Book Review: The Power of Habit

Charles Duhigg, (2012),The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do and How to Change, Random House Books.

An award-winning New York Times journalist, Charles offers an informative yet witty insight into the surprising amount of power that habits hold over us. His simple yet engaging style of writing helps condense what could be dry, technical matters into concrete examples of how overcoming habits has led to massive transformations in the lives of real people, athletes, and multinational companies.

“Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.”

The prologue starts with a bang. Lisa, a woman who had run away to Cairo on a whim after her husband left and demanded a divorce, woke up in a strange bed and tried to light a pen instead of a cigarette. She decided that she needed a goal. Something all-consuming to work toward. In a taxi on her way to go see the pyramids, she made up her mind that she would come back to Egypt and trek through the desert. As an overweight smoker, she knew she would need to make huge lifestyle changes, with no money in the bank and no idea whether such a trip was even possible she committed to trying to achieve that goal.

In a taxi on her way to go see the pyramids, she made up her mind that she would come back to Egypt and trek through the desert. As an overweight smoker, she knew she would need to make huge lifestyle changes, with no money in the bank and no idea whether such a trip was even possible she committed to trying to achieve that goal. The first thing she decided, was to quit smoking.

Four years later, she hadn’t had a cigarette, didn’t drink, had lost sixty pounds, got out of debt, bought a house, ran a marathon, started a Masters degree and had held down her first job for longer than a year at a design firm. And it had started with changing one single “keystone” habit.

Neurologists discovered the patterns inside her brain fundamentally changed. Where her old habits pathways were evident, it was clear that her new habits had overridden this data, any impulses to engage in the old behaviour were crowded out by the new. Instead of craving the satisfaction of giving in to the old habit her brain was now rewarding her for showing self-restraint in her behaviour.

“This is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.”

The book covers three main topics, individuals, organisations and societies. Exploring why we do the same thing day in and day out and how companies exploit our shopping habits, or follow the same destructive patterns even when the results are demonstrably growing worse. The section on society also offers some interesting insights into what conditions need to exist in order to facilitate a campaign movement and ensure that people can realign their thinking and move with the changes.

“Someday soon, say predictive analytics experts, it will be possible for companies to know our tastes and predict our habits better than we know ourselves.”

This was a great read, whether you feel the need to start transforming your habits or simply want to see how organisational change happens at a ground-up level. We can highly recommend it. Now, we just have to choose one of our bad habits to focus on and get the ball rolling…

If you have any recommendations for an interesting read we would love to hear from you. We are planning on adding more book reviews to the blog so if you have one that you think is worthy of inclusion we’ll be happy to take a look. Get in touch via Twitter @ActiveOutcomes, email, or by visiting

Book Review: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Stephen R. Covey, (2004), The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, Simon & Schuster UK Ltd.


As its headline boasts, this book has been a huge seller since it was first written in 1989 with over 15 million copies sold. I read the 2004 U.K. edition of ‘7 Habits’ when still quite fresh to the self-help/business book and found it was not as full of irritatingly obvious common sense advice as I had expected.

This book focuses on understanding yourself by assessing your own personality traits and working to develop the principles and values within your own character that will enhance your personal and professional effectiveness. The argument Covey makes is that by understanding your habits, how they are unconsciously formed and the process of breaking them, you can then replace them with more effective habits. He tells us that personal change must precede any public change.

Habits are defined as being the intersection of ‘knowledge, skill and desire’ and these are the three main points he makes with regard to habits that make a lot of sense; first you need knowledge, you must recognise the need for change before you can implement it. After that you must learn the skills you need to bring about the change and, last but not least, the only way to actually make the change stick is a burning desire to change that specific habit.

Covey goes through the ‘7 Habits’ in sequence and asks the reader to complete the associated tasks sequentially in order to make the changes permanent and effective. Each of the accomplishments leads step-by-step on to the next, moving you from personal dependence (the paradigm of you), to independence (the paradigm of I), and finally to interdependence (the paradigm of we). index


There are several useful templates that are set out as part of the approach, along with personal success stories and anecdotes. In the chapter on ‘Putting First Things First,’ his time management matrix and weekly worksheet were both useful resources to help you allocate your time wisely and discover how to make time for what is most important and will bring about the best results for you in the longer term. It helps you understand the tasks that need to be prioritised over those tasks that can distract and ultimately waste your time.


In order to create win/win scenarios that make you a more effective person and leader Covey argues that you must be willing to assess your own life and habits, to questions your values and whether you are being true to them in order to battle against doubts or a lack of self-confidence and take the risk of changing and developing new behaviours.

The approach set out in the book is simple to understand though undoubtedly less easy to actually follow. Covey describes his own personal struggle to live these principles on a daily basis and the same will undoubtedly apply to everyone else who has read and tried to follow the habits. There were several ideas contained in the book that I found useful and adopted at Active Outcomes in order to increase my own productivity, planning and effectiveness.

Overall, it contained some good insights. Although as a personal choice, I try to find my own way rather than follow any prescribed self-help methods, especially those that don’t seem to be the right fit for me.

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