• Toby Sinclair

Book Summary: Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Updated: Mar 28


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⭐ Toby's Rating: 9/10 - Recommended For: Everyone


3 Big Ideas

  • Habits work in 3-step loops: cue, routine, reward. Charles Duhigg calls this The Habit Loop

  • Focus on keystone habits. They can cause widespread shifts. Exercising is a keystone habit. It has ripple effects across your whole life.

  • Willpower is the most important habit. High levels of willpower, studies have shown, is the single greatest predictor of success among businesspeople.


2 Most Tweetable Quotes


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

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

1 Top Takeaway


Charles Duhigg is famous for the habit loop. It provides a simple explanation of how habits happen. The book also shares the idea of keystone habits. By understanding keystones habits I've been able to change my life.


Three keystone habits I've developed are:

  • No electronic devices after 8 pm

  • Exercise every morning at 7:45 am

  • No alcohol during weekdays

Focusing on keystone habits will have a ripple effect throughout your life.


Keystone habits can also be applied to organisations. Alcoa CEO Paul O’Neill focused on Safety as a Keystone Habit. This dramatically improved the performance of the organisation in many areas. I expand upon that case study here and how you can apply it in your organisation.


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Big Ideas Expanded


How Habits Happen


Habit is an activity that a person deliberately decides to perform once and continues doing without focus, often frequently.


Such “automatic behaviours” reside in the deep brain’s basal ganglia, which translate deeds into customary actions by using a process called “chunking.” For example, picking up your car keys is a chunk of behaviour that immediately triggers the other chunks involved in driving.


Successful people learn to control and change their habits. People change their habits when they examine and analyze cues, routines and rewards.


The Habit Loop:



This “habit loop” develops in the basal ganglia. In the first stage, the brain seeks a “cue” that will let it operate on an automatic pilot and indicate what it should tell the body to do. The second stage is the “routine,” or the ensuing habit. Then comes the “reward,” which teaches the brain whether the loop in question is “worth remembering for the future.” When the cue and the reward connect, the brain develops a strong feeling of expectation, leading to craving and the birth of a habit.


How to Change Habits


By analyzing how undesirable habits such as overeating, excess drinking or smoking operate in that loop by satiating cravings, people who want to change can control habits that may seem to control them.


Change your routines to change your habits. Tony Dungy of Tampa Bay Buccaneers taught his team a smaller number of plays but drilled them in applying those plays whenever they got the appropriate cues. This lead to a higher level of performance. The key insight is not to focus on changing all habits, but a small few that create the biggest impact.


For many people who wish to change their habits, a belief in something bigger can help. or some, this has a spiritual element. Alcoholics Anonymous incorporates God in its famous 12 steps.


Importance of Keystone Habits


When Paul O’Neill became CEO of the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), he startled employees by focusing on workplace safety. He did so because he recognized that organizational habits have the power to drive change. He focused on a “keystone habit” – one that, if altered, can cascade through a firm and force other changes in seemingly unrelated areas. He knew the “habits that matter most are the ones that – when they start to shift – dislodge and remake other patterns.”

“If you focus on changing or cultivating keystone habits, you can cause widespread shifts. However, identifying keystone habits is tricky. To find them, you have to know where to look. Detecting keystone habits means searching out certain characteristics. Keystone habits offer what is known within academic literature as “small wins.” They help other habits to flourish by creating new structures, and they establish cultures where change becomes contagious. But as O’Neill and countless others have found, crossing the gap between understanding those principles and using them requires a bit of ingenuity.”

Keystone habits force “small wins”: transitional accomplishments that help people realize that great successes are possible.


Organizational habits keep firms functioning; without them, companies would descend into squabbling factions.


The Role of Willpower


Starbucks’s rules for employees inculcate the concept of willpower, which research identifies as the pre-eminent habit determining personal success. Just as scholars achieve positive results in other areas of their lives when they practice academic self-discipline, Starbucks workers improve their lives and careers after they learn the willpower of being cheerful no matter what crops up in their workdays.

“Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.”

Starbucks teaches employees willpower by focusing on “inflection points” – situations that are likely to weaken their self-discipline, like dealing with dissatisfied patrons. Employees practice routines for handling discontented customers so they can perform them habitually. The company calls this approach “the LATTE method.” Its steps are: “Listen, acknowledge, take action, thank and explain.” CEO Howard Schultz also instituted a policy of giving staffers “a sense of agency” – knowledge that the company values their opinions and independent decisions.


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©2020 by Toby Sinclair.

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