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BOOK BIZ — Uncovering how habits drive our daily lives

» The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business By Charles Duhigg    Published by Random House   $16.00 softback 	How much of what you do in your day-to-day life is driven by habit? I bet it’s more than you think. Journalist Charles Duhigg’s excellent book, The Power of Habit, explores the role of habit in our lives, in society, and in business. It’s an eye-opening look at the fact that, as he points out early in the book, one 2006 study found that more than 40 percent of the actions people engage in everyday are driven not by active decision-making, but by habit.

Duhigg defines “habits” as “choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day.” It’s not hard to identify them in our lives – just think about your morning routine, for instance. Do you start your day with coffee each morning at roughly the same time? Do you read the paper or perhaps check your email? Or, what about later at work? Do you break for a mid-afternoon snack at about the same time each day? When you get home after work, do you lace up your running shoes or turn on the TV? Habits are the things that just seem to occur naturally after a while, to the point that we often hardly notice them at all.

Habits get a bit of a bad rap, to be sure, but they are necessary for our brains to function efficiently and effectively. If we had to start from scratch mentally each time we needed to do something  — say, choose what to have for breakfast — we’d expend a tremendous amount of brainpower that could be more effectively used elsewhere. The brain automatically looks for patterns and behaviors that it can create shortcuts for, and those shortcuts become habits.

Duhigg explains that habits can be broken down into three distinct steps: a cue, a routine, and a reward. This is the habit loop and it’s crucial to understand its components if you’re looking to change a habit. In fact, he argues that you can’t eliminate habits; you can only change them. And even that is really difficult. Anyone who has struggled to maintain a new exercise regime can certainly understand this truth.

In addition to covering how habits work in our personal lives, Duhigg also explains how companies like Starbucks use habits to instill a strong customer service ethic in its employees. He writes, too, about how habits in society can bring about positive social change.

It’s a fascinating book that will make you look anew at your own habits.

— LouAnn Lofton, mbj@msbusiness.com

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