The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg

Once you see everything as a bunch of habits, it’s like someone gave you a flashlight and a crowbar and you can get to work.

51Q4AwpPDkL._SY346_We want to be healthy, do well at work, and have positive relationships with family and friends. Every year, we resolve to do better and be better, and for a while we eat well, exercise, and work hard without social media distractions. But then…

Charles Duhigg describes this cycle as the habit loop. Our brain automates our actions, the positive and negative ones. So despite our strong desire to change, we’re fighting against an automatic process. Duhigg breaks this down into three-steps. First, there’s the cue, then the routine, and, finally, there is a reward.

Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize—they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.

For example, at 2:00 pm every day, you feel bored and a little tired (this is the cue). Your routine is to grab a cookie and chat with some friends either in person or on social media. The reward is that you feel stimulated (via the sugar and conversation) and energetic. But maybe you’re trying to lose weight and want to cut out that cookie. You must change the routine. Are you actually hungry for food or for conversation or both? Changing the routine requires exploration into your routine, discovering if that routine provides the reward you’re subconsciously seeking.

habit-flowchart2

Habit Flowchart

Duhigg backs up his explanations with fascinating research studies and examples from real-life habit conquerors. Instead of a dry scientific work, it’s a fast and enlightening read. Particularly interesting and disturbing is the example of how Target can (and has) determine(d) if a woman is pregnant before she’s even told her family. (Seriously. Read this one)

Knowing how our brains work is powerful. We can use the habit loop to implement what we know to be right, even in reactions to our coworkers and family members. Do you have a coworker or family member who drives you crazy? Do you react poorly to this person? You can’t change the cue, but you can change your routine.

The Power of Habit is not a self-help book per se but Duhigg does conclude with some concrete steps to figure out your particular cue, routine, and reward — and how to change the routine effectively. You must identify the routine, experiment with rewards, isolate the cue, and have a plan. Essentially, “Know Thyself.”

Purchase The Power of Habit.

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The Road Less Traveled: AB goes to Hampton Plantation, home of Archibald Rutledge

20170324_125139 (1)As a creative writing teacher, I’m always looking for ways to expose my young writers to strong examples of good writing and to the personal stories of respected, published authors. Recently, I accompanied some students along with their parents to McClellanville, SC and Hampton Plantation – the ancestral home of Archibald Rutledge, South Carolina’s first poet laureate. Rutledge grew up in a wealthy family with deep ties to the land and history of the South Carolina lowcountry. His great-great grandfather, Daniel Horry, purchased the land in the early 18th century and later built the house on this sprawling rice and indigo plantation. Rutledge spent his pivotal years roaming the land, learning to hunt the local wildlife, and befriending the children of former slaves. After decades teaching in Pennsylvania, Rutledge, already an established writer, moved back home to oversee the restoration of his beloved home. To the Rutledge enthusiast, such works as Home by the River and Tales of Whitetails bring this special place to life, and I wanted my students to experience it in person. Continue reading

Snapshot: 3 quick reviews on 3 celebrity memoirs

By Meg
I didn’t mean to binge on celebrity memoirs the past few weeks, but as I’ve requested various ones from the library the past 3-6 months, they all became available for me AT THE SAME TIME. And of course books that you wait 6 months for cannot be renewed … so blitz through them I did. All were enjoyable to a degree, but one definitely rose above the crowd. So here are 3 really quick reviews (with star ratings)  of memoirs by Carrie Fisher, Cary Elwes, and Megyn Kelly.

PDbookThe “meh”moir:
The Princess Diarist,
by Carrie Fisher. ***

I’m always interested in people’s diaries, so reading Carrie Fisher’s actual entries in her handwriting was fascinating. But for the most part, this was the story of an older teenager with a crush on her much-older, married co-star having meaningless sex with him during the weekends of their filming of the first Star Wars movie. She admits her own immaturities; but with the excess of the vulgarities and her lack of ultimately pointing to anything beyond her memories, I came away from this read (which took less than a day to finish) just feeling kind of “meh.” I’d hoped for more. Continue reading

Love Him Anyway, by Abby Banks

Reviewed by: AB
Genre: 
Memoir, faith testimonial

screen-shot-2017-02-26-at-8-37-38-amI’m going to be honest: Love Him Anyway isn’t the kind of book that I normally read. I’m unapologetically a fiction reader primarily, but I’m so glad that I read this book. When my friend Anna (from Ambassador International) asked if I wanted to read a book about a baby who becomes paralyzed at the age of 7 months, I was skeptical that this was the book for me. But God knew how much I would need to read this book. In the past year I’ve seen unfathomable loss. I’ve seen friends and family members bear incredible burdens when it comes to their little ones. Some have lost their babies in the womb and others have lost them as newborns. I’ve seen other friends watch their children struggle with sudden debilitating physical handicaps. Love Him Anyway is the kind of book that is for all of those parents and for anyone who simply wants to understand how to have hope when surrounded by pain. Continue reading

The Light of the World

Meg's reading challenge #1

By Elizabeth Alexander      Genre: poetic Memoir
Reviewed by Meg                 4.5/5 stars

“Ficre did not paint what he saw. He saw in his mind, and then he painted, and then he found the flowers that were what he painted. He painted what he wanted to continue to see. He painted how he wanted the world to look. He painted to fix something in place. And so I write to fix him in place, to pass time in his company, to make sure I remember, even though I know I will never forget.”

I didn’t realize it would be inauguration day when I reviewed this book. But the timing is perfect – because Elizabeth Alexander, the author of this memoir, was the poet laureate who recited “Praise Song for the Day” at Obama’s first inauguration 8 years ago.

img_8719As part of my personal “reading challenge” for this year, I began with a book very much out of my comfort zone of preferred literary genres – a poetic memoir, one that I serendipitously learned about in a free edition of our local newspaper. I’m thankful newspapers still review books. Now, before you just completely ignore the rest of this review, hear me out: this is not just a book of poetry, nor is it a really boring narrative of a person’s life (although if you made me try to describe the “plot” right now, you might not believe me).

Instead, what Alexander has done is capture both the sheer beauty and utter pain that was and is her grief in losing her husband, Ficre, unexpectedly several years ago – in carefully crafted prose that is both deeply insightful and wild with color and imagery. Continue reading

The Girls of Atomic City

By Denise Kiernan                                      Genre: Non-fiction
Reviewed by Natalie                                     4.5/5 stars

51m0kd75u7l-_sx334_bo1204203200_
“Women were powerful. And oh so necessary.”

I spotted The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan in Barnes & Noble and the tagline instantly intrigued me: “The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II.” I love discovering previously untold stories. Even better, I love reading about women who played a role behind the scenes; and without the women working at the secret factories of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the outcome of World War II may have been drastically different. Continue reading

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club

By Phillip Hoose                                  Genre: YA Nonfiction
Reviewed by Meg                                          4/5 stars

Perhaps it is the times we live in – or maybe my appreciation for history is finally growing as I age (maybe) – but I have found myself reaching for more and more books that I never imagined I’d have an interest in: namely non-fiction, particularly in war history. 

churchillI’m excited to share a piece of non-fiction about the first Danish resistance group during the German occupation of Denmark in WWII – a group of teenage boys, mostly aged 15 or 16. After more than a decade of waiting to interview Knud and record this story, Phillip Hoose has painstakingly crafted a fitting tribute to Pederson and his fellow Churchill Club members. The book flows seamlessly between Hoose’s historical narration and Knud Pederson’s own recollections – both of which are interjected with photos and fact boxes that give a picture and understanding of the times.  
Continue reading