This is a preview of the Shortform book summary of
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
Read Full Summary

1-Page Summary 1-Page Book Summary of The Power of Habit

What are Habits?

You think you’re making decisions all day, but more than 40% of the actions you take each day are actually habits.

Habits are choices that you continue doing repeatedly without actually thinking about them. At one point, they started with a decision, but they eventually became automatic.

They’re very powerful, and sometimes destructive. You can probably think about things you do everyday that you wish you did less of (binging Netflix shows; habitually opening Facebook; snacking when you're not hungry).

But if you can understand how habits are triggered, you can overcome them.

Components of a Habit

A habit has 3 steps:

  1. cue, a trigger that tells your brain which habit to use and puts it into automatic mode.
  2. routine, which acts out the habit. This can be physical, mental, or emotional.
  3. reward, which is the result of the routine and reinforces the habit.

Habits start as a conscious decision, but ultimately the loop can reinforce itself. Over time, you may end up losing full control over your behavior – with a cue, your brain goes into autopilot and executes the routine.

The good news is that by consciously recognizing your cues and rewards, you can combat your habits.

Cravings

The final essential component of a habit is craving. A craving is the anticipation of the reward when you get the cue, even before you actually get the reward. This craving pushes you through the routine so that you get the reward at the end of the habit. And if you don’t push through the routine, you don’t get the reward, and the craving is unsatisfied – making you unhappy.

Let’s make this concrete with a few more real-life examples.

Checking your phone:

  • Cue: hear your phone buzz
  • Craving: who’s contacting me? What’s going on in the world?
  • Routine: stop everything you’re...

Want to learn the rest of The Power of Habit in 21 minutes?

Unlock the full book summary of The Power of Habit by signing up for Shortform.

Shortform summaries help you learn 10x faster by:

  • Being 100% comprehensive: you learn the most important points in the book
  • Cutting out the fluff: you don't spend your time wondering what the author's point is.
  • Interactive exercises: apply the book's ideas to your own life with our educators' guidance.

READ FULL SUMMARY OF THE POWER OF HABIT

Here's a preview of the rest of Shortform's The Power of Habit summary:

The Power of Habit Summary Part 1: Individual Habits | Chapter 1: The Habit Loop

The Power of Habit starts with the most important section: what habits are, and how habits exist in individuals. This is the core of the book and really worth paying attention to.

What are Habits?

You think you’re making decisions all day, but more than 40% of the actions you take each day are actually habits.

Habits are choices that you continue doing repeatedly without actually thinking about them. At one point, they started with a decision, but they eventually became automatic.

They’re very powerful, and sometimes destructive. You can probably think about things you do everyday that you wish you did less of (binging Netflix shows; habitually opening Facebook; snacking when you're not hungry).

But if you can understand how habits are triggered, you can overcome them. This Power of Habit summary will teach you the main strategies to recognize and overcome your habits.

Components of a Habit

A habit has 3 steps:

  1. cue, a trigger that tells your brain which habit to use and puts it into automatic mode.
  2. routine, which acts out the habit. This can be physical, mental, or emotional. 3....

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of The Power of Habit

Sign up for free

The Power of Habit Summary Chapter 2: Starting New Habits

You now know that the habit consists of a cue, a routine, and a reward. But this is only part of the story. By themselves, the cue and reward would just be considered learning. For example, consider fixing a flat tire on your car. You hear the cue of the flat tire sound, and you feel the cue of the bumpiness of the ride. You have a routine to fix the tire. Then you have the reward of being able to continue on your ride, and the self-satisfaction of handiwork.

But you don’t have a habit of fixing your tire. It’s not something you look do on auto-pilot, daily or weekly.

The final essential component of a habit is craving. A craving is the anticipation of the reward when you get the cue, even before you actually get the reward. This craving pushes you through the routine so that you get the reward at the end of the habit. And if you don’t push through the routine, you don’t get the reward, and the craving is unsatisfied – making you unhappy.

Imagine the habit of ordering fast food from McDonald’s. You get the cue of delicious French fry smell. Before actually going through the routine, you crave the reward – the Big Mac with Diet Coke at the end. This craving...

What Our Readers Say

This is the best summary of How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned all the main points in just 20 minutes.
Learn more about our summaries →

Shortform Exercise: Identify Your Habit

Apply what you learned to figuring out a habit you don’t like.


What is a bad habit that you want to stop? How often do you do it?

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of The Power of Habit

Sign up for free

The Power of Habit Summary Chapter 3: Stopping Bad Habits

Up until now, we’ve focused on building new habits – Pepsodent causing a new tingle, Febreze adding a new smell. But you likely want to stop your bad habits too – eating without control, procrastinating, or getting distracted at work.

Over time, habits become deeply ingrained. Over many iterations of the habit loop, the transition between cue, craving, routine, and reward become automatic. Think about any personal habits that you want to break, and how hard they seem to change. Once you get a cue and craving, it can seem almost as though you lose control and act on auto-pilot.

Luckily, research into successful methods of behavior change have revealed the best practices of changing your habits.

Step 1: Identify the Cues and Rewards

First and foremost is understanding your own habits. First, identify the cues or triggers that kick off your habit. Every time you feel tempted with a craving, make a note to yourself on paper. Then think about what happened recently, or what you felt recently, that kicked off the craving.

Next, understand the reward you get after the routine. This could be a physical one, like food, or an emotional one, like relief of boredom...

Why people love using Shortform

"I LOVE Shortform as these are the BEST summaries I’ve ever seen...and I’ve looked at lots of similar sites. The 1-page summary and then the longer, complete version are so useful. I read Shortform nearly every day.""
Jerry McPhee
Sign up for free

Shortform Exercise: Rewire Your Habit

Now that you understand your habit loop well, try to rewire it.


To review, write down your cue, routine, and reward for a habit you want to change.

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of The Power of Habit

Sign up for free

The Power of Habit Summary Part 2: Organizational Habits | Chapter 4: Keystone Habits

Next, we’ll cover habits adopted by multiple people - companies, organizations, teams. (Shortform note: this section of the book seems less rigorous and research-backed than the first part, but has some interesting ideas.)

Keystone Habits

Certain habits can have a domino effect – get one habit right, and many other good habits fall into place naturally. These keystone habits act as massive levers.

A 2009 study on weight loss tried to get obese people to follow a simple habit – write down everything they ate, at least one day a week. While difficult at first, it became a habit for many. Unexpectedly, this small habit rippled throughout their diet. When forced to study what they ate, the study participants couldn’t help noticing when they snacked absentmindedly, or when they had unhealthy dinners. They then proactively started to plan future meals so that when they wanted a snack, they reached for an apple instead of a candy bar.

The keystone habit of keeping a food journal created an environment for more healthy habits to thrive. Eventually, participants who kept a journal lost twice as much weight as the control group.

**How do you find a keystone habit? Find an...

What Our Readers Say

This is the best summary of How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned all the main points in just 20 minutes.
Learn more about our summaries →

The Power of Habit Summary Chapter 5: Building Willpower

Willpower can be defined in a number of ways: as self-discipline, determination, self-control. More technically, it has also been defined as the ability to delay short-term gratification to reach long-term goals, the ability to override an unwanted impulse, and regulation of the self.

Willpower has a number of interesting properties:

Willpower is critical to personal success. 

A famous study in the 1960s, nicknamed the “Marshmallow Test,” studied the willpower of 4-year-olds. Kids were put into a room and presented with a marshmallow on a plate. They were presented with a deal: you can eat this marshmallow right away, or you can wait a few minutes and we’ll give you two marshmallows. The researcher left the room and watched the kids. Most kids (70%) twisted and squirmed before snatching the marshmallow and eating it joyfully. About 30% ignored their urges and got the longer-term reward of 2 marshmallows.

Decades later, they tracked the kids’ performance in high school. The minority of kids who delayed gratification ended up with the best grades and SAT scores that were 210 points higher on average. They were less likely to do drugs and were more socially...

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of The Power of Habit

Sign up for free

Shortform Exercise: Getting Past Your Pain Point

To build willpower, fill in specific plans about how to deal with pain points you expect.


What is a habit you feel you lack willpower for?

Want to Read the Rest of this
In Book Summary?

With Shortform, you can:

Access 1000+ non-fiction book summaries.

Highlight your
Favorite Passages.

Access 1000+ premium article summaries.

Take Notes on your
Favorite Books.

Read on the go with our iOS and Android App.

Download PDF Summaries.

Sign up for free

The Power of Habit Summary Chapter 6: Habits in Organizations

One would think that a company’s behavior, and their employees’ behavior, is defined by rational, deliberate choices at each step.

In reality, much of employee behavior comes from habits grandfathered in from the past. Employees rely on routines to guide their behavior – for instance, many companies have a standard bonus and promotion track. In the typical environment, employees know that if they keep their head down, work hard, and don’t cause trouble, they’ll be rewarded with bonuses and promotions at a predetermined schedule.

The utility of habits here is the same as personal individual habits - it saves energy when you don’t have to question why you behave every day. Routines help stuff get done without falling into paralysis. They allow employees to make progress without having to reinvent things all the time or ask for permission at each step.

Organizational habits can be constructive or destructive. Often destructive habits are created without deliberate planning, instead growing organically from rivalries, fear, or ego.

The book argues that the natural state of a company is of conflict. Executives compete for influence and credit from achievements....

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of The Power of Habit

Sign up for free

The Power of Habit Summary Chapter 7: How Companies Exploit Your Habits

When you consume commercial products like groceries and music, you have habits, and those habits are predictable. (What a surprise.) People have favorite types of food and genres of music and regularly consume them. Again, the value of habits is conservation of mental energy – you don’t have to think hard about what what groceries to buy every trip or which radio station to listen to everyday.

Supermarkets are well designed to play psychological tricks based on your habits:

  • Healthy, fresh food is put near the entrance of the store. The theory is that if you buy healthy food at the beginning of your shopping trip, you’ll be able to justify buying Oreos placed at the end (additionally, you’ve likely already depleted your willpower by this point after passing by loads of delicious looking food). This makes you spend more overall, and over time you develop a habit of loading up your cart with a full range of goods.
  • Most people turn to the right after entering a store, so higher margin items are placed to the right.

People’s habits do suddenly change, and most often after major life events. Even though your personal habits have changed, they change in a...

What Our Readers Say

This is the best summary of How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned all the main points in just 20 minutes.
Learn more about our summaries →

The Power of Habit Summary Part 3: Societal Habits | Chapter 8: How Movements are Started

Finally, The Power of Habit summary concludes with habits in society. (Shortform note: this is the least practical section of the book for your everyday life, and a bit of a stretch into fuzzy sociological theory.)

Successful social movements are said to have three parts:

1) the movement begins with the social habits of close friendship – someone is afflicted, and the people close to them immediately help

2) the movement grows from the habits of a community and the weak ties that combine loosely affiliated people. There is increasing social pressure to join to maintain your social status

3) the movement endures because the leaders give participants new habits, a new identity, and a feeling of ownership over the movement

We’ll unpack each of these parts and use the example of Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights Movement in 1950’s America.

1) Movements Start with a Victim

Social movements often begin with a victim who suffered an injustice, like being injured or discriminated against. Immediately, the victim’s close friends band together to help, as the habits of friendship would dictate. (Cue: friend is in trouble; Routine: help the friend; Reward:...

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of The Power of Habit

Sign up for free

The Power of Habit Summary Chapter 9: Are We Liable for Our Habits?

In the final chapter, we confront an interesting moral question – if habits are so strongly wired within us, and we act automatically when confronted with a cue, are we legally and morally responsible for our actions?

We’ll examine two relevant cases – a murder, and gambling debt.

Example 1: Sleepwalking and Murder

In 2008, Brian Thomas woke up to find a man on top of his wife. He choked the man until he felt the man stop moving – only to realize he had actually killed his wife.From an early age, Thomas had started sleepwalking. When doing so, the part of his brain that usually consciously processes behavior is asleep, but the parts governing routine habits are still awake. When he killed his wife, Thomas had experienced a sleep terror, unconsciously imagining a situation that led to profound anxiety and a primitive defense reaction.

There has been thorough studying of people suffering sleep terrors, and the consensus is that the behavior is automatic – that the person does not consciously process the situation and has no control over behavior. This has led some night terror sufferers to jump off roofs when believing they were being chased, or killing their babies...

What Our Readers Say

This is the best summary of How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned all the main points in just 20 minutes.
Learn more about our summaries →

The Power of Habit Summary Quick Guide: Changing Your Habits

You probably want to change your bad habits, or adopt good new ones. This last section is a condensed guide on how to achieve this, with a realistic habit example.

A habit consists of Cue -> Routine -> Reward. The insight here is that the superficial routine (e.g. shopping for dessert and eating it) may not be the actual underlying craving (e.g. wanting a break away from the office).

Step 1: Identify the Routine

The routine is the automatic behavior you want to change. Unpack the entire routine into every single step from beginning to finish, even the steps you think aren’t important.

Example: Let's say I have a habit of going downstairs during work, visiting a nearby supermarket, and buying a dessert. I want to change this because I've gained 5 pounds. My entire routine: I get up from my desk, walk to the elevator, take the elevator down, walk outside for 3 minutes to the supermarket, browse the dessert selection, pick one, go to the checkout line, chat briefly with the checkout clerk, walk back to work, go up the elevator, and go back to my desk and eat the dessert.

Step 2: Experiment with Rewards

Next, we need to figure out which part of the routine is...

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of The Power of Habit

Sign up for free

Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Part 1: Individual Habits | Chapter 1: The Habit Loop
  • Chapter 2: Starting New Habits
  • Exercise: Identify Your Habit
  • Chapter 3: Stopping Bad Habits
  • Exercise: Rewire Your Habit
  • Part 2: Organizational Habits | Chapter 4: Keystone Habits
  • Chapter 5: Building Willpower
  • Exercise: Getting Past Your Pain Point
  • Chapter 6: Habits in Organizations
  • Chapter 7: How Companies Exploit Your Habits
  • Part 3: Societal Habits | Chapter 8: How Movements are Started
  • Chapter 9: Are We Liable for Our Habits?
  • Quick Guide: Changing Your Habits