The Power of Habit

Developing habits can drive positive and negative behavior. The Power of Habit written by Charles Duhigg provides multiple examples of how habits can drive benefits - individually or organizationally. Focusing on a three step cycle, Duhigg illustrates how cues-routine-rewards drive positive and negative habits.


The Process


The cue triggers the brain what do to. The routine is the behavior that follows the cue – physical, emotional, or mental. The reward is the positive outcome received and what drives the cycle to repeat.

A negative habit is an alcoholic drinking every day. The cue could be boredom, the time of day, or when they are lonely. The routine is drinking alcohol. The reward for the alcoholic is the feeling of euphoria, happiness, companionship, etc. The way to overcome negative habits (or changing any habit) is changing the routine. When we understand the cue, we change the routine for a positive reward.

Real-world Examples


Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) has been a driver to change habits of alcoholics. For the alcoholic, the routine of drinking is replaced with the regularity of the group meetings. The reward would be a positive feeling and companionship from other AA members, similar to the reward from drinking. The daily AA meetings replace the daily drinking, in addition, the belief in a higher power drives positive rewards (e.g., the positive feeling of not drinking, improved relationships).

Duhigg provides examples of hospitals changing staff behavior and habits to avoid performing wrong surgeries (and improving team morale). Or how the CEO of Alcoa changed the organization from focusing strictly on finances to focusing on employee safety. This focus created new habits throughout the organization that led to market-leading growth. Other examples of changing habits were the turnaround of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the market success of Proctor& Gamble’s Febreze household cleaner.



The advice from Duhigg provides multiple examples of how to improve through the practice of changing habits. The learnings within the book can help you lose weight, get in shape, or improve your organization. Understanding cues that lead to negative routines is beneficial for sustained transformation. Developing new habits and practicing until they become automated (i.e., habitual) can create unexpected, positive outcomes.

To succeed one needs to adopt positive, beneficial habits. Understanding what drives habits and how to change them allow us to transform our personal and professional lives. Focusing on habits avoids the necessity of willpower, goals or other self-improvement methods that typically do not sustain. Experimenting with different rewards will allow the habit to become stronger and develop into beneficial routines. As Duhigg showed with the success of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, creating a plan, practicing continuously, and developing automatic routines results in high performance. Pickup Duhigg's book and enjoy the entertaining and educational read.