Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ A Book Review

Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom

A Book Review of The Power of Habit

by Charles Duhigg 


What a fantastic book: so well researched, so easy to understand, so very interesting. Duhigg shows over and over again that most of what we do is habitual and that habits can be changed and manipulated – by ourselves and by others.

My mother should be happy. This book validates her often-said phrase “When you do things outside the norm, that’s when they go wrong.” My Mom’s not a pessimist or a stick in the mud; what she’s saying is that when you lock your keys in the car, forget your purse, leave the burner turned on, or drive to the store without your grocery list, it’s probably because you approached these routine events outside of the format of your usual routine. Without your habits in place to guide you, you actually have to think about actions you usually don’t think about, and they can go terribly wrong. My Mom and Duhigg are in agreement! In fact, Duhigg claims that 40% of what we do daily is habitual.

One of the chapters that I found most enlightening - and disturbing – reported research using brain scanning to test the lingering power of habits. What researchers found was that even if you have overcome a bad habit (say cluttering the coffee table when you arrive home from work or overeating), the neural pathways for cluttering that table never go away. They are always present in the brain, and that’s why it’s so easy – with the right (wrong!) cues – to fall away from our good habits back to our bad. However, I consoled myself that the opposite must also be true:  Somewhere inside my brain there’s still a neural pathway for running 3 or 4 times a week. I just haven’t seen that pathway in a decade or so!

The first part of the book, the section on personal habit development, is the most relevant to our decluttering efforts. What Duhigg explains repeatedly is that habits consist of three parts: The cue (time of day, arrival into the house, presence of certain people, etc.), the routine (which is the habit), and the reward. Duhigg says the reward the most important part of the cycle because habits form when we like the reward. Habits can only be changed, he says, by changing one of these three inputs – usually the routine. I highly recommend that you watch his video here. It’s only about 3 minutes long and explains how he analyzed and changed his habit of eating a cookies every afternoon and lost a dozen pounds as a result of his success.

The other two portions of the book talk about the habits of organizations and the habits of society. There’s some very interesting stuff here, and if you don’t start using cash at Target after reading about their focused marketing, I’ll be mighty surprised. Target knows that during life disruptions (birth of a child, divorce or marriage, move), people change their shopping habits, often without realizing it, and Target does their very best to know – as soon as you do – if any of these life changes are taking place in your household.

Changing from a lifestyle where you continually buy too much, where you never purge, or where you leave things out all over the place are all habits. They’re habits that need changing, and especially if you’re having trouble making changes, this book and some experimentation might really benefit you.

Highly recommended reading.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter objects accumulating in the third drawer down in any room ~ kitchen, office desk, bathroom cabinet… It is a strange phenomenon that the third drawer is often the receptacle for clutter.

Today’s Declutter Item

These little plastic lidded cups and storage box used to contain beads in my craft area. They gravitated to the third drawer down when I reduced my stocks and were no longer needed. During the great craft room declutter of June 2012 they were relegated to the donation box. They have since been sold at the thrift store.

Ex Craft Storage Items

Something to be grateful for today

Soaking up the sun on my back patio while being visited by the neighbours cat.

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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  1. The Other Lynn

    At our library, I am now request number 48 for this book, and only 24 copies of it. Hopefully, I’ll remember why I requested it when it comes to me!! Thanks for the review… I look forward to reading the book!

  2. hi Cindy,
    this book sounds intriguing! Now if only my local library system had a copy. 🙁 I may have to check on line for an ebook version because you have convinced me to read it. It is fascinating how the brain works (and repairs itself, thank God). I find there are some habits I can change in a heartbeat while others take a lot more work. Usually it is physical habits that I can easily change it is psychological habits that are a little more tricky but I am even getting better with that over time.

    • Your darn library. Bummer. Do you have a e-reader? It seems likely the book would be available that way.

    • Thanks Cindy,
      I think I need to read it! Colleen, it is on Amazon Kindle $9.95 II figured that didn’t fill the bookcase up). Colleen, sorry to hear you’ve been in hospital – hope the convalescence is coming along well! 🙂 🙂

      • Hi Ann, it is good to hear from you I was just wondering yesterday how you were doing. How is the leg and the decluttering going?

        • Hi Colleen,
          The leg is much stronger – much physio, much exercise – and I am much more mobile, so life has “busied up”, and I am doing all the things I didn’t do last year as well as this year’s things! I’m still stuck with a walking stick, but only outdoors or on stairways etc. The shoulder is worse than ever, and I see a specialist next month about that. Who’d ever believe a simple tumble could take so long to clear up?
          The decluttering has suffered from my “busyness”, and my tidiness has slid back, but I am not accumulating new things and still getting quit of some old things, so at least the house isn’t filling up again. I’m more convinced than ever that we have to Reuse, Refuse, Reduce, Recycle and Rot. And that hasn’t slipped with busyness, it’s just got me into more activities …..
          Today I have the double glazers in the house – hopefully, we won’t know ourselves after this – we are both feeling the cold and aching with the cold so much more this winter than in the past. And no Colleen, we are not getting old, just older than before (and more crocked).
          How is your recovery going?
          Best wishes for it.

          • I am glad to hear you are getting better all the time. Glad to hear also that even though you may be a little busy playing catching the clutter in still slowing decreasing and no new clutter is taking its place. You have learned your lessons well my friend.

            Double glazing is a great idea and should pay for itself with the saving on your heating costs.

            My recovery is going well and am glad to say that I am already half way through the four weeks that has been suggested to take it easy. I am trying to be over-cautious because I figure I probably move more and faster than many people my age so best to halve what I think is normal in order to be operating at a level that I think the doctor means when he says don’t over do it. I am feeling better every day so I must be doing something right.

  3. My library network has two, both on loan. So I’ll add it to my library reading list and keep trying! Thanks

    • You can’t put a book on request so that they let you know when it’s available for you? That’s a bummer.

      • Oh I can, but it costs money. And given I have a long book list, I just request those that are on the shelf, and save my pennies!

        PS – the comments on Today’s (Thursday 5 July) won’t work?)

  4. Cindy, thanks for the book review. Sounds like a really good book. I will have to put it on my list to download to my Kindle.

    One thing about habits is that they are just like triggers for those old hurts from the past. The “tapes” still play. The way to deal with them to is develop new responses to those triggers. You then have added to the pathways in the brain.

  5. Thanks for the review Cindy. I heard about this book a while back and it sounds intriguing. Have put in a request for my library to purchase it. Now that I’ve decluttered so much, it leaves a lot of ‘spare’ time for me to think. And I’m thinking that I don’t like a lot of my habits or default settings, but I am still in the process of figuring out how to change them. For instance, I was getting up early to meditate for months, but now it’s winter I can barely drag myself out of bed at 8am to get the kids ready for school. Arrghh, all that good work gone to waste as I’ll have to start all over again!

  6. Loretta, Don’t think of this as a waste of time (the extra sleeping in). Think of it as rejuvenation time. We always need more sleep in the winter. A form of nesting. So, enjoy it while you can and when the weather gets warmer bet you will find the early morning awakenings for mediation will come right back. I am such a slug in the winter but when spring and summer arrive (with early morning light), I don’t mind getting up early at all.

  7. Meant Meditation not mediation. Sorry for typo.