Book Club: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Book Club is a series of reviewing business-related books. You can check out the Book Club tag for more reviews. - Patrick


If human nature and psychology fascinate you, read it. If you're trying to kick a habit, read it. If you're just trying to better understand yourself, read it. If you manage other people, read it. If you WANT to manage people some day, read it. If you want to better understand WHY we do things and have an inclination to improve your own daily life, READ IT.


The Power of Habit pulls the curtain back on WHY we do what we do, making it seem almost so basic that we should have known this all along. It also explores how we can leverage our (and those around us) habits to get more of what we truly want out of life.


  1. The brain is instinctively INCREDIBLY efficient.
  2. Nearly everything we do in a day is attributed to habits we've formed.
  3. We can have a massive impact on our own lives just by making some tweaks.


We're going to jump right in, so hang on. And seriously. Go buy the book.

The 3-step loop: Cue/Routine/Reward

What is a 'Cue'? Anything can be a cue. This is what sets the habit info motion. Connecting the three parts of the habit loop is called 'chunking'. It's basically the brain combining multiple processes as a way of being more efficient.

What is a 'Routine'? Routines can range from very very simple to extremely complex. If can be the way you react when someone pinches you, or it can be the laundry list of steps you take when getting your 3 kids ready to go to school. This is the action that's taken once the cue is realized.

What is a 'Reward'? This is the outcome of your routine. Picture the way you feel after working out or the kiss you get from your partner after unloading the dishwasher. It can be emotional reward or physical, but whatever it is, it was worth it.

Once you know what to look for and how to identify the Habit Loop, you'll start seeing it everywhere. When my son wakes up, he automatically what to watch Curious George because it makes him happy. Cue: waking up, routine: watching Curious George, reward: laughing. Corporations (I'm looking at your McDonalds) and advertising firms have also gotten in on the action. Habit loops are everywhere, weather or not your realize it. The book has a great example of how Febreze can to be a household name. And I'll give you a hint: they tapped into housewives' habit loops.

But here's the good news - you can create new habits using a similar technique.

So, what about habit change?

One highly compelling case is Alcoholics Anonymous. A place where they don't attack the psychiatric or biochemical issues, but instead WHY alcoholics drink. Attacking existing habits is at the core of why AA is a successful program. It's all about identifying different parts of the habit loop and being able to identify the triggers in the habit loop and keeping the same reward that's part of the habit loop. So they're just working on change the routine part of the habit loop.

Next up: Habits in Organizations

This section of the book opens with an inspiriting story about when Paul O'Neill took over as CEO of Alcoa. It's an impressive story, totally centered around two principles: 1) treating other how you want to be treated, and 2) a laser-like focus on the basics. I won't spoil the surprise, but you can count on O'Neill making some vast improvements (otherwise it wouldn't be a very good case study, right?).

Think about what this would mean for the construction industry. Frontline has put together a series of short eBooks titled Back to Basics. You can download the first of the series, Back to Basics; Job Site Safety, by subscribing to the newsletter at the very bottom of this page. As Construction Mangers and leaders of teams, it's our job to keep our eye on the prize, while maintaining the basics of how we do business. 

The best agencies understood the importance of routines. The worst agencies were headed by people who never thought about it, and then wondered why no one followed their orders
— Paul O'Neill

Another term that's key to understanding habit change and formation: 'Keystone Habits'. These are the small wins that help other habits flourish. They create new structure and establish an environment where change becomes contagious, as Duhigg puts it. These are things like making your bed in the morning or eating with your whole family every night. The small habits spill over to other aspects of your life, causing 'contagious' change.

Next up is an unfortunate but necessary subject: crises in the workplace. However unfortunate, this is often when an organization is ripe for habit disruption and change. When a habit or routine goes neglected for too long, there will inevitably be crises. This is what I would refer to as the 'low-hanging fruit'. These crises are a clear sign that it's time for a habit change. Because where there's smoke, there's fire. 

The first thing that comes to mind when we talk about crises in the workplace, especially when it relates to construction, is a safety incident. There's a laundry list of reasons why safety incidents are detrimental to a construction company. But what we tend to miss out on, is what this incident tells us about the way we do business. Have we created a job site culture where safety isn't that important? Have we, in some way, condoned this behavior? Again, as Construction Managers and leaders of teams, we have to remember the follow-through when it comes to dissecting these job site crises.

Simply giving employees a sense of agency - a feeling that they are in control, that they have genuine decision-making authority - can radically increase how much energy and focus they bring to their jobs.
— -Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit

And finally, how do companies use customers' habits to drive revenues up? It's very simple (and kinda creepy), really. They watch our current habits and predict what comes next. For example, if you go to Lowes and buy a new grill, some propane, and tiki torches, chances are you just bought a new house with a deck! So you'll probably soon see advertising for new patio furniture or a fire pit as well. Without knowing it, we let Lowes in on our very own habit loop.


I might argue that this is the most important part of the book. And Duhigg probably would also, seeing that it's about 25% of the whole book. This is where it all sinks in. There's case study after case study of first hand experiences his readers had; losing weight, quitting smoking, quitting drinking, on and on...

Don't skip this part. It brings the whole book to life. With real people and real changes. 

A note about the Book Club: I'm always looking for good reads, and I'm a non-fiction kind of guy. There are two things I want you, the reader, to do: 1) Let's chat in the comments below about the book or what your takeaways are, and 2) tell me if you know of a book that should make the reading list.

Thanks, Patrick