2013 Book Thoughts –> “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg

Since the moment I heard of this book, I’ve been anxious to read it. Much for the same reasons as I was interested in “Moonwalking with Einstein”: the idea of habit study, much like memory study, was interesting in itself, and interesting for its bearing on education, which is one of my primary roles. The study of habit was of particular interest to me considering the emphasis Charlotte Mason places on it, as Charlotte Mason influences our homeschool heavily. I read it with very high expectations, having enjoyed “Moonwalking with Einstein” as much as I did.

Part of the book was interesting, but much of it wasn’t. I think Duhigg really over-relies on his anecdotes, which are very, very long. Some of them are interesting enough (some are not), but in my opinion, they didn’t seem to be able to hold the weight he was trying to place on them of proving his point. Several times it seems he is really stretching, particularly in trying to categorize peer pressure as a habit. The other issue I had was that in his notes, he records several responses from subjects in his anecdotes to fact-checking questions, and very often they disagree with what he has said. Sometimes it doesn’t change the central point, but often it does.

I also think it’s worth noting that there are some subjects that will be more strongly affected when attempting to divorce the subject from God than others. For example, if two authors are writing about trigonometry, and one is an atheist and one is a Christian, the text will not likely differ much as a result of their differing beliefs. However, when you take a subject like habits– our behavior, our power to change, what is and is not our responsibility– those subjects are going to be very heavily affected by one’s worldview. While the author didn’t seem to be pushing any particular worldview or critical of any particular worldview, it’s clear that his differs significantly from a Christian worldview. It can be hard sometimes for what he’s teaching to be helpful, when he’s attempting to present it on its own apart from the creator and sustainer of the universe. Some of what he teaches seems to be true, but only part of the story. And when part of a story is presented as the whole story, it can be quite untrue. The author states in the prologue, “Each chapter revolves around a central argument: Habits can be changed, if we understand how they work.” If this were entirely true, we surely wouldn’t need a savior. At least not in daily life. To be sure, many habits do not fit into the category of morality (nail biting, for instance). But to leave out the spiritual battle that heavily affects our thoughts, temptations, fruit of the spirit, and the like just makes for a very incomplete story for someone with a Christian worldview. (However, very interesting to me is his assertion in the book that habits can never be broken or removed; they can only be replaced. It calls to mind the theory that idols cannot be removed, only replaced [by worshipping the true God instead of the idol].)

That said, his general explanation of how to change a habit was interesting and may prove useful. I’ll skip summarizing it here because, like the memory techniques, I’m sure it can be easily googled if you’re interested. Unlike “Moonwalking with Einstein”, however, I’d recommend googling it over reading the book if you do find yourself interested.

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