the power of habit book summary and pdf

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg [BOOK SUMMARY & PDF]

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is an interesting examination of what exactly a habit is and how we can mould, shape and change the habits of individuals, organizations, and society.





Who is this book for?

This book not only focuses on work-related habits but also personal habits, therefore it is ideal for anyone who’s interested in making a change in their life whether it be professional or personal. Duhigg discusses habits of individuals and the habits of organisations and society, so whether you are an individual, a business owner or a leader of a community group this book will be useful for you. Duhigg examines exactly what a habit is before delving into how we can mould shape and change these habits.

About the author

Charles Duhigg is an American born author. He was a student at both Yale and Harvard. Duhigg was an award-winning New York Times business reporter and worked there from 2006-2011. Through writing this book, Duhigg successfully lost 30lbs, began running every other morning and has found a dramatic improvement in his productivity. He became interested in the psychology and science of habit formation while in Baghdad, after some observation and discussions with a U.S Military Major who explained to Duhigg that understanding habits, was the single most important thing he learned during his time in the Military. Duhigg went on to write Smarter Faster Better, explaining the science behind productivity.

In this summary

In this summary, we will first examine Duhiggs explanation of what a habit is and how to create new habits. Duhigg covers three main points in his book which we will cove run this summary; habits of individuals, habits of organisations and the habits of societies. Hopefully, by the time you’ve finished reading this summary, you’ll have the framework necessary to shape, mould and change some of your own habits.



What is a habit and how do they work?

”Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often. This effort-saving instinct is a huge advantage.”

Duhigg explains that once a habit is well established, essentially, your brain takes a back seat in the decision making. It takes the opportunity to rest or can use this time to focus on something new. What happens is an automation, you instinctively do a task without much thought or conscious decision. And this will continue unless you make the deliberate decision to fight back against the habit.

Duhigg explains that habits are here to stay, they never truly disappear. This is because they are literally encoded in the brain. He explains that this is actually a huge advantage. The issue with this arises because your brain doesn’t have the ability to differentiate between the good habits you’d like to maintain and the bad ones you’d ideally like to drop. This is why Duhigg explains, you can find yourself divulging in a bad habit again, even when you thought you’d overcome it. They are always there, ready to come out at any time.

Duhigg points out that although this automation may seem appealing, the fact that the brain depends on these automations can actually be pretty detrimental to our lifestyles.

”Habits are often as much a curse as a benefit.”

Can we create new habits?

Duhigg emphasises the importance of having a cue when forming new habits. It’s been clear through multiple studies that anyone who has implemented a new exercise regime is more likely to continue and follow through if they have selected a specific cue.

Cue’s are something that triggers the habit, examples are; running as soon as you return home from work. Cue’s can also occur after the habit has occurred, for example watching your favourite television show when you return home from your run.

Duhigg explains that the reason that habits have such a power over us is that they essentially create cravings in the brain.

”Most of the time, these cravings emerge so gradually that we’re not really aware they exist, so we’re often blind to their influence. But as we associate cues with certain rewards, a subconscious craving emerges in our brains that starts the habit loop spinning.”

3 key steps to creating a new habit

  1. Create a cue
  2. Identify a reward
  3. Find the craving that will encourage and drive the habit loop.

Duhigg’s suggests that you keep the cue’s simple and straightforward. And ensure that the reward is clear and something that you actually want. Although cues and rewards are essential in habit-forming, it’s been made clear that they aren’t enough on their own to truly enforce a new long-lasting habit. The key to having a habit stick around is having your brain expect the rewards, to crave the sense of accomplishment once the habit has been completed. The craving is the essential element, it’s the drive that turns something from simply a routine, into a habit.

When you consider cravings in relation to food, it’s pretty clear how things usually pan out. You’re craving something sweet, you’re not likely to reach for a salty or savoury snack. You’re much more likely to grab a piece of fruit or chocolate. In the same way, cravings drive habits.

Duhigg explains that once you’ve figured out how to prompt a craving, any new habit formation will become easier. You can keep the same cues and reward and insert a new habit. If you’ve learned that your cue and reward are successful in one element, you cane more than likely transfer these to any other habit you want to take on.

Duhigg’s Golden Rule

”You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.”

You can’t simply eliminate a bad habit. The first thing you need to do is identify the cue that triggers the bad habit to occur. For example, if you snack on candy in the afternoons while at work, you need to identify the timing as the cue. So you need to replace the candy with a healthier alternative, it’s clear that you are after something sweet so try a banana or some strawberries. Next, identify the reward. The reward of eating the candy may be a sweet hit, but it may be just the simple act of getting up out of your desk and escaping work for a few minutes. If it’s the escape that’s the reward, you could try replacing the candy with a quick 10-minute stroll around the block or taking some time to listen to your favourite podcast.

”To change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine. That’s the rule: If you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.”

”You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.”Click To Tweet


A keystone habit is something that has the power to influence how we work, eat, play, live, spend money and communicate. Duhigg explains the importance of keystone habits and their ability to encourage a chain reaction. This is particularly influential in organisations and places of business. The habits that trigger the chain reaction move through an organisation influencing other habits as they go.

”Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything. The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns.”

Duhigg uses exercise as a way to explain the power of keystone habits. If you’ve made the decision to start exercising fairly regularly, you’ll likely find that over time, other seemingly unrelated areas of your life may change as well. The exercise habit has the power over other habits such as eating and work that begin to become apparent. If you’ve started exercising, you’ll likely start to eat a little healthier. And this will have a direct result on your work, you’ll be more productive and feel less stressed. Duhigg emphasises the importance of implementing an exercise habit as it’s a keystone habit that can truly impact your whole life and implement change for the better.


Duhigg explains that perhaps the most influential keystone habit when it comes to success is willpower. Many people assume that willpower is something that you have or you don’t have. But the reality is that it’s actually something that can be taught and learned. Duhigg suggests that you think of willpower as a muscle, something that needs to be exercised in order to get stronger.

”Willpower is a learnable skill, something that can be taught.”

You can turn willpower into a habit by identifying a behaviour or action ahead of time. Made a decision, and when you follow through, you’ve activated your willpower.

This translates well into organisations and business environments. If you allow your employees to feel like they are in control, that they have their own agency, authority and the ability to make decisions, they will reflect this through the improved energy and focus they bring to their jobs.



Destructive habits

Duhigg identifies leaders, as almost always the trigger for destructive organisational habits. Leaders who are thoughtless and ignore the culture of their company will let these negative habits emerge and develop. This is evident in countless industries and individual companies on both small and large scales.

It's evident that organisations need habits and routines, without them, work wouldn’t get done and employees would be left wondering what to do next. Any operating business literally operates on hundreds of unwritten habits and routines. The majority of these, work like clock-work and mean that the work gets done. However, some of these can be destructive and anti-productive.


These destructive habits within an organisation can often lead to a crisis. And these crises actually become a pretty essential part of implementing new organisation habits. When there’s been an upset, it’s the perfect time to asses the current habits and remake them into something more productive and positive. In fact, Duhigg suggests that sometimes it’s worth stirring up a crisis, just to enforce the opportunity to re-shape some of the bad habits and form new ones.

”Rivalries still exist, of course, but because of institutional habits, they’re kept within bounds and the business thrives. For an organization to work, leaders must cultivate habits that both create a real and balanced peace and, paradoxically, make it absolutely clear who’s in charge.”


”In landing a job, weak-tie acquaintances are often more important than strong-tie friends. Weak ties give us access to social networks where we don’t otherwise belong. Weak-tie acquaintances—the people we bump into every six months—are the ones who tell us about jobs we would otherwise never hear about.”

Duhigg explains that it’s this power of the weak ties that exemplifies the way in which a small group of friends can transform into a protesting social movement. Social movements that have the power to convince thousands of people, to get behind a common goal or attitude.

Using the example of walking to work instead of catching a bus, Duhigg explains that most people aren’t interested in giving up their cosy, comfortable bus journey, unless it’s to benefit someone close to them. They don’t seem willing to do it simply for the benefit of a stranger.

Due to this unwillingness, activists encourage protest through a simple tool that works, even when used against people who are not willing to participate initially. Duhigg explains that it’s a form of persuasion, its the same persuasion that neighbourhoods and communities put upon themselves. Peer pressure.

Peer pressure

Duhigg acknowledges that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what peer pressure is, as it comes in different forms and is applied to different people in different ways. It’s about the individual and how the dish out or receive the pee pressure. He explains that; “these social habits aren’t so much one consistent pattern as dozens of individual habits that ultimately cause everyone to move in the same direction.”

However, Duhigg recognises that despite their differences, the habits of peer pressure do share an underlying common feature. The fact that the way they are most commonly distributed is through weak ties. And the authority is gained through communal expectations. Duhiggs points out that peer pressure can be dangerous on a child's level in the playground. But when your an adult, this peer pressure is what stimulates business and what organises communities. Without peer pressure, things would remain stagnant and nothing would ever happen.


”Habits, are what allow us to do a thing with difficulty the first time. Do it more and more easily, and finally, with sufficient practice, do it semi-mechanically, or with hardly any consciousness at all.”

Duhigg insists that if you have belief in yourself that yo can make a change, then you can make it into a habit, and then this change becomes your life. And that’s where the power of habit lies. You get to choose what your habits are and how they play out.

”Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.”

The Habit Framework:

Identify the routine

Experiment with rewards

Isolate the cue

Have a plan

”Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.”Click To Tweet


Key Takeaways

  • Habits never truly disappear, they are within your brains framework, ready to emerge when you call upon them.
  • Habits can be just as damaging as they can be rewarding
  • A habit requires a cue and a reward.
  • The crucial step in creating new habits is creating a craving in the brain.
  • Keystone habits are crucial for organisations and businesses
  • Keystone habits influence other patterns of behaviours and habits
  • Sometimes, a crisis in an organisation is essential to assess the destructive habits and form new ones.
  • Willpower can be learned, it needs to be exercised.
  • Willpower can be a habit
  • Weak-ties are the key to aggravating mass social movements
  • Peer pressure is essential in the adult world for running communities.

Further Reading

By the same author, Smarter Faster Better explores 8 different concepts and how they can make a difference to your life. Outlining the ‘secrets' to being more productive by starting with motivation, focus, teamwork, goal setting, managing others, making decisions, innovation and finally, absorbing information. This book is a really good read for anyone looking to kickstart their productivity and improve their choices and actions in business and in life.

If you’re interested in learning more about habit making, check out 50 Positive Habits to Transform Your Life by Michael Chapman is a quick and easy to read checklist of things you can add to your day to improve your life by implementing positive thinking and actions. From fitness goals, mental habits, emotions, lifestyle, personal habits and developments, Chapman covers all areas of life. If you need convincing on introducing these habits, Chapman's book has great personal examples of why adding these simple habits has made his life better and what life would be like without them!

Similarly, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey explores a number of paradigms, principles, and habits that can help you become more productive, whether that be as an individual, as part of an organisation or a business.

Guidelines is my eBook that summarises the main lessons from 33 of the best-selling self-help books in one place. It is the ultimate book summary; Available as a 80-page ebook and 115-minute audiobook. Guidelines lists 31 rules (or guidelines) that you should follow to improve your productivity, become a better leader, do better in business, improve your health, succeed in life and become a happier person.

Action Steps

  • Identify one bad habit that you regularly do. Try an isolate the cue and the reward. Experiment with replacing the bad habit with something more positive.
  • Exercise your willpower, decide in advance to do something and actually follow through. Every time you do this you will be strengthening your willpower.
  • Download the book on Amazon



Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.Click To Tweet

This summary is not intended as a replacement for the original book. All quotes are credited to the above-mentioned author and publisher.