After publishing The Power of Habit, Duhigg received many letters from his readers. For instance, one explained that the book convinced her to quit drinking and attend AA. He decided to contact some of the letter-writers and ask how the book influenced them.
These readers’ letters confirm Duhigg’s hope that his book would teach people to better control their habits and achieve their potential. By publishing them in this afterword, he hopes to show even more of his readers that they can do the same, if they faithfully apply the principles in his book.
Tom Peyton lost 70 pounds by recognizing that boredom and stress cued him to overeat. He then built new routines like weighing himself every morning and going on walks every day. He still occasionally eats unhealthy food, but it’s infrequent and manageable. Duhigg remarks that he has used similar tactics to prevent his children from getting addicted to dessert.
Peyton used clear cues and compelling rewards to build new habits. His case is a reminder that nobody can ever fully eliminate old habit loops—but also that simply reducing and overpowering them is usually enough to change people’s lives.
Personal trainer Eric Earle quit smoking by replacing it with different habits. He tried running, the sauna, and then meditation, which finally worked. In fact, quitters often need to experiment with and relapse into their bad habits several times before they can really understand their cues, routines, and rewards.
Earle used the Golden Rule of habit change to replace a bad habit with a better one. As Duhigg explains here, the Golden Rule usually doesn’t work right away. Rather, it’s a gradual process: people have to find the right new habit over time. This is part of why it’s so important to build willpower and believe in oneself.
The college teacher Pratt Bennet started teaching habit change to his first-year seminar students by making them submit “life-hack reports” every week. The students loved it and saw significant progress. Meanwhile, Bennet saved years of work by simply changing the way he checked his email.
Bennet shows how classroom environments can teach and reinforce the psychological techniques associated with habit change. Adults who want to practice these skills in a real-world environment can find similar opportunities in therapy and group classes.
Finally, the woman who joined AA is still going—and has also started to lose weight. But she told Duhigg that his book should have also analyzed “the catalyst for change.” For her, it was pain. Duhigg concludes that his readers’ stories have shown him that anyone can change their habits—as long as they’re motivated to change. He encourages readers to email him with their own stories.
The woman’s comments highlight why motivation is the single most important—and most elusive—element in habit change. Duhigg has pointed out how belief in a higher power, belief in oneself, willpower, and group support can all contribute to motivation. But ultimately, everyone has to find their own balance of motivations if they truly want to succeed at habit change.