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Book Review

‘The Power of Habit’ is a good start

4/30/2014

BOOK 5.1Courtesy of Beaverdale Books

Review by Sally Wisdom

Random House

Jan. 7, 2014

$16

HIV

383 pp.

In “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg takes an intriguing look at how habits are made and broken and how individuals, businesses, organizations and societies can benefit from understanding and establishing routines.

Habits, Duhigg explains, follow a three-step loop: cue, routine and reward. Over time, the loop becomes more and more automatic. Bad habits are most successfully broken when the loop is severed, and the cue is followed by a new routine and reward. Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs, Duhigg explains, follow this model.

Small changes in both personal and organizational habits can create a structure that allows other habits to flourish, and Duhigg presents a number of examples. Establishing the routine of keeping a food diary is more likely to result in successful weight loss than a sudden, drastic but ultimately unsustainable change in diet. Starting a regular exercise routine often leads to healthier eating and other lifestyle changes. When the president of Alcoa vowed to make the company accident-free and developed new routines targeting that goal, costs were lowered, quality improved and productivity increased.

Successful marketing depends on consumers creating new habits, and Duhigg writes engagingly about the first successful toothpaste (Pepsodent) and tells the fascinating story behind the serendipitous discovery and bumpy launch of Febreze. A chapter on retail data collection describes how Target identifies pregnant buyers by their shopping habits long before they need the diaper and stroller coupons they will later receive in the mail.

Fans of “Freakonomics” and the works of Malcolm Gladwell will find this book engrossing. CV

Sally Wisdom retired from the Des Moines Public Library in 2011 and found her dream job at Beaverdale Books soon after.

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