The Power of Habit

by

Charles Duhigg

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The Power of Habit Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Charles Duhigg

Charles Duhigg was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After graduating with a B.A. in History from Yale University, he worked in private equity and attended Harvard Business School. But by the time he earned his M.B.A. in 2003, he already knew that he wanted to become a journalist instead of continuing in business. For the next three years, he worked as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, where he largely covered the Iraq War and the U.S. music industry. In 2006, he moved to The New York Times, where he did in-depth investigative reporting on issues like the dangerous working conditions at the factories that make Apple products in China and toxic tap water in the U.S. But he is still best known for The Power of Habit, which has sold millions of copies and spent more than a year on the New York Times bestseller list. He has won more than a dozen journalism awards for his work, including a Pulitzer Prize for his New York Times reporting on Apple in 2013. He has also spoken for audiences at companies like Google, Microsoft, and Bloomberg and appeared on popular shows like This American Life and The Colbert Report. He published his second book, Smarter Faster Better, in 2016. Since 2017, he has been a staff writer covering business for The New Yorker, and from 2019 to 2021, he also hosted Slate magazine’s “How To!” podcast.
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Historical Context of The Power of Habit

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg emphasizes that recent developments in psychology and neuroscience are the foundation for his insights about habit formation and change. While psychologists and philosophers have studied habits for centuries, modern research on habits and the brain began with the rise of cognitive neuropsychology and psychobiology in the mid-1900s. For a long time, neuroscientists had few tools to understand the brain—and one of their most valuable was studying patients with brain damage. The most famous of these patients might have been Henry Molaison, or “H.M.,” who lost the ability to form new memories—but maintained all his previous ones—after an invasive surgery to treat epilepsy. Molaison showed neuroscientists that short-term and long-term memory depend on different parts of the brain. In fact, Molaison’s case was also the foundation for research on habit because it showed that habits depend on unconscious memories, not active information recall. Later, Larry Squire’s interviews with the brain damage patient Eugene Pauly (or “E.P.”) confirmed this theory. However, new technology has also made more complex, innovative research into habit formation possible in recent decades. For instance, Duhigg notes that brain scan techniques like fMRI—which was not invented until the 1990s—have made it possible for neuroscientists to actually see how the formation of new habits reshapes the brain. Similarly, he cites Ann Graybiel’s influential research on habit formation in rats, which is only possible because Graybiel is able to implement thin probes in the rats’ brains. Now, she is doing similar research with optogenetics, an innovative new technique that allows neuroscientists to selectively activate parts of an animal’s brain by shining light at them. Such techniques—and other similar ones in development today—will allow science’s understanding of the human brain to continue advancing in the future.

Other Books Related to The Power of Habit

Charles Duhigg’s second book is Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business (2016). Other influential recent books on habit include James Clear’s Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones (2018), Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way (2017), and Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives (2015). Classic books on habits include Stephen R. Covey’s classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (1988) and James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras’s Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (2004).
Key Facts about The Power of Habit
  • Full Title: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
  • When Written: 2010-11
  • Where Written: Brooklyn, New York
  • When Published: February 28, 2012
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Popular Science, Business, Self-Help, Organizational Psychology
  • Point of View: First-person

Extra Credit for The Power of Habit

Study Habits. Since 2020, Duhigg has offered an online course based on The Power of Habit.