Today we will be taking a deeper look at The Power of Habit
, in the second of our nine-part series on the mammoth hit that spent over a year on the New York TimesBestseller list. The Power of Habit was written by Charles Duhigg. Duhigg was a staff writer of The Los Angeles Times, until 2006; since then he has been a reporter at The New York Times, and was one of a team of New York Times reporters who won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for a series of 10 articles about the business practices of Apple.
Our book series reporting on Duhigg’s bestseller concludes with a pair of stories about how habits guide us or in some cases exert control over us. Poor somnabulist Brian Thomas, who strangled his own wife while sleepwalking, and Angie Bachmann, who unsuccessfully sued the casinos who viciously needled her into losing almost a million dollars at their blackjack tables.
Brian’s story is fairly straightforward; his sleepwalking was well-documented, and the prosecution astoundingly dropped the case mid-trial, urging the jury to vote Not Guilty. His habit of sleepwalking was known, but there was no hint it could lead to violence, so the law found him not culpable.
Angie’s story, however, paints a much darker tale – her gambling was an anxiety outlet. Angie created, on her own, a pattern -> response -> reward system that self-medicated her small-town anxiety with liberal applications of gambling. When she finally sued Harrah’s, who aggressively marketed to her with grotesque efficiency, leaning on the models Target started but with none of their moral reservations, public outcry was loud and massively not in her favor. A judge saw things the same way, and ruled against her suit, leaving her holding the bag for $900,000 in losses. Another monkey who really, really loved blackberry juice, laid low by their base physiology.
The core difference between the two cases came down to foreknowledge; Mr. Thomas had literally no way of knowing his night terrors would lead him to violence, and so his habitual, lizard-brain response, while awful, was not something he was culpable for. Mrs. Bachmann was well aware of the risks of gambling, even at one point swearing it off and moving to a state that didn’t allow it. But (with the gentle nudge of a billion-dollar targeted marketing machine by a huge industry invented by mobsters) Bachmann fell back into the trap, and lost everything, even her good name as media pundits were quick to pile on to her. Duhigg stops short of joining in, but does point out, with the coda of his opus, that all the tools existed to do the hard work of rewiring yourself, and Bachmann needed only to believe she could, and reach out to a group such as Gambler’s Anonymous, to commit to making the changes in her life required.
Charles Duhigg has given his readers the knowledge to redirect their own paths. It is up to us to take it.