Book Review: The Power of Habit

The first book review I'm writing on my blog after picking up my first book in a long time. ^^;

Ironically I picked up this book hoping to get into the habit of reading books but of course, because I haven't read this book yet it took me almost a full year and buying 5 other books later before I finally started reading this one. Now I have this waitlist of books that I was hoping this book will propel me to read. Which, I will say now that it did! This was the perfect book to start with, not only because it helped me get back into reading, but this concept can be the start of all the other changes I want to make in my life.

So The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is one of those books that's been on almost all of those "# of books you should read" kinda lists, and now I know why. Of course for a person to even pick up this book you must have some bad habits in your life you want to change or some good habits you want to add. This book is a step by step guide on how to do that!

I use to think about habits in a very one dimensional way. To lose weight I need to get into the habit of exercising or eating healthy and get rid of the habit of eating late at night or eating junk food. None of that is wrong, I do need to do that, but how I approached it was wrong.

Now if you don't want to read the actual book, you can just read this very crude summary from my perspective that I'm going to give you, more as reminders for myself. But I highly recommend you read it if you want to make some changes in your life!


The book has 3 main sections. It starts off by talking about habits of the individual, then organizations, and lastly society. All very insightful, with real life examples and scientific experiments. I'm just going to talk about the basics of habits and the individual part. That's what is relevant to me right now and what I am trying to apply immediately in my life, but the other parts will definitely change your outlook on, not only your life but how corporate organizations work and the habits of society that cause some of the world's major events.


So the book begins by explaining the habit loop. This consist of:

  1. The Cue - Something that triggers a reward that your seeking
  2. The Routine - A physical or emotional action you take to get that reward
  3. The Reward - The satisfaction that you get from the routine

A fascinating example that he used was how people in America got into the habit of brushing their teeth and using toothpaste. Although there was a big problem with dental hygiene, people didn't start using toothpaste regularly and out of habit until one man named Claude Hopkins came into the picture. He advertised Pepsodent toothpaste to remove a film on your teeth that gives your teeth that off colour and by using Pepsodent you can get those pearly whites. So by telling people to run their tongue across their teeth, this gave them the cue to brush their teeth to get the reward of white teeth. This wasn't all, what contributed more was the fact that the tooth paste had mint in them unlike other brands at the time which gave a cool tingly sensation. People began to crave that sensation, and it became a sign that their teeth were clean. So this was another key component to note: CRAVING

It's the reason why when we see junk food it's so hard to resist because by seeing the cue of junk food or the golden arches of McDonald we're already imagining the reward of eating it and the satisfaction, making it hard to resist. It's the reason why our shampoos and tooth taste foam, the foam doesn't actually contribute to the cleaning process, but it gives us some satisfaction and sign that the product is "working."

The Golden Rule: To change a habit you have to keep the same cue and reward, but feed the craving by having a different routine. If every day at 2 PM you buy a snack because you're hungry. You may identify that your cue is hunger at 2 PM, your routine is to get chips, and your reward is feeling satisfied from the snack. Since you know this, to change it, you might prepare a healthy snack beforehand so that at 2 pm when you get that craving, you can get the same satisfaction without buying unhealthy junk food.

Similar applies if you want to create a new habit. First, you need to identify a cue to start a routine and make a clear reward for that routine and do it to the point where you crave that reward. The example given in the book is like working out right when you wake up and having a smoothie after. So waking up is the cue, working out is the routine, and the smoothie is a reward. This is, of course, all up to you and what you consider your cue, routine, and reward to be.

For most habits, this will work, but sometimes you need one more ingredient which is BELIEF. You have to believe you can change, to make a reworked habit loop permanent. A lot of times habits are broken at critical moments when you're stressed and reminded of whatever routine you had before to deal with that stress, but if you believe that things are going to get better and that you don't need whatever bad routine you had than you can make that routine last. This works best in group settings where you can see other people's progress and thus making the change seem more realistic and believable.

So now that we understand how habits work and how they can be changed, where do you start? Our whole life is made of little habits pieced together. But not all habits are made equal. What is critical are Keystone Habits or what you may also know them as "small wins." These keystone habits are hard to find, but by changing them, they create a new structure where change becomes contagious. The book has a really interesting section about how keystone habits help shape athletes like Michael Phelps and decrease infant mortality rates by teaching college kids biology!

The last thing that is important to know about how to improve your habits is Willpower. Willpower isn't a skill, but like a muscle that gets tired as it works harder and has less power for other things after. This is why a lot of people tell you to work out in the morning because after a whole day of tedious work your willpower to work out is going to be low. So when you learn to change a keystone habit, you're also working out your willpower. By making a small change like jotting down what you eat, you're working on your willpower, making it strong, and eventually, that will spill out on to other aspects of your life. To make exercising your willpower a habit you need to plan for inflection points. If you plan what you are going to do when you feel resistance or an urge to break your routine than you are less likely to give into the old routine and follow the plan you made before hand.


So off the bat before reading this book some things I wanted to change in my life were:

  1. Exercise
  2. Eat healthy/Pack Lunch
  3. Read
  4. Wake up earlier/Sleep earlier
  5. Skincare routine
  6. Blog 2 times a week

Before I started this book I have tried and failed many times to implement all these habits .... all at once. With a plan to do it, but no plan for relapse, so when I failed to do one I lost all willpower for the rest of them. A common occurrence for most people I think. Like oh shit well I'm at this event, and there's cake, well there goes my diet. From there I get home late from the event, well there goes my sleep schedule. I sleep in and next morning, well no time to pack lunch, etc... I think you get the point.

So after reading the first 30 pages of this book one night, I got motivated again to start my journey to the perfect life. (this 30 page of reading was my first "small win" now that I think about it). I set my schedule for the next day that I was gonna wake up at 7:45 am, work out till 8:15 am, shower, pack lunch and leave for work at 9 am. Doesn't sound too hard right, a pretty reasonable time 8 am, since I start work at 10 am.

Well... I'm really not a morning person. For a whole week, my alarm would go off at 7:45 and I would snooze it till 8:45 when I had no choice, but to wake up to go to work. Now that I finished the book I know my problem:

  1. I tried to do way too much at once
  2. I had no plan for what I would do if I were tempted not to follow through
  3. I had no clear reward

So what is my plan now? I'm not sure if I found my key stone habit, going to have to test it out and see, but I'm just gonna start with 1 thing I want to change, and that is to wake up earlier.

New habit: No matter how late I sleep I will wake up at 7:30am.

Plan: I'm using the app where you have to take a picture of something to stop the alarm, so that will be how I will overcome the hurdle of going back to bed

The cue is the alarm, the routine is waking up, and the reward will be working on my blog (Which may not seem like a reward to some people, but to me, it feels very rewarding)

After writing all this, I realized maybe I already found my keystone habit. The day I decided to pick up this book and read for 30 minutes before bed. There are already some positive changes in my life that I didn't really plan to happen like the fact that I'm writing this blog post now (which I haven't written one in a while), I packed lunch once this week, and I started to read my next book!

Not sure if this whole post even makes sense if you haven't read the book, but have I made you want to read this book? What are some habits you want to change?