8 Essential Books for Building Better Habits
Changing your behavior means understanding how behavior works
Around 40% of the actions you take today will be nearly automatic. Each one will start with a cue that kicks off a well-rehearsed routine. Upon completion, you’ll be rewarded with a satisfying sense of fulfillment.
We call these habits, and they get a lot of attention this time of year.
The start of the new year feels like a big reset button. We feel like anything is possible — a new workout regimen, a consistent meditation practice, or maybe more business books in the “finished reading” pile. We make similar promises in our work, whether to focus on more ambitious projects or spend less time checking email and Instagram. Habits also influence our relationships with others, the teams we work with, and the organizations we work for.
The other thing we’re reminded of each new year is that habits are hard to change.
The good news is that our understanding of habits has sharpened immensely in the last 30 years thanks to advances in neurological and behavioral research. And in the 2010s, we saw the release of several books that translated those findings into tools we could use.
Science and stories
First, we should understand that our brain is built for habits. Deep within them is a neurological subprocessor called the basal ganglia that’s designed to store commonly executed processes. Having a dedicated group of cells focused on frequent routines reduces the cognitive load on other parts of our brain, and it lets us navigate our daily lives without each decision requiring conscious thought.
Therein lies the problem: Our brain is so good at capturing routines that habits form quickly.
This brain science is covered wonderfully in Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit (2012), which uses human stories to flesh out the processes — and research breakthroughs — associated with habit formation. A memorable example is the story of Eugene Pauly, a man who contracted viral encephalitis and lost function in parts of his brain associated with memory. By talking with Pauly and assessing MRIs of his brain, researchers found that even without being…