The Power of Habit

I remember my goal when I got into reading books was mainly to read things that would incite positive change within my life. I haven’t completely achieved that, which is unfortunate, but The Power of Habit is an attempt to start moving more in that direction. The book, unsurprisingly, details the power of habits to change individuals, organizations, and society as a whole. I’ll admit that the book’s range to talk about the impact that habits have on a larger scale was eye-opening and really interesting to read about.

At an individual scale, a habit consists of three components: the cue, action, and reward. Habits are reinforced by these events happening again and again. Changing them requires mindfully isolating what each of these factors are and experimenting to check how to impactfully change the action while still getting the relevant reward. Doing this at a larger scale requires large amounts of willpower, as anyone who’s tried to stop a bad habit can attest to. This is a key reason why many people who primarily focus on changing a single “keystone” habit often have the willpower to change a lot more about their life moving forward. Willpower is a muscle that’s necessary to work out. Simple ways to “work out” this muscle include a mental videotape of an event that you want to happen, writing down a list of goal (with specificity!), and focusing on small wins.

Organizational practices can often reinforce and push constituent individuals forward. An example mentioned in the book is Alcoa, an aluminum production company whose CEO made it a fundamental mission to focus on worker safety. Changing the “keystone” habit of strong safety practices changed the fundamental nature of the hierarchy and created a more worker-focused environment. These later had rippling positive effects elsewhere. I understand this is an exaggerated example (of sorts), but I wonder what an easy way to apply this to school clubs would be. The level of change described in the book seems too good to be true.

The issue is that mismanaged organizations often reinforce negative habits until members make bad decisions to avoid the consequences of making good choices. This is something that’s super bad, and the best way to avoid it is to have an open community with very little perceived hierarchy. Easier said than done, of course.

The Power of Habit addresses a few different situations where our higher faculties shut down and initiate habits of actions we may not necessarily like. It’s important to be aware of these, since changing them can often have positive consequences on us, our community, and ultimately the world.


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