early years of the twentieth century, brushing teeth was not an American habit. But advertising genius Claude Hopkins created the habit of brushing teeth for Americans and thereby sold Pepsodent toothpaste in huge quantities.

He advertised a simple, clear message: brushing with Pepsodent will help remove plaque and give users a shiny white tooth. More importantly, he put in the Pepsodent cream a coolant consisting of citric acid, menthol and a few other chemicals. When customers brush their teeth, they create a "mint" cooling sensation on the tongue and gums. Customers like and expect this "reward" feeling, they equate this "mint" cool feeling with the cleanliness of their teeth - so daily brushing has gradually become a sustainable habit.

In an effort to market Febreze room spray, P&G marketers discovered that customers wanted something fun – a little celebration – after using Febreze to freshen up and drive away unpleasant odors. . They have added fragrances to Febreze that help it not only neutralize odors - deodorize - but also have the ability to create its own unique aroma. And they also changed the advertising message from "repels unpleasant odors" to "cleanses odors". This fragrance has captivated and "addicted" housewives, making Febreze a best-selling product of P&G.

Golden rule to change habits

Habits can hardly be eliminated, but can only be replaced by another. The golden rule for habit change is to keep the same trigger and reward while replacing the old behavior with a new one.

Rugby is a game of diversion and anti-diversion, tricking and misleading, so coaches often develop a variety of playing tactics. They train athletes to observe the signs and movements of their opponents and think of the right tactics to apply (usually by surprise to the opponent).

But Coach Dungy took the opposite approach. He was not interested in teaching the players many game plans and ways to distract opponents. Instead, he just made the team practice mastering a few tactical models. The player is still "activated" by observing and judging the opponent's signs of movement. But instead of analyzing and thinking about which tactics to apply, they immediately use actions that have been trained and practiced many times into a habit.

Even if the opponent knew this simple strategy of the team, it could not be stopped because the players had done it too quickly and too skillfully. With this coaching approach – changing the habit of “watching the opponent and then thinking analytically” into the habit of “observing and acting now” – Coach Dungy has brought successful results to the team. Buc and glory to the Indianapolis Colts team.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an organization that helps alcoholics quit drinking. AA focuses on habit loops and seeks to change the actions of alcoholics when they begin to receive "triggers" from their drinking habits. Instead of alcohol, AA gives detoxers belladonna, a hallucinogenic drug. Knowing that alcoholics often drink when they want to forget something or feel anxious or sad, AA has established a friend system to meet and accompany alcoholics. An alcoholic may find greater peace of mind by talking to a support person or attending a group meeting than by drinking with a drinking partner.

Additionally, AA gives people who want to change their habits a strong belief that they can. For some, this may be spiritual or religious, for others a strong belief they develop and nurture with the group. This approach of AA has been applied in other addiction treatment methods such as drugs, gambling, tobacco, food, etc.

Key Habits That Can Change Other Habits

Key habits are those habits that, when implemented by individuals or organizations, will influence them to change other habits in a positive direction.

Studies show that people who exercise regularly eat better and work more efficiently. They smoke less and are more patient with others. They also use credit cards less because of less stress. Children of families that have a habit of dining together often do better at housework, study better, have more confidence, and have better emotional control. People who have the habit of making bed in the morning have better productivity, feel more fulfilled. Thus, regular exercise, eating with family, making bed every morning... are key habits. They create a chain reaction that allows other positive habits to take over.

There is a story about a key habit at Alcoa steel mills as follows: Mr. O'Neill – a successful former government official and a seasoned manager – was invited by the Alcoa steel mill management to be General Manager. governor. Unlike other CEOs, Mr. O'Neill is not too focused on common business metrics. Instead of changing many of Alcoa's operating habits, O'Neill identified safety behavior as key. O'Neill stated that his primary goal is to implement the occupational safety policy, making Alcoa a workplace accident-free. At first, this strange goal shocked investors and managers. O'Neill's plan is built around a loop of habit:

  • “Trigger”: worker accident;
  • “Action”: when an accident occurs, the department leader must report directly to O'Neill within 24 hours to ensure that the accident never happens again;
  • “Bonus”: only those who follow this accident reporting system will be promoted.

In response to this habit, the entire factory reporting system has been reorganized to help the information below – workers – possibly up – management levels and eventually O'Neill transparently. the fastest. Workers work according to standard technical procedures and are also empowered to do things in their capacity and position. Raw materials are also saved to reduce accidents.

The creative feedback of workers and junior employees is now heard by their superiors. After a period of applying safe work practices, Alcoa's accident rate is only 1/20 of the average rate of the US and more importantly, costs have been reduced, quality and productivity have been reduced. skyrocketed, the company's profits increased fivefold compared with the first five years O'Neill took the job. Mr. O'Neill won because he chose the right key habit, focused on successfully implementing this habit change, and led to the positive change of other habits in the Alcoa factory workers.

Starbucks and Employee Habits

Starbucks - a famous coffee shop chain in the US and around the world - is one of the leading companies in training good habits for employees. One of them is "Will Power", the most important habit that determines an individual's success. Starbucks employees are trained with willpower, discipline, always come to work on time and are always enthusiastic during working hours. They are trained to control their emotions so that they can always serve customers with enthusiasm and desire to bring customers the perfect cup of coffee.

Starbucks also teaches employees the habit of serving customers according to a process called LATTE coffee, including:

Listen ( L isten),

Acknowledgment ( Acknowledge), Act ( Take action), Thank ( T hank ) Explain ( E xplain)

Starbucks also teaches employees how to identify and categorize customers and properly serve them. Every action is practiced smoothly until the employee can perform it on his own according to the habit. These good habits of employees are one of the reasons contributing to the success of Starbucks.