Book Review: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

This book surprised me. It not only covered how to change habits, but it also held valuable information on effecting social change and diversifying your network!

Habits have 3 parts: a cue, a response and a reward. It’s the middle part – the response – that we need to change in order to break a habit. The cue and reward stay the same. For example, if I go to the vending machine to buy cookies at 3 pm every day, I need to determine what reward I’m after. Am I craving the cookies or the walk or taking a break? If I just want to stretch my legs, I could walk around and say hello to colleagues instead of eating cookies.

Here is the part of the book that surprised me. In Part 3, Duhigg covers “The Habits of Societies” where he writes about how the civil rights movement started with Rosa Parks. Other African Americans had protested giving up their bus seats before, so why did this movement start with Rosa Parks? Rosa Parks sparked that change because she had very extensive and diverse social ties. She was involved in dozens of social networks spanning racial and economic lines. Sociologists call this “strong ties” – firsthand relationships with dozens of groups that don’t come in contact with each other. She was the secretary of the local NAACP Chapter. She belonged to a Methodist Church and a botanical club, and she volunteered at a shelter in her community. When her large social network heard she was arrested for not giving up her seat on the bus, they felt outraged and called to action. They rallied folks in their networks who hardly knew Rosa Parks. This chain reaction grew because of social peer pressure to support Rosa Parks. This is known as the “power of weak ties.” When strong ties of friendship and weak social ties of peer pressure merge like that, widespread social change can begin. Then Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the movement the leadership to organize even more strongly.

In summary, Duhigg stated that movements typically start because of a 3 part process involving social habits. First, the civil rights movement was sparked by social habits of friendship and the strong ties between close acquaintances. Second, it grew because of a community’s habits and the weak ties holding neighborhoods and groups together. Third, it lasted because leadership gave participants a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership. (Duhigg, 2012, p. 217)

The power of weak social ties was also featured by Malcolm Gladwell in an article about a woman named Lois Weisburg – a queen of networking who lived in Chicago. In section 6 of the article, he mentions the power of weak social ties in getting a job. Weak social ties make our networks much stronger and more valuable because we have access to new information we typically wouldn’t obtain through our closer friends.

In summary, this book ended up being packed with information – about changing habits and also the power of broad and diverse networks for social change and getting a job. I highly recommend it!

Written by Career Services Director Lisa Cook