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Book Summary – The Power of Habit: Why We Do What we Do in Life and Business

The Power of Habit - Book summary

Habits can be used to create significant outcomes for individuals, organizations and societies, including losing weight, becoming more productive, influencing customer buying habits, and starting social movements. This book, written by Pulitzer prize winning reporter, Charles Duhigg, presents the science behind how habits are formed, and how we can change and rebuild them. In this free version of The Power of Habit summary, you’ll get a synopsis of the science of habits and how you can identify and change habits at 3 levels– individuals, companies and societies.

Habits of Individuals

Habits are automatic responses that often operate without our conscious awareness, and can be extremely hard to change. By understanding how habits are formed and how they work, we can decide if, and how, to change them.How do our habits work? This is best understood using the “Habit Loop”. There are 3 key components:

1. Cue

This is a trigger (e.g. a TV commercial, a bar of chocolates, an emotion, or a sequence of thoughts) that tells your brain to go into automatic mode, using a particular habit.

2. Routine

The automatic response (e.g. feeling irritated, getting a glass of wine) can be mental, emotional, or physical.

3. Reward

The routine can produce physical sensations or positive feelings (e.g. pride, relaxation), which determine whether you’ll remember this feedback loop in the future.

The Power of Habits summary_The Habit Loop

In a nutshell:

  • When an action produces a reward, it creates a feedback loop.
  • As the cue-routine-reward loop becomes more automatic, we start to crave and anticipate the rewards, which locks in the routine and habit.
  • Once formed, our habits run on auto-pilot, without conscious thought. It continues even when the reward is changed or removed.

Our full 11-page summary elaborates more on: why our brains work this way, with examples like how Pepsodent managed to instil the habit of brushing teeth, and how P&G’s Febreze successfully penetrated households to become part of people’s cleaning habits. In the book, Duhigg provides numerous case studies and examples in vivid detail to help us see and understand how exactly habits are formed, and how they can be changed.

Transforming Habits

Habits can never truly be removed. You can only replace and rebuild them, by changing the routine while keeping the cue and reward constant. This is the Golden Rule, which works best with backed by belief, and the use of keystone habits and small wins.  Our complete summary gives more details on how the Golden Rule works, together with examples of the rule in action (e.g. Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps’ success habits, and how to break bad habits like alcohol consumption, nail-biting).  We’ll also take a deeper look at how to build belief, use keystone habits and small wins in these examples.
The Power of Habits summary_transform habits
Building on the Golden Rule and these key ingredients, Charles Duhigg also breaks down the habits transformation process into 4 steps, together with numerous examples. Essentially, you start by identifying the routine, and experimenting with the rewards to identify and isolate the cue behind the habit.  With clarity on the habitual forces at work, you can form a plan to change your routine (and hence change your habits).

Habits of Organizations

The concepts of habit formation and transformation also apply to organizations. Here’s an overview of 4 main ways that habits can influence (and thus be used to create) organizational outcomes. For more details and examples, please refer to our full book summary.

The Power of Habits summary_organizational habits

1. Keystone Habits

Routines in organizations capture the unwritten rules of how things work, how roles are carved out, and how to “survive” and succeed in the organization. These form the unconscious, automatic organizational “habits”. Like individual habits, they can be created by accident or by design, using the same ingredients of Keystone Habits and Small Wins. For example, Fortune 500 manufacturing company, Alcoa, improved its profitability and culture, by tackling the keystone habit of safety. You can get more details from our full book summary.

2. Automate Willpower

All of us have a limited supply of willpower. Handling difficult situations like angry customers and long queues can sap employees of their energy and discipline. That’s why companies like Starbucks use pre-scripted processes to “automate willpower” – through repeated practice, staff internalize these routines into habits and achieve more consistent performance.

3. Leverage Crises

Habits are so inter-related and deeply entrenched in an organization that they can be hard to isolate and to break. Sometimes, it takes a crisis to create impetus for fundamental change. Great leaders leverage such crises.

4. Shape Consumer Habits

Generally, consumers’ buying habits are better predictors of purchases than their demographics and intentions. To shape customer habits, the key is to sandwich a new habit you wish to nurture, between existing habits or familiar routines. You can find out how retail giant, Target, successfully used habits for their sales and marketing effort, and how radio stations use habits to introduce and popularize new songs from our full version of The Power of Habit summary.

Habits of Societies

Habits are also a big part of how social movements start, spread and become lasting social change. Using the examples of the American civil rights movement, and other social issues, Duhigg brings to life the 3 essential parts of a social movement at work – the habits of friendship, the habits of communities, and social habits. We’ll outline the key concepts here but you can get more details from our 11-page summary.

The Power of Habits summary_social habits

1. The Habit of Friendship

We’re naturally inclined to help people we like or respect. It’s crucial for starting social movements.

2. Habits of Communities

Communities have habits too, and these are crucial for growing social movements. We’re all part of social groups or communities – this creates peer pressures and social expectations, which influence us to participate and conform in a movement, even if we don’t want to, generating critical mass and momentum.

3. Social Habits

Societal habits are what sustain a movement; long-term sustainable change sets in when leaders give the movement a new identity and ownership, so people continue the actions as new social habits.

Getting the Most from The Power of Habit

In each chapter of the book, Duhigg covers examples and scenarios in vivid detail to help us see the cues, routines, rewards involved in habits formation and change. Besides the examples outlined in this summary, the book covers details of lab experiments and brain research, case studies on sports, hospitals, gambling, sleep-walking etc. You can get more details from our complete book summary bundle which includes an infographic, a 11-page text summary, and a 23-minute audio summary

The Power of Habit summary - book summary bundle

For more details, tips and resources you can purchase the book here or visit

Check out our Atomic Habits summary and Tiny Habits summary for more insights on how to break bad habits and forge healthier ones. Or, read The Now Habit summary for powerful tips on overcoming procrastination!

About the Author of The Power of Habit

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What we Do in Life and Business is written by Charles Duhigg–an American journalist and non-fiction author. He is a Pulitzer prize winning reporter for The New York Times, and is best known for his books on habits and productivity. He graduated from Yale University, Harvard Business School, and worked with the New York Times as an investigative business reporter. He has received many accolades including the George Polk Award, Heywood Broun Award, National Journalism Award, and the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting.

The Power of Habit Quotes

“Simply understanding how habits work – learning the structure of the habit loop – makes them easier to control.”

“(Habits)…shape our lives far more than we realize – they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.”

“Once you break a habit into its components you can fiddle with the gears.”

“You can never truly extinguish bad habits. Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine.”

“The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns.”

“Small wins have enormous power, an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves.”

“Cultures grow out of the keystone habits in every organization, whether leaders are aware of them or not.”

“Good leaders seize crises to remake organizational habits.”

“Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the power of habit becomes easier to grasp, and the only option left is to get to work.”

“A habit is a formula our brain automatically follows… To re-engineer that formula, we need to begin making choices again.””

Click here to download The Power of Habit book summary and infographic

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