The Power of Habit


Charles Duhigg

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Brian Thomas Character Analysis

Brian Thomas is a British man who accidentally killed his wife during a sleep terror—an unconscious, extremely violent outburst in the middle of the night. The court ruled that Thomas was not legally responsible for his wife’s death because he was just acting out a natural fight-or-flight habit loop, and he could not have possibly known about his problem or stopped himself. Duhigg views Thomas’s actions as a very rare example of a habit for which people are not morally responsible. He contrasts this with most habits—like Angie Bachmann’s gambling—which he argues that people are morally responsible for controlling.

Brian Thomas Quotes in The Power of Habit

The The Power of Habit quotes below are all either spoken by Brian Thomas or refer to Brian Thomas . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Habits, Human Behavior, and Success Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Random House edition of The Power of Habit published in 2014.
Chapter 9 Quotes

Thomas is the most sympathetic murderer conceivable, someone so close to being a victim himself that when the trial ended, the judge tried to console him.
Yet many of those same excuses can be made for Angie Bachmann, the gambler. She was also devastated by her actions. She would later say she carries a deep sense of guilt. And as it turns out, she was also following deeply ingrained habits that made it increasingly difficult for decision making to intervene.

Related Characters: Charles Duhigg (speaker), Brian Thomas , Angie Bachmann
Page Number: 259
Explanation and Analysis:

Every habit, no matter its complexity, is malleable. The most addicted alcoholics can become sober. The most dysfunctional companies can transform themselves. A high school dropout can become a successful manager.
However, to modify a habit, you must decide to change it. You must consciously accept the hard work of identifying the cues and rewards that drive the habits’ routines, and find alternatives. You must know you have control and be self-conscious enough to use it—and every chapter in this book is devoted to illustrating a different aspect of why that control is real.

Related Characters: Charles Duhigg (speaker), Angie Bachmann , Brian Thomas
Page Number: 270
Explanation and Analysis:

Perhaps a sleepwalking murderer can plausibly argue he wasn’t aware of his habit, and so he doesn’t bear responsibility for his crime. But almost all the other patterns that exist in most people’s lives—how we eat and sleep and talk to our kids, how we unthinkingly spend our time, attention, and money—those are habits that we know exist. And once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom—and the responsibility—to remake them. Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the power of habit becomes easier to grasp, and the only option left is to get to work.

Related Characters: Charles Duhigg (speaker), Angie Bachmann , Brian Thomas
Page Number: 271
Explanation and Analysis:
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Brian Thomas Character Timeline in The Power of Habit

The timeline below shows where the character Brian Thomas appears in The Power of Habit. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 9: The Neurology of Free Will: Are We Responsible for Our Habits?
Habits, Human Behavior, and Success Theme Icon
The Moral Consequences of Habits Theme Icon
In July 2008, Brian Thomas called the police and admitted to accidentally killing his wife in the middle of the... (full context)
Habits, Human Behavior, and Success Theme Icon
The Moral Consequences of Habits Theme Icon
...fact, hundreds of people have been acquitted of crimes they committed during sleep terrors. During Brian Thomas ’s trial, even the prosecution agreed that he was innocent because he killed his wife... (full context)
Habits, Human Behavior, and Success Theme Icon
The Moral Consequences of Habits Theme Icon a casino. She gambled away the rest of her money—and then her house. If Brian Thomas wasn’t guilty of murdering his wife, Duhigg asks, why was Angie Bachmann considered guilty of... (full context)
Habit Change and Personal Growth  Theme Icon
The Moral Consequences of Habits Theme Icon
...decide to change them. This is why Angie Bachmann is responsible for her actions and Brian Thomas isn’t: Bachmann knew about her bad habits, so was responsible for changing them. But Thomas... (full context)