Habits: The Power of Habit / Digital Minimalism


Recently I have read 2 good books back to back: “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg and “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport. The similarities were a bit unexpected for me — which are pretty obvious in retrospect. Nonetheless it made me want to write a bit about the topics at hand.

The Power of Habit is about habit formation in general, and Digital Minimalism is about bad digital habits.

Here are some standout quotes and some thoughts about it.

What are habits

Essential Meaning of habit

1: a usual way of behaving: something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way [1]

Because Digital Minimalism is a bout bad habits, it’s definition is akin to addictions:

addiction is a condition in which a person engages in use of a substance or in a behaviour for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behaviour despite detrimental consequences.[DM]

while Power of Habits core approach is about the habit loop

cue -> routine -> reward

this is how new habits are created: by putting together a cue, a routine, and a reward, and the cultivating a craving that drives the loop. [PH]

What drives habits

only when your brain starts expecting the reward — craving the endorphins or sense of accomplishment. [PH]


how tech companies encourage behavioural addiction: intermittent positive reinforcement and the drive for social approval. [DM]


rewards delivered unpredictably are far more enticing than those delivered with a known pattern. Something about unpredictability releases more dopamine — a key neurotransmitter for regulating our sense of craving. [DM]

In essence the reward is not the driving force, but the expectation of a reward. This force is even stronger when the reward is unpredictable.

Modifying habits

based on the cue -> routine -> reward loop, there are three obvious points in modifying habits — and also in establishing new ones.

Power of Habit establishes a protocol for approaching this

1: identify the routine

reducing the easy distraction without also filling the void can make life unpleasantly stale — an outcome likely to undermine any transition to minimalism. [DM]


you must aggressively explore higher-quality activities to fill in the time left vacant by the optional technologies you’re avoiding. [DM]

Removing a routine itself should be accompanied with replacing it with something better.

2: experiment with rewards

3: isolate the cue

asking patients to describe what triggers their habitual behaviour is called awareness training, and is the first step in habit reversal. [PH]

4: have a plan

patients who didn’t write out any plans were at a significant disadvantage, because they never thought ahead about how to deal with painful inflection points. they never deliberately designed willpower habits. [PH]


this is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behaviour ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives. [PH]

A plan in this context means not only what you should do if everything works out perfectly and there are no obstacles.

A plan in this context really means to think about everything you always do wrong in situations, and how you will tackle the situation correctly. With yourself in mind. Make backup plan you can really execute.

Be deliberate, and believe in change

Change is hard.

the sugar high of convenience is fleeting and the sting of missing out dulls rapidly, but the meaningful glow that comes from taking charge of what claims your time and attention is something that persists. [DM]


approaching decisions with intention can be more important than the impact of the actual decisions themselves. [DM]

The decision what to do is far more important than the actual result of the decision. Things do not always work out, even when the decision and way was objectively correct, and vice versa.

we do know that for habits to permanently change, people must believe that change is feasible. [PH]


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. [PH]


and once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom — and the responsibility — to remake them. [PH]


– [PH] Power of Habit
– [DM] Digital Minimalism
– [1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/habit