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The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do and how to change

The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do and how to change

by Giuseppe TovarNovember 13, 2013


The story that captivated me most out of The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do and how to change, by Charles Duhigg, happened during the Iraq War. The US army had to deal with frequent Iraqi insurgencies. In the city of Kufa, a commander analyzed several videos of these rebellions until he discovered a pattern of behavior. Hours before the insurgency, a plaza or open space was filled with people in a progressive manner. Also there were food vendors and curious onlookers. Then someone threw a stone or a bottle and flared up the conflict.

The commander then gave a strange suggestion, he requested that food vendors not be allowed entry. After a few weeks, the grand mosque of Kufa, began to be filled. The street was full of people, some people began to shout and the American troops showed up. Time passed and people grew tired and hungry but could not find a street vendor. The spectators went home. The shouting was discouraged. At eight o’clock in the afternoon they were all gone.

This commander said that understanding habits is the most important thing he had learned in the army, which changed his whole way of viewing the world. One of the main ideas of the book is that we can change habits if we understand how they work.

The power of habit, by Charles Duhigg, is a highly readable book filled with stories that trap you and scientific findings that intrigue the mind. An effective mechanism used by the author are long stories which he interrupts to introduce some finding, or simply to begin or telling another story. This hooks you as it very much leaves you at some peak of the story and you can’t stop reading it just to find out what is going to happen. This is a great resource for public speaking too, as little else will grab an audience’s attention better than suspense.

Why do I recommend The Power of Habit?

Firstly because reading it will help our awareness of who we are and what we do. Each one of us is a sack of habits with legs. The same is true with the organizations or societies in which we work and live. Secondly because it facilitates the detection of habits and presents ways that we can change them. This may also be a valuable resource to discover how others are trying to influence or manipulate us. The book shows the example of Pepsodent toothpaste, a product that found a suitable habit cycle to promote, and used it to skyrocket their sales in the United States.

And, thirdly, because I am increasingly convinced that the ability to wield influence is much more than knowing how to speak in public. To influence one must listen, analyze, provide value, and prove things through more actions and less words. The book teaches us to analyze ours and other people’s habits, and shows us ways to change them. Nobody says that it will be easy, but at least now we have more tools to be able to improve things.


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About The Author
Giuseppe Tovar
  • Erik
    November 13, 2013 at 4:55 am

    There are books that chase you until you get them. The power of habit was that kind of book for me. Why we do what we do and how to change was the sub-title that caught my attention. My first impulse was to purchase it but I resisted the temptation. I have too many books to read and sometimes I get a sense of guilt when I want to buy another one. Weeks went by and one day I read a summary in a blog of this work which cited a curious story about habits. I could not help myself any longer and I ordered the book!

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