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Books

Author outlines how to change bad habits


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A spate of books in recent years purports to use the latest in neurological and/or psychological research to teach people how to improve their creativity, sharpen their intelligence or boost their happiness quotient.

Here’s a new one – learn to better understand and master your habits.

One of the most popular in the genre is the best-selling “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” (Random House, 2012) by Charles Duhigg.

Although many of the fundamental concepts outlined in the book aren’t really new, Duhigg describes them well. He promises to help readers understand their daily habits and make positive adjustments, if they are willing to do the hard work required to change.

Most readers will find Chapter 1 useful, given that it addresses the habits of individuals. Citing scientific research, Duhigg describes habits as the sum of three forces: the cue, the routine and the resulting reward.

Using examples that range from a successful football coach to an alcoholic who is finally able to stop drinking, Duhigg describes how people, if they are able to identify the cue and reward for a particular habit, will be able to change the routine – and thus change their lives.

In “The Power of Habit,” Duhigg notes the importance of small wins and the existence of keystone habits – habits that can unexpectedly cause other positive changes. An example is people who increase the amount of exercise they get and find that it leads easily to eating less or better.

Another chapter takes on the habits of successful organizations, using examples from companies such as Alcoa and Target. The final chapter deals with societal habits.

I found the most helpful parts of the book in the section titled “The Neurology of Free Will” and the appendix, “A Reader’s Guide to Using These Ideas.” In these sections, Duhigg details three important caveats: (1) It is vital to believe that one can make changes; (2) There is no single formula that applies to all people and all habits; and (3) Changing a habit is usually hard work.

When I was in college, we commonly conducted experiments on ourselves using positive reinforcement. We ultimately discovered that it is uniquely difficult to reward yourself to change. But with Duhigg’s insights, I now believe that it’s possible to make even the hardest changes.

For those eager for a change of habit, I recommend that you immediately skip to the appendix. If you need further encouragement or explanation, you can read the rest of the book.

Book clubs that select self-help and self-improvement books should find the “The Power of Habit” enjoyable and useful. To review Duhigg’s methods, including his flowchart for changing a habit, visit charlesduhigg.com.

Leslie Ashmore, a longtime Mountain View resident, belongs to two book clubs.

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