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A 2006 Duke University study found that some forty percent of what we do every day is habit. That is, we don't make decisions every day about how we're going to, say, brush our teeth--which hand to hold the brush in, when to turn on the water, how long to brush. It's a routine that we consciously settled on at some point, but it has long since become automatic, something we do without thinking, a habit. This is good, because if we had to make decisions about every single action we take in our lives every day, it would be paralyzing, and we would have no time to think about more interesting stuff. So it's vital that our lives are filled with these routines, these habit loops, although the habits themselves, of course, can be either good or bad. In The Power of Habit Charles Duhigg talks about the habits of individuals, businesses, and societies, using examples of each to show how habits work for good or ill in real life. He discusses, for example, how Starbucks instills willpower in its workers by inculcating good habits, how Target profiles its customers based on their habitual purchases, how the new CEO of Alcoa turned the company around by focusing on the institution's habits related to worker safety. The most interesting part of the book, however, is Duhigg's discussion of how habits work, how they can be created, and how bad habits can, with work, be reprogrammed. It's really a fascinating read.
-- Debra Hamel