One of my all-time favorite quotes is from John Dryden, a British poet (1631-1700), who said: “First we make our habits. Then they make us.” Charles Duhigg, the author of this book (subtitled Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business), would agree. And he would probably add, “But we can also change them. We know how. It takes an understanding of how habits are formed and maintained, plus the will to do something different.” As an educator, I find this book almost painfully relevant, but I am sure that people in other fields will find it equally compelling. And if you are already struggling with your New Year’s resolutions, this book can help.
THE POWER OF HABIT should really be sold as a three-pack with PRACTICE PERFECT (by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi, reviewed here), and SWITCH (by Chip and Dan Heath, reviewed here). PRACTICE PERFECT focuses on how to strengthen skills through practice. Duhigg would explain that practice solidifies habits, making it easier to repeat the skills. When we form habits, we are able to operate more efficiently because we don’t have to devote as much thought or energy to those tasks; they become automatic (and as we all know, depending on the habit, that can be good news or bad news). He tells engaging stories about how people in various fields (athletic, corporate, medical, and others) have harnessed the power of habit to transform the performance of individuals and organizations. SWITCH also uses stories to teach how to change things for the better, through a set of lenses that are different but not unrelated. For example, where SWITCH talks about initiating change by focusing on “bright spots,” Duhigg discusses how “small wins” can build momentum for change.
Duhigg’s insightful book gives me hope that we can do more to improve organizations that might otherwise seem hopeless and intractable. Not that it will be easy. But change is possible.