I’ve been reading The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg with librarian-blogger Joy Weese Moll and others at Joy’s Book Blog. Visit Joy’s Book Blog to join the group read or find more discussion of The Power of Habit.
Part Two: The Habits of Successful Organizations talks about how habitual behavior of employees can mean success or catastrophic failure for institutions like chain retailers, hospitals, and mass transit systems. Part One: The Habits of Individuals was more about what neuroscience research has uncovered about the mysterious nature of habit in lab rats and in the workings of human brain. The last section, Part Three: The Habits of Societies, talks about the role that habit plays in massive societal changes like the civil rights movement, as well as how factors like personal responsibility, peer pressure, legislation, religious belief, and cognitive behavioral science come into play when people try to give up bad habits.
In Part Three, the author compares the stories of two people, Angie Bachmann (a pseudonym) a bored housewife who develops a disastrous compulsive gambling habit – aided and abetted by casinos that entice high rollers to come and play – and Brian Thomas, a 59-year-old sleepwalker who killed his wife of 40 years while believing he was fighting off intruders and was not convicted of any crime. Philosophers from Aristotle to William James have mulled over the ideas of habit and free will. Neuroscience research adds to but doesn’t settle the debate over whether there is a moral difference in habitual behaviors performed by sleepwalkers and compulsive gamblers. What do we conclude when the brain activity in both appears to be exactly the same?
At the end, the author shows how he applied what he’d learned about habit to break a bad habit of his own that he’d fallen into while working on the book. (Don’t worry. It involves chocolate chip cookies, not sleepwalking or gambling.)
The Power of Habit is an enjoyable mix of research, anecdote, and self help. If you liked the research and anecdotes in A.J. Jacobs’ Drop Dead Healthy, you might like The Power of Habit.