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Changing Your Life, One Habit at a Time

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After a wonderful two and a half weeks visiting family and friends, I'm back!

While I was gone, I had the time to leisurely read Charles Duhigg's new book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (Random House, 2012). While the book is entirely about—you guessed it—habits and habit formation, I think it's one that would be useful for educators because of the impact that good, and bad, habits have within schools and classrooms.

The book is divided into three parts, and Duhigg uses case studies to discuss how habits emerge and are formed: The first part highlights habits within the lives of individuals, the second focuses on successful companies and organizations, and the third focuses on societies.

I found the first and second sections the most intriguing—who doesn't want a blueprint on how to alter ingrained bad habits and replace them with good habits at an individual and organizational level? From making better choices for emotional or physical health, or bettering one's performance on the job or in school, the explanations and case studies Duhigg offers are convincing.

Indeed, he points to schools in Philadelphia, Seattle, New York, and elsewhere, which have begun to incorporate "willpower-strengthening" lessons into their curriculum in an effort to help students; many of these schools have seen higher test scores.

I found the third section if the book to be slightly less persuasive, however. Duhigg argues that the importance of social habits and links within groups helps explain both why the civil rights movement developed out of Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus and Rick Warren's ability to create a megachurch in Orange County, Calif. To me, however, while the author's arguments for the importance of social habits are intriguing in terms of how group momentum forms, I think they're only part of a much more complex picture, especially where civil rights and religious beliefs are concerned.

While this wasn't the only book I read on vacation, I'm certainly glad that I took it along. And not only that, but I finished it, too!

As a footnote: You might already be familiar with some elements of the book, which Duhigg (an investigative reporter for The New York Times) published as a lengthy piece examining consumer-purchasing patterns earlier this year.

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