The Power of Habit

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg: Actionable Book Summary (2023)

By Alex • Updated July 2, 2023

Life is defined by the habits we create, as Aristotle wisely stated that excellence is not an act, but a habit. Humans are naturally creatures of habit, following various routines throughout the day, often without much conscious thought. This article aims to provide an understanding of habits - how they form and how they can be changed, ultimately leading to a transformed life.

In order to alter our habits, it is essential to understand the mechanisms driving them, such as the habit loop and the different components involved, like the cue, routine, and reward. Furthermore, the process of starting new habits and changing old ones will be discussed, along with the significance of Keystone habits and the need for self-analysis in planning and initiating habit changes.

Key Takeaways

  • Habits are formed through a loop of cue, routine, and reward, and understanding this process is the first step in changing them.
  • Starting a new habit requires anchoring it to a preexisting cue and setting short-term rewards, while changing old habits involves replacing the routine.
  • Keystone habits have a ripple effect on all aspects of life, and self-analysis is crucial in identifying them and making plans to change or build upon them.

What Are Habits and Why Do We Have Them

Habits are actions or behaviors that we perform automatically and repetitively without much conscious thought. They are formed to help the brain conserve energy and become more efficient as it requires a considerable amount of energy - approximately 20% of the body's total energy supply.

When we first learn a new activity, our cerebrum, the part of the brain responsible for complex functions, is actively engaged. As the action becomes more routine, it gradually shifts to a different area of the brain, the basal ganglia. This shift reduces the mental effort required to perform the action, and it becomes a habit. Once a habit is established in the basal ganglia, it is difficult to change or eliminate.

The formation of habits can be explained by the Habit Loop, which consists of three components: the cue, the routine, and the reward. The cue is the trigger that initiates the habit, while the routine is the behavior itself, and the reward is the desired outcome of the behavior. For example, driving by a certain restaurant can serve as a cue, eating at the restaurant is the routine, and enjoying the delicious food is the reward.

Habits are beneficial to us as they allow the brain to conserve energy for more complex tasks and enable us to go about our daily routines with minimal effort. However, when bad habits are formed, they can have negative consequences on our lives. This is why understanding how habits are formed and how they can be changed is vital in improving our well-being.

The Habit Loop


The cue is the trigger that initiates a habit loop. It can be feelings, thoughts, external factors like the time of day, or visual cues like a specific location. For example, when someone drives by their favorite fast-food restaurant, the cue is the visual recognition of the restaurant.


The routine is the behavior that follows the cue. In the fast-food restaurant example, the routine would be pulling into the parking lot, entering the restaurant, and ordering food. The routine is an automatic response to the cue, and it's the action that will lead to a reward.


The reward is the outcome or result of the routine, and it's the reason why we engage in that particular habit. Rewards can be physical, like the satisfaction of eating a tasty meal; emotional, such as feeling happier or more content; or cognitive, like learning something new. The brain remembers the reward, and this association makes the habit loop stronger. Over time, the habit loop will occur automatically in response to the cue, without much thought or effort.


Cravings are essential for making habit loops stick. When anticipating the reward becomes a craving, the action associated with the habit loop becomes automatic. For instance, if a person wakes up and craves a cup of coffee, their brain has already entered the habit loop, and they will automatically go through the routine to obtain the coffee. By identifying and understanding the cue, routine, and reward associated with a craving, it's possible to change habits more effectively.

Starting a New Habit

When considering the process of starting a new habit, it's important to focus on understanding the habit loop. The habit loop consists of three components: the cue, the routine, and the reward. The cue is the trigger that initiates the habit, the routine is the action taken, and the reward is the positive outcome that reinforces the habit.

One effective way to start a new habit is to anchor it to an existing one. For example, if the goal is to drink water every morning upon waking up, simply waking up can be the cue. The routine will be drinking water, and the reward will be feeling good and well-hydrated. Anchoring a new routine to an existing cue helps integrate it into daily life and make the habit formation much easier.

It's important to exercise consistency when implementing a new habit. For example, working out daily can be paired with waking up in the morning or coming home from work. Though it might be challenging at first, once the routine has been practiced consistently, it becomes an automatic habit that requires less conscious effort.

During the habit formation process, it's crucial to consider a strong and immediate reward. When it comes to exercising, having a short-term reward, like releasing endorphins and improving mood, helps build momentum and make the habit more likely to stick. Developing a strong belief in the change and enlisting the help of others, such as a gym partner, can further contribute to the habit's success.

Additionally, working on a keystone habit can have a ripple effect across various aspects of life. For example, exercising regularly can lead to healthier eating and sleeping habits without any conscious effort. Identifying the keystone habit can generate broader lifestyle changes with far-reaching results.

Journaling and self-reflection are valuable tools for analyzing daily actions, determining which habits to change, and identifying potential obstacles. Having a plan in place to tackle challenges along the way, such as resisting unhealthy food options or handling stress, can help form new habits that eventually become automatic in the face of temptation.

In conclusion, starting a new habit requires a thorough understanding of the habit loop, anchoring the routine to an existing cue, consistency, and a clear, immediate reward. Embracing these strategies will help the habit formation process and ensure positive life changes.

Changing Old Habits

Changing old habits is a different story than starting new ones. First, identify some of the bad habits that are affecting life negatively. To successfully change these habits, replace the routine while keeping the same cue and reward. For instance, many smokers quit by chewing nicotine gum. The cue and reward remain the same, but the routine of smoking a cigarette is replaced by chewing gum.

To increase the chances of success, believe that change is possible and beneficial. Consider utilizing groups or sharing experiences to build support and help maintain commitment. For example, if someone wants to create a new habit of going to the gym, having a gym partner can provide accountability, share experiences, and encourage each other.

Keystone habits can have a significant impact on many aspects of life, like exercise. Developing a habit of regular exercise may lead to healthier eating and sleeping habits without consciously focusing on them. Identify such keystone habits and work on changing them to bring about a positive ripple effect in life.

To change a habit, it's essential to understand the habit loop, which consists of the cue, the routine, and the reward. Keep the cue and the reward the same, but replace the routine with a healthier, more beneficial alternative. This approach has been proved in the success of programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, providing group support and replacing the routine of drinking.

Finally, have a plan for obstacles or challenges that may arise when changing old habits. For example, if someone is trying to stop eating junk food, develop a plan to resist temptations such as having a healthy alternative or going for a walk. By consistently implementing these alternative plans, they gradually become automatic habits.

Keystone Habits

Keystone habits are essential in initiating positive changes in various aspects of our lives. By altering one keystone habit, a ripple effect is created across all other activities. For example, regularly exercising leads to changes in eating and sleeping habits without conscious effort. Studies illustrate that modifying one keystone habit can improve overall health, work performance, and other aspects of life. Identifying a keystone habit can be a transformative step in creating lasting change.

To determine an individual's keystone habit, one should consider which single habit could impact the rest of their life most significantly. Acknowledging the importance of this habit and taking action to change it can have an enormous effect on personal growth.

Developing self-awareness is crucial in finding and altering existing habits. Analyzing daily routines and becoming familiar with personal habit loops can play a significant role in recognizing habits that need to be changed. Maintaining a journal can be helpful in tracking progress and keeping a record of habit alterations.

Moreover, having a plan to tackle obstacles is vital when trying to change habits. Preparation for challenges, such as stress and temptation, can ensure success in the long run. Alternative plans can be created to overcome these obstacles, eventually turning them into new automatic habits.

In conclusion, keystone habits have the power to transform one's life positively. A thorough understanding of these habits, combined with self-analysis, planning, and determination, can lead to lasting and significant personal growth.

Analyzing and Planning

To effectively change your habits, it is essential to begin with analyzing and planning. First, take a good hard look at yourself and pay attention to your daily routines. This can be accomplished through journaling, which helps bring awareness to your actions. As daunting as it may seem, the effort is worth it in the long run.

Next, identify which habits are serving you well and which ones need to change. Create a list of habits you want to change and formulate a plan. Part of this plan should include preparing for obstacles and challenges you may face along the way. For instance, if you are trying to stop eating junk food, have a healthy and tasty snack ready in your desk or opt to go for a walk when temptation arises.

It is important to acknowledge and understand that starting a new habit can be difficult, especially during the first 20 days. Instead of giving up during this challenging period, embrace the process and maintain your focus. Keep in mind that after 20 days, it will become much easier to stick with your new habit.

In order to be successful, start small and make it easy. Set achievable goals and focus on accumulating small wins to build momentum. If your objective is to work out more, begin with just 10 minutes a day and gradually increase the duration over time.

Additionally, use your willpower to establish habits by having a strong reason behind why you want to change. A powerful "why" can help you push through tough times and keep you motivated. Finally, it is crucial to adopt an energetic and confident attitude, allowing the process to be engaging and accessible, ultimately leading to a successful transformation of your habits.

Additional Tips

When starting to change your habits, there are some useful tips to keep in mind:

  • Begin with small changes in your routine. Starting with manageable goals is essential to build momentum and confidence in your ability to change habits. For example, if you want to work out more, try committing to just 10 minutes a day to start.
  • Utilize your willpower to establish new habits. Having a strong reason for wanting to start or change a habit will help when facing obstacles or challenging situations. Your "why" will act as motivation and guide your decisions.
  • Embrace the process of starting a new habit. The initial 20 days may be tough, but sticking it out can help solidify your habit. Remembering that the initial struggle is temporary will provide the motivation needed to make the habit a long-lasting part of your daily routine.
  • In addition to habit development, anticipate obstacles, stress, and temptation. Prepare a plan on how to handle these situations when they arise. For example, if you're tempted by unhealthy treats at work, store healthy snacks in your desk or opt for a walk instead.
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