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Book Review: Good Habits, Bad Habits

The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick

by Wendy WoodFarrar, Straus and Giroux
reviewed by Kathryn Drury Wagner
Grow
Good Habits Bad Habit Cover

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Ever driven somewhere in your car, only to realize you have no idea how you arrived at your destination? In her eye-opening new book, Wendy Wood explains this phenomenon and so much more. Wood is a professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California and one of the world’s leading experts on habits. In her three decades of research, she has found that a shocking 43 percent of our daily activities are controlled by habit, creating a kind of “second self” who putters about doing all sorts of things, like washing our hair, making coffee, and driving to the supermarket.

Habits are different from conscious decisions, so when we rely on conscious thought processes like goal setting to change behavior, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. Instead, Wood argues that we should be harnessing the power of habit formation. Understanding our habits, in fact, has implications for happier marriages, greater financial freedom, treating addiction, and many other aspects of our wellbeing.

Having explained the science, Wood outlines the process of habit formation. The four basic building blocks of habits are: creating a stable context (such as, it’s 8 a.m., time to go to yoga); reducing friction (having your yoga mat in the bag next to the door); making the new habit rewarding (visiting a coffee shop after yoga class); and lastly, repeating the process until it is so automatic that you feel weird if you don’t do the action. After reading Wood’s fascinating book, readers will be inspired to try these methods and get on the path to healthier, more satisfying lives. 

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