walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Complaining about _The Power of Habit_: Things I Cannot Bring Myself to Believe

Expect this to be edited to add:

"At the time, Rhode Island Hospital was one of the national leading medical institutions, the main teaching hospital for Brown University and the only Level 1 trauma center in southeastern New England." Later in the paragraph, the year 2002 is mentioned, and the next paragraph mentions 2000.

I find this pretty much impossible to believe, unless the author (Charles Duhigg) has a definition of "southeastern New England" that excludes Boston (is _that_ possible? And would that even help the argument -- seems like Connect the Dots would have had something at the time).

There are dozens of these niggling little statements, the kind of thing that I normally associate with children and other people who produce rickety rhetoric ("it was the biggest!" "the fastest!" "the oldest!!!" "the first" "the mostest") -- expressing a superlative not because it is salient, but Just Because.

ETA: Only a business book would produce a sentence that uses "idyllic" in this way:

"Most economists are accustomed to treating companies as idyllic places where everyone is devoted to a common goal: making as much money as possible."

ETA Still more (I'm not modifying what I already wrote, tho, now that there are comments):

"However, to modify a habit, you must decide to change it. You must consciously accept the hard work of identifying the cues and rewards that drive the habits' routines, and find alternatives. You must know you have control and be self-conscious enough to use it -- and every chapter in this book is devoted to illustrating a different aspect of why that control is real."

Every single part of that paragraph is wrong. In the chapter on pregnancy and Target (which is terrible, but you've probably already read it as I think it was published in article form at least once when this thing first came out), he describes how people change all kinds of long standing shopping habits when they move, or habit a baby, or whatever. We know that if you make it more expensive and/or more difficult to engage in a behavior (smoking, say), people will adjust that behavior (up to and including quitting entirely), and not necessarily because they consciously decided to change that habit. I think he even mentioned that when fast food restaurants close, people often start eating at home, rather than going to another shop in the chain.

The worst thing about this book is that it has a mostly right idea -- we do most things on autopilot -- and then goes about explicating it and around it in entirely the wrong way. Most habits occur and are maintained by the environment; there are only a few people out there being conscious about their habits in anything like a systematic way. If you want people to Do Better (differently, whatever), you change their environment. And he even documents ways in which that can occur -- altho even those explanations use ridiculous language like willpower that is entirely wrong-headed.


Also, when I bought this in paper at Willow, there was a book at the register about a bunch of uses for a dead kindle. I used to love paper books and book stores. I fucking hate them all now.

But I do still love reading, despite dreck like this.
Tags: not-a-book-review
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