Context Book – The Power of Habit


Freedom Sculpture in Philadelphia PA USA

I saw the above picture on Facebook. A person or spirit breaking free. It could be freedom from anything and I thought, wow, that goes great with the book I decided to read–The Power of Habit1 by Charles Duhigg.

What is the meaning of a “habit”? In the American Journal of Psychology (1903) it is defined in this way: “A habit, from the standpoint of psychology, is a more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience.”2 I get up every morning and put on my glasses without thinking about it. It’s a habit. Habits influence our every move. Smoking is one thing people have a hard time stopping.  They need help. Other people can, as Charles notes in his book, decide to stop and do it.3 His example is Lisa, who had a change in her perception. She set a new goal for herself to travel in 1 year. One drawback was smoking. She willed herself to stop smoking and established new habits of going to a gym, walking, jogging etc. In one year she was traveling, smoke free, and happy.

The book is divided into 3 parts. How habits emerge, habits of successful companies, and habits of society. The experiments are centered on the fact that we see, hear, or feel a “cue” that turns into a “routine” that gives us a “reward.” An example I liked was that the Cinnabon Company4 places their store in the middle of the malls, not by the food court. That way the cinnamon smell is not diluted with all the other food court smells. Shoppers will smell (cue) the cinnamon around a corner and stop (routine) for the bun (reward). 

A ‘keystone’ habit would be an athlete dressing the same way for every practice and game. He would create a mental recognition of dressing, muscle warm-up, going to court or field, and knowing exactly how he is going to play, even if there is a disturbance along the way, the athlete already considered how to handle it. It all started with the “keystone” of dressing.

Another example, the “gay rights organizations campaigning against homophobia in 1960 could not change legislature. Their goals were out of reach. Then in 1972 the American Library Association Task Force succeeded in having the Library of Congress reclassify the gay liberation movement from HQ71-471 to HQ 76.5.”5 It started to be OK to talk about homosexuality and gay rights. The gay organizations started fund raising. Politicians started noticing and passing laws (reward). All due to the fact they had a “cue” from the Library of Congress, and it became “routine” to hear about gay rights.

The example of Starbucks resembles libraries being customer service oriented. A spokesperson for Starbucks said “We’re in the people business to serve coffee. Our entire business model is based on fantastic customer service. Without that, we’re toast.” 6  Our circulation desk is at our front door. We wanted to make the students feel more welcome. We asked staff to start saying hello and smile to students at the circulation desk. There was grumbling. It will be too noisy to say hello, we’re too busy, and it’s hard to look up every time someone comes in. Those were some of the comments we heard.  We settled for staff to look up, smile and whisper hi. At first students didn’t notice. Slowly as time went by students would smile back. Some said hi. The door opens (cue)  staff started to say hi and smile first (routine). Students say hi or smile back. (reward). We might miss a few students, but it has started to become a habit.

Another interesting part was about the companies knowing too much information on their customers. We covered privacy issues in the MOOC, but this section was scary. Companies started hiring data miners.The data miners used courtesy reward cards and credit cards to give companies information on their customers. They now know:

Age, marital status, kids or not, what part of town you lived in, how long it took to drive to the sore, an estimate of how much money you earned, if you moved recently, what websites you visit, credit card you carried in your wallet, home & mobile phone, ethnicity, job history, magazines you read, if you ever declared bankruptcy, the year you bought or sold your home, if you went to college or graduate school and whether you prefer certain brands of coffee, toilet paper, cereal or applesauce.7

We all read this in articles and videos for the class, but somehow it seems much worse seeing it in writing. It will only get worse in the future says John Seely Brown in Social Life of Information, as referenced in one of our class videos.

From personal habits, to corporate companies and societies in general, it is amazing how much depends on finding a “cue” that will start or end habits. As librarians we need to be in touch with the students and faculty. See what they are doing, what devices do they use, when is it that they ask for help. But how can we know what is happening in our community if we don’t show an interest. We have to let the powers that be know we want to find the best way to help and engage our community. We can look for the student’s habits, and see if we can change a routine that will reward them.

The book is well worth reading and I have added some others from the class to my reading list as well.



1. Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit why we DO what we do in life and business. New York:

2. Andrews, B. R. (1908). Habit. American Journal of Psychology, 14(2), 121-149.

3. Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit why we DO what we do in life and business. The power of habit why we DO what we do in life and business (pp. xiv) Random House.

4. Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit why we DO what we do in life and business. The power of habit why we DO what we do in life and business (pp. 50) Random House.

5. Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit why we DO what we do in life and business. The power of habit why we DO what we do in life and business (pp. 113) Random House.

6. Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit why we DO what we do in life and business. The power of habit why we DO what we do in life and business (pp. 141) Random House.

7. Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit why we DO what we do in life and business. The power of habit why we DO what we do in life and business (pp. 181) Random House.


5 thoughts on “Context Book – The Power of Habit

  1. As a former smoker, I completely get the part about habits and applaud the woman who wanted to travel without smoking. Hopefully, the information we are learning in the MOOC and the searching of new information and the use of new technologies will become second nature, a keystone habit. Thanks for your review.


  2. It always amazes me how much my store knows about me via the coupons I get at the end of checking out for next time: vegetarian entrees, Pantene shampoo and dog biscuits! But then I realize I chose to be in the loyalty program to get the perks and discounts. It’s a fascinating area.


    • Thanks for your comment. It was interesting to read the community habits. There is a part about Rosa Parks and Martin L. King about the bus campaign. It was successful because Rosa Parks was so well known in her community that if you didn’t support the strike you were thought less of. If it had been some unknown person that got arrested, the community would not have rallied against the jail sentence and the demonstrations for equality would have taken a longer time to begin. I can’t remember the exact term used, maybe it was society consciousness.


  3. So that’s why Cinnabon always seems so appealing! Interesting read. Recently, I’ve resolved to break a habit or two, and #1 is: getting online first thing in the morning. Sounds like I need to give myself a reward when I succeed in homeschooling my son before I see what’s happening on WordPress or Facebook. There’s always tomorrow!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment. It was a great course and had many idea books to read. I am still finding my way back to using WordPress. I thought I would remember more than I did. A reward sounds like a good idea.

      Liked by 1 person

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