Creatures of Habit: Understanding the automatic loops that shape our lives

By Diane Cole

September/October 2012

Do our habits define us (I'm a tea drinker myself, who craves a daily dose of newspapers with breakfast), or do we define our habits? If you change the word define to control, would you answer differently? (How far would I hike for a morning cuppa and a copy of The New York Times?) What if the habits we're trying to control are more than quirks--if they concern substances considerably less benign than caffeine or behaviors far more dangerous than getting a morning fix of news headlines? When does "habit" become "addiction," and when does human responsibility yield to neurological dependence?

Those are some of the key questions raised by investigative reporter Charles Duhigg in his provocative and engaging exploration of the automatic behaviors, routines, and patterns we live by, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Skillfully connecting the dots from one case history and research study to another, Duhigg shows us the crucial roles that even seemingly minor habits can play in individual and group behavior. Equally comfortable in the dual realms of business and psychology, he succeeds in making the case that a keen understanding of how habits work is as relevant to anyone whose goal is to prevent or change bad habits as it is to advertisers bent on hooking consumers on new products--for whom this understanding is like catnip.

Duhigg begins by describing how automatic habits form, via a "habit…

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