The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business

The Context Book Assignment was enlightening to say the least; a fun way to apply relevant life theories to library science. The book I chose to read by Charles Duhigg is titled The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. This mostly enjoyable read provided a plethora of real-life examples regarding implementing and changing habits. In this short reflection it is my hope to share with you all how The Power of Habit aligns with our course content, including takeaways that can be applicable to library staff and patrons, philosophical approaches to library programming and services, and lastly incorporating new habits in the way libraries exchange information.  

Before I can address all that’s listed in the sentence above, I’d like to paraphrase what Duhigg (2012) coins as “The Habit Loop” (p. 3). Let’s use the example of one needing to wake up on a workday morning, and in this example my subject is a working adult with a “9-5” schedule. Most likely before bedtime the adult is “cued” to set his/her alarm clock for six or seven in the morning the next day. This is followed by the “routine” of sleeping (resting for the following work day). Last the individual’s “reward” is waking up on time to get ready for work. “Over time, this loop-cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward-becomes more and more automatic” (Duhigg, 2012, p. 19). In some cases, one may even wake before the alarm clock sounds off, further supporting Duhigg’s statement above. 

Photo by Sanah Suvarna on Unsplash

It’s shared by the author that not only can new habits form (for individuals, businesses, and societies), but existing habits: be it bad, outdated, etc. can be changed or reshaped. This growth mindset like approach can directly impact libraries and staffing. Loosely thinking of a library philosophy turned habit from the “library of yesterday” is the idea that everyone must be quiet. It’s like the classic skit found on television when the elderly librarian “shushes” the patron! Let’s break this habit down “a la” Duhigg (2012) style: 

1)  Cue – It’s reported to the librarian that a group of patrons are talking… 

2) Routine – Librarian walks to group of patrons talking and “shushes” them… 

3) Reward – Librarian can now rest assured that the library is silent… 

Thankfully today most public libraries have done away with this archaic habit. The mindset for the hyperlinked library and public libraries is that information needs to be shared within the community, not suppressed. Duhigg (2012) at length discusses ways how to change habits, “How it works: Use the same cue. Provide the same reward. Change the routine” (p. 63). For a library that’s trying to implement a tolerance change to noise level, that being for allowing conversations within the library, librarians would need to change their “routine” when it comes to noise complaints. A hypothetical scenario could be: 

1)  Cue – It’s reported to the librarian that a group of patrons are talking… 

2) Routine – Librarian walks nearby group to listen for noise level and deems it OK.       

3) Reward – Librarian can be assured that she did her job and followed the new protocol. 

There’s a direct impact when it comes to a library systematically implementing a new vision, be it procedures, practices, values, and even culturally that trickles down to its patrons. One would assume anytime new administrators or mangers step in they are attuned to their community and will create positive change. Often these changes can be met with resistance, at least at first.  

Amidst change, Duhigg (2012) shared an example from the book of alcoholics enrolled in Alcoholics Anonymous speaking to the missing ingredient that’s needed for change: “For a habit to stay changed, people must believe change is possible” (p. 92). It was shared by the author that those in AA that achieved sobriety attested the new change came from the highest power, “The secret, the alcoholics said, was God” (p. 84). 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

To bring the conversation back to libraries; for any systematic change to take shape and be impactful, both employees and patrons will need to “buy in.” This is done by a combination of believing and with keystone habits. “Keystone habits transform us by creating cultures that make clear the values that, in the heat of a difficult decision or a moment of uncertainty, we might otherwise forget” (Duhigg, 2012, p. 125). 

 I can recall when our library system decided to go “fine free,” eliminating late fees associated with library collection items. Many patrons and staff wondered why the change, asking questions like “how will the library afford to keep the lights on?” Research determined the money received from fine collection was minimal and that it cost our system more to pay its employees to process these fines; employee time was better spent doing other tasks. This was an easy policy for us employees to get behind, and most our patrons loved it. This step-forward in customer service led to other keystone habits being shaped by our organization that ultimately allowed for putting the customer first. Not only was this move great for publicity, but really aligned with our culture! 

Last, when thinking of the hyperlinked library and the plethora of ways communication and information spreads; it’s important that users learn to embrace current technology trends. This mindset would ultimately call for a change in routine for users. The example of eBooks comes to mind when thinking of users needing a habit change to keep up with the times. When a patron determines a book is needed eBooks can be especially reliable in the area of access. Learning the simple process of downloading and accessing online library resources is life changing. 

  Let’s break this eBook scenario down: 

1)  Cue – Patron wants the latest Tom Clancy book. 

2) Routine – Patron now learns to use Libby by OverDrive to download and read eBook. 

3) Reward – Patron instantaneously achieves access to eBook. 

Habits can make or break individuals, corporations, and societies, instilling these values is of upmost importance.


Duhigg, C. (2012). The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business. New York, New York: Random House. 

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business. [Online image]. (2012).

2 replies on “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business”

Hi @davidvargas01
Your post reminds me of a personal anecdote. I had a patron come into the library to get a new library card, and while filling out the form he told me his main intention was to borrow audiobooks on CD. I then told him about borrowing e-audiobooks with Libby, and he responded by saying that he is a painter and utilizes a boombox to play CDs while he works and that there was no way for him to get his phone to connect to the boombox and achieve the right volume.

I bring this up because I think it, with your point about changing habits, really demonstrates the hyperlinked library. We want to be able to connect with as many people as possible, and having different ways to offer a service is thus truly important. A patron can first consider how they want to access a service like reading a book and consider which medium will best suit their needs.

Also, getting rid of fines is another great way to get more services into more people’s hands. Congratulations on being part of a library that implemented such an important change of policy. Habits really can be changed by both staff and patrons alike!


Hi David,

I read The Power Of Habit about two years ago out of personal interest. It’s got to be one of the most popular self-help books of the last several years. I found a lot of Duhigg’s supporting stories fascinating, like how toothpaste didn’t become commercially popular until minty tastes and foaminess were added to the product to give the user a physical sense of reward. And I think there was also the example of Febreze originally being just an unscented odor remover, but not becoming commercially viable until a scent was added to give a sensory impression to reward the habit.

Broadly, I’d say that library employees can think of customer service as a way of enhancing the sense of reward that patrons get from coming to the library. Being friendly, making eye contact, saying hello and goodbye, are all things that can help give patrons a sensory reward for coming to the library and help to make their attendance become habit.

Also, if you’re personally interested in books on habit, I recommend James Clear’s Atomic Habits. It’s an excellent companion to the Duhigg book, offering much more concrete instruction and key practices for individuals looking to create better habits.


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