The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Summary & Review

Cue, Routine, Reward – The Habit Loop

The main aspect of the book is the habit loop; cue, routine, reward. 

Every habit works like this, something makes you notice you crave the reward (this is the cue), you follow the routine, you get the reward. 

Cues can be anything in your environment – time, stress, feelings, people, etc. 

You Don’t Break Bad Habits

It’s very difficult to break a bad habit. In fact, when a habit is used regularly it creates a path in the brain that never goes away. 

And, most people will revert to a bad habit once they are under a lot of stress. 

Instead, You Adjust A Habit

Instead, you replace the routine to get the same/similar reward. 

The difficult aspect is identifying your cue, routine, and reward because they can vary, the best way to do this is to journal your cue, craving, and reward, so you can see patterns and adjust the habits in the future.

About Cravings

Cravings are an important part of the habit loop. We crave the reward we get out of the routine. Once we begin craving the reward our minds expect it, and we get mopey and sad when we don’t get it. 

This is why you fix the habit by keeping the reward the same but changing the routine. 

Example Bad Habit Fix

When I get stressed or frustrated I like to eat chocolate and/or cookies. 

The cue is I’m stressed

The routine is eating chocolate and/or cookies

I crave the reward of being distracted from whatever is bothering, replacing the feeling of anxiety with food in my stomach. 

 Options I Can Use to Fix The Bad Habit: 

  • Eat something with fewer calories (replace anxiety feeling in stomach)
  • Call or chat with a friend (distraction and replace anxiety feeling)

See the reward is rarely I just want to get drunk, or I just love eating cookies, etc. It is about how you feel, what you need, etc. 

For example, biting your nails is a reward of physical pressure, relieving anxiety by giving yourself something to do, etc. 

Alcoholics Anonymous & Bad Habits

The founder of AA put together the 12 steps of recovery from alcohol based on his own experience. He didn’t realize he stumbled upon a formula that helps people overcome bad habits across many addictions. 

Three factors he included in the 12 steps was 1) replacing the bad habit. To do this, you call your sponsor instead of drinking (or whatever the bad habit is), things go well and you walk away from the situation not having drank/used your addiction. 

The second factor he included was 2) belief in a higher power. This is to help the addict believe in their ability to leave the addiction either through the strength of the community or in a higher being. 

The third factor 3) support. When you think about people making positive changes in their lives they tend to be more successful when they have support. This is another benefit of having a sponsor or community to turn to instead of your addiction of choice.

Habits in Organizations

As you read further into the book Duhigg discusses organizational habits used in groups for corporations, etc. But, many of the things he discusses can also be used in small groups such as families or teams at work. 

Among what worked for the corporation were keystone habits that flow into other areas for improvement and small wins that encourage participation for future wins. 

Societal Habits & Change

And last but not least, Duhigg discusses how big social movements like Rosa Parks & Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. worked. The groups must have strong ties to the person or cause, weak ties that support those strong ties, and then a belief that allows the mission to grow beyond one person or event. 

The Habit Loop



You Can't Break Bad Habits

Recreating Habits

Multiple Habit Cues


Willpower & Kindness


Keystone Habits

Goals, Support, & Motivation

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Small Wins

Planning for Inflection Points

Alcoholics Anonymous

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