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Best Books on Habits
(Updated 2023)

Sven Woltmann
Sven Woltmann
Last update: November 27, 2023

In this article, you'll find recommendations and brief reviews of books on recognizing, understanding, building, and changing habits – both good and bad.

In this context, I can also recommend you some books about the way people think and make decisions.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Atomic Habits - James Clear

by James Clear

Link to the book at Amazon

In this book, author James Clear, after a brief introductory theory, gives a practical step-by-step guide that you can put into practice immediately.

A habit builds over four steps: A cue (e.g. “I'm bored”) triggers a craving (“I want stimulation”); this craving motivates a response (“I'm checking my social networks”); this response leads to a reward (“I'm experiencing new things or getting likes”); the reward, in turn, connects our brain with the cue. This feedback leads us to repeat the behavior until it becomes a habit.

You can use this so-called habit loop to create desired habits and get rid of unwanted ones:

1. “Make it obvious” (or invisible) – e.g., put a bowl of fruit on the table and hide the sweets; always have a book handy and put the remote control behind the TV; hide your mobile phone in a drawer when working.

2. “Make it attractive” (or unattractive) – Join a group where the desired behavior is the norm. If each of your friends eats healthy food and exercises regularly, this behavior will become attractive to you; if all your friends are non-smokers, smoking will become extremely unattractive to you.

3. “Make it easy” (or difficult) – Building habits is a process that starts with repetition – make a start easy: meditate for two minutes a day; read two pages a day; put on your running shoes every day. Create an environment that makes it easy to do the right thing (or hard to do the wrong thing): Have your running gear ready in the morning; prepare healthy food a week in advance; don't have sweets in the house but buy them when you feel like it.

4. “Make it satisfying” (or unsatisfying) – Good habits have a delayed gratification: A single day at the gym doesn't get you a six pack. Therefore, combine them with an immediate reward, such as watching your favorite TV show on the treadmill or listening to an audiobook while jogging. Find a partner to whom you will be regularly accountable: If you want to write a book, announce that you will send him ten pages a day and agree on a penalty if you don't.

With these relatively simple improvements, you can significantly improve your quality of life over time.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, absolutely recommended.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change

the power of habit - charles duhigg

by Charles Duhigg

Link to the book at Amazon

How do habits come about? What purpose do they serve? Why is it so hard to break bad habits, such as smoking, drinking, unhealthy eating, and lack of exercise?

Charles Duhigg, business editor and Pulitzer Prize winner, shows us in his best-selling book, “The Power of Habit”, that the fight against bad habits is not hopeless.

First, we learn how habits work: A cue leads to a routine action that is completed with a reward. Typically, this helps us perform many of our daily tasks almost automatically, such as brushing our teeth after getting out of bed, which rewards us with a feeling of freshness.

But unfortunately, the brain doesn't distinguish between good and bad habits – if a smoker feels good after smoking, his brain will continue to let him automatically reach for a cigarette.

If we understand how habits work, we have taken the first step toward change. Then we need to determine experimentally what triggers a habitual behavior and what reward our brain hopes to gain from that behavior. A trigger is usually a place, a time, a state of mind, contact with other people, or a directly preceding action. Once we have identified the trigger and reward, we can plan a new routine in between. For a while, we have to force ourselves to replace the old routine with the new one. But after a few weeks, the brain will have overwritten the old habit with a new one.

The author presents a wealth of interesting and entertaining examples from everyday life – from clever toothpaste advertisements that got Americans to brush their teeth regularly a hundred years ago, athletes who use routines to win Olympic medals, Alcoholics Anonymous who manage to replace their drinking habits with other routines, and market researchers who design supermarkets and advertising brochures so that our habits lead us to buy more than we need.

The book is enjoyable to read and encourages the reader to recognize, rethink and, if necessary, consciously reshape their habits.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

switch - chip & dan heath

by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Link to the book at Amazon

Everyone knows how difficult it is to make lasting changes to habitual behaviors – both in oneself and others.

In “Switch,” the Heath brothers (known from “Made to Stick”) explore why this is the case, and they present concrete strategies that make lasting change possible.

Using a metaphor from Jonathan Heidt (“The Happiness Hypothesis”), the authors explain our behavior: The analytical-rational part of our mind (the “rider”) sees the need for change, but the much stronger comfortable-emotional part (the “elephant”) persists in old habits.

To bring about lasting change, both the rider and the elephant must be motivated. The authors present three memorable and effective strategies to achieve this:

  1. Direct the rider
  2. Motivate the elephant
  3. Shape the path

The book has a clear structure: each strategy takes up about one-third of the book and is broken down into three sub-strategies. Each sub-strategy is explained in detail using numerous illustrative and practical examples.

Numerous inspiring stories of people who lose weight permanently, quit smoking, teachers who motivate students to cooperate, and managers who transform a sluggish customer service team into a service pioneer make for entertaining reading.

A recommendation for anyone who wants to effect lasting change in themselves or others.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes!

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked

Irresistible - Adam Alter

by Adam Alter

Link to the book at Amazon

In “Irresistible,” social psychologist Adam Alter explores the causes and alarming effects of our growing addiction to technology. About half of the Western population has developed at least one behavioral addiction owing to the digital age. Many people waste hours of their day on social media or video games, binge-watching, or excessive online shopping. And even healthy activities, such as sports, are practiced too intensively due to addictive fitness trackers.

The increasing domination of our lives by technology puts a strain on our mental and physical health – sleep disorders and depression can be the result. Children and teenagers, who are much less able than adults to anticipate the long-term effects of their actions, suffer in particular. Many have difficulty building genuine interpersonal relationships due to their excessive smartphone use.

But how do these behavioral addictions form? The cause is primarily the technology companies, which intentionally design their products so we can no longer put them down. Facebook and Instagram, for example, only became what they are today through the invention of the “Like” button. Binge-watching didn’t become a problem until streaming providers started automatically continuing series rather than at the touch of a button. And gambling games captivate players by making the player “almost win” instead of lose.

How can we take back control of technology and our lives? The first step is to recognize a behavioral addiction that may already exist and understand the addictive factors of technology. Then we can take countermeasures – by adjusting our behavior, with professional, psychological help if necessary, but also through technology itself: You can, for example, install the browser plugin “Demetricator” to hide all Facebook metrics. Ultimately, living without technology is impossible in our world, but we can find a balance between its advantages and disadvantages.

The book is easy to read and, with numerous case studies, entertaining and, at the same time, evocative. A recommendation for anyone who feels that technology already dominates their lives or those of their children, or could do so in the future.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes!

Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick

Good Habits Bad Habits - Wendy Wood

by Wendy Wood

Link to the book at Amazon

Based on three decades of research, the author explains how we develop habits and how we can harness that knowledge to implement desired changes in ourselves.

We spend nearly half of our day doing habitual activities. We do things automatically without consciously deciding that – and how – we are doing them.

However, when we want to change something about ourselves, we believe we can achieve our goals through willpower alone. That is precisely why we fail.

Instead, we should use the extraordinary power of our subconscious mind – habits – to achieve our goals.

The author – a psychology professor and a leading scientist in the field – uses numerous research studies to explain what conditions must be met for an activity to become a habit.

Despite the scientific background, the book is entertainingly written and easy to understand.

If you have read “Atomic Habits” by James Clear and want to go deeper into the psychology and neurology of habit formation, this book is a good sequel.

If you've read “Good Habits, Bad Habits”, and you're wondering how best to put what you've learned into practice, then you should follow up by reading “Atomic Habits”.

Suitable as an audio book? Yes, absolutely, and it is read by the author herself.