Personal Development

Review: The Power of Habit

Cover of "The Power of Habit," featuring red text on a yellow background and black human silhouettes running on a red hamster wheel
Image from Charles Duhigg

Title: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do

Author: Charles Duhigg

Genre: Self-Help/Personal Development

Trigger Warnings: Descriptions of medical procedures (surgery)

Back Cover:

In The Power of Habit, Pulitzer Prize–winning business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. Distilling vast amounts of information into engrossing narratives that take us from the boardrooms of Procter & Gamble to sidelines of the NFL to the front lines of the civil rights movement, Duhigg presents a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential. At its core, The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, being more productive, and achieving success is understanding how habits work. As Duhigg shows, by harnessing this new science, we can transform our businesses, our communities, and our lives.

Review:

I picked this up for several reasons:

  1. It was an audiobook and I needed a new audiobook to listen to on my morning commute
  2. That library branch’s selection of audiobooks is pretty extensive but mostly religious
  3. I had a vague feeling that I’d seen it somewhere before and that maybe it was on my to-read list (I checked later, it wasn’t)

But either way, I picked it up and listened to it, and I’m glad I did.

The concept is really fascinating. Charles breaks down habits – how they form, why they form, and how you can change them, looking at psychology and research. And it all made a whole lot of sense.

There are three parts to the book. The first one is on individual habits. This is where Charles lays the foundation for the book – the cue-action-reward sequence that forms habits, how habits can be changed by recognizing cues, changing the action, and getting the same reward, and examples of everything from recovering alcoholics to weight loss to stopping smoking. This part was immensely valuable, completely fascinating, and, best of all, backed up by science (including psychology and neurology).

The second part, on corporate habits, wasn’t quite as good. Sure, it had its interesting facts, but it felt more illustrative than prescriptive – by that point we already know the framework, so it seemed more like it was just using examples to explain how habits work inside companies. Which wasn’t necessarily bad – it just felt like a downgrade after how awesome part one was. Although if I were a business leader, I might find this part more valuable than I did.

The third part, societal habits, is where the book really started to fall apart. It never really explained what a “societal habit” looked like, and with a lot of his examples – like the Montgomery Bus Boycotts – it felt like it was really stretching to make habits the root cause. You don’t learn much that’s useful and there’s not really a good way to apply it to anything.

And as a rather irritating aside, Charles has a habit of jumping between examples – spend a few minutes with this guy, then jump to this lady over here, then this other guy, and now we’re back with the first guy’s story … It all made coherent sense and the transitions weren’t bad, it just got on my nerves because I kept thinking an example was done and nope! We’ll come back in two chapters or so.

Overall, this is an incredibly useful book. Even if you get nothing out of parts 2 and 3, part 1 is valuable enough that it’s still completely worth the read (or listen, in my case). And if you decide to read it and completely skip part 3, I won’t blame you.

Personal Development

Review: Daring Greatly

Cover of "Daring Greatly," featuring a gray background with sideways text that transitions from yellow to green to blue
Image from Brene Brown

Title: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Author: Brené Brown

Genre: Personal Development

Trigger Warnings: None

Back Cover:

Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable or to dare greatly. Based on twelve years of pioneering research, Dr. Brené Brown dispels the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness and argues that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage.

Brown explains how vulnerability is both the core of difficult emotions like fear, grief, and disappointment, and the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, empathy, innovation, and creativity. She writes: “When we shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we distance ourselves from the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.”

Daring Greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. In a world where “never enough” dominates and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive. Uncomfortable. It’s even a little dangerous at times. And, without question, putting ourselves out there means there’s a far greater risk of getting criticized or feeling hurt. But when we step back and examine our lives, we will find that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as standing on the outside of our lives looking in and wondering what it would be like if we had the courage to step into the arena—whether it’s a new relationship, an important meeting, the creative process, or a difficult family conversation. Daring Greatly is a practice and a powerful new vision for letting ourselves be seen.

Review:

I first heard of Brené Brown at the 2016 Global Leadership Summit, where she did a speech on vulnerability and communication. It was far and away my favorite speech in the whole two-day event. Daring Greatly and another of her books, Rising Strong, were both on sale at the Summit bookstore – I didn’t buy either of them, but I put them both on my reading list. Cut to now, a year later, and I found Daring Greatly as an audiobook that I could listen to on the way to work.

You know those books where the author is talking about something you shouldn’t do and you think, oh, I don’t do that, but then the book keeps smacking you in the face until you realize that you actually do? Yeah, this was one of those books. With several different concepts.

But the good part is, this book doesn’t just smack you with how you’re screwing up – it provides ideas, tips, suggestions, and ways you can practice being better and living more authentically. Which is the second thing I love about this book. It’s so practical. Coming from an academic researcher, you might expect otherwise, but this is no theoretical construct – well, it is, but there’s also practical steps and commitments and ways to apply the theory. (I have a huge Thing about information being practical, so that gave it major points.)

It’s also super encouraging. The whole book is full of hope and “you can do this” and all the ways life is going to be so much better and real awesome when you’re vulnerable.

Brené is open about her struggles with these concepts. She shares her failures, screw-ups, and moments she just plain could have done better. Which makes this book feel a lot more real. Brené isn’t preaching at you, she’s leading you, saying, “I figured this out and here’s how it’s changed my life – here’s how it can change yours, too.” And I think that’s great.

A review really can’t do justice to this book and the hope and advice and vulnerability contained in it. It’s great advice for relationships. It’s great advice for parenting. It’s great advice for leading. It’s great advice for life, really. And as I listened, I realized that one of the reasons my fiance and I have such a great relationship is because we’d unconsciously discovered a lot of these principles.

Seriously, read this book. And maybe buy copies for other people. I know I intend to make my fiance read (or listen to) it at some point.