How to Change Habits: Five Books

The following five nonfiction books about how to change habits, listed from newest to oldest, are recommended reading.

I. Wendy Wood, Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick (2019)

Author Adam Grant calls Wood, a long-time researcher on this subject, “the world’s leading expert” on this subject.

A key quote from Wood: “On average, it takes us sixty-six days of repeating a simple health behavior until it becomes automatic. In other words, identify a new behavior, do it repeatedly for two months and a week, and it will become a habit.”

The Kirkus Reviews summary states, Wood “notes that the same learning mechanisms responsible for bad habits also control good ones.” An example given: exercising and cigarette smoking. How one winds up choosing either activity and how one engages in either repeatedly is also the key to how to produce change.

II. BJ Fogg, Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything (2019)

Fogg professes that only 3 things will change your behavior in the long term”:

Option A:  Have an epiphany
Option B:  Change your environment
Option C:  Take baby steps

However. Spoiler Alert! Epiphanies are extremely hard to come by, so B and C are really your options. It’s all spelled out in Tiny Habits, but he also offers a free five-day program on how to change habits; click on https://tinyhabits.com/join.

III. Sean D. Young, Stick With It: A Scientifically Proven Process for Changing Your Life–for Good (2017)

Young states, “Fortunately, you don’t need to change who you are as a person to make change last. You just need to understand the science behind lasting change and how to create a process that fits who you are.”

The Stages of Change Model developed in the 1970’s and 80’s by James O. Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente began with studying smokers’ attempts to give up their habit. The end result was the development of a tool to assess one’s readiness to work on change of any kind as well as one’s readiness to stick with it, or to persevere.

IV. Gretchen Rubin, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives (2015)

According to her Four Tendencies framework, people generally fall into one of four groups. The key to these characterizations is how we respond to expectations. Per Rubin, a brief description of each:

  • Upholders want to know what should be done.
  • Questioners want justifications.
  • Obligers need accountability.
  • Rebels want freedom to do something their own way.

Selected quotes:

Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life. We repeat about 40 percent of our behavior almost daily, so our habits shape our existence, and our future. If we change our habits, we change our lives.

The desire to start something at the “right” time is usually just a justification for delay. In almost every case, the best time to start is now.

The most important step is the first step. All those old sayings are really true. Well begun is half done. Don’t get it perfect, get it going. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Nothing is more exhausting than the task that’s never started, and strangely, starting is often far harder than continuing.

V. Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (2012)

According to Duhigg, any “habit loop” consists of a cue, a routine, and a reward. Taking alcoholism as an example of a habit/addiction, he states that groups like AA (or NA or GA, and so on) often provide a way to form new but similar habit loops.

Duhigg’s ideas about keystone habits, or “habits we develop that lead us to make better choices in other parts of our life,” are particularly important. David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, states, “His chapter on ‘keystone habits’ alone would justify the book.”

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