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5 Best Books for Habit Formation

personal development
Woman running as a habit during an exercise class with small circles on the ground.


When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. When you improve conditioning a little each day, eventually you have a big improvement in conditioning.
Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts.

 John Wooden, Hall of Fame college basketball coach

By John Millen 

Ah, a new year. Most of us regard this as the time for a fresh start. 
Given where we've been during the past two years, there’s never been a better time to commit ourselves to personal development.
And as companies, industries, and our personal lives are transformed by technology, intentional, positive habits matter more than ever. 
Research confirms that resolutions rarely work, which you might have experienced over the years. The key to change is the development of small, sustainable habits that drive our behavior.
As a leadership communication coach, helping others change behavior is my job. But personal development is also my passion, always working on continuous improvement in my business and personal life. 
With this in mind, I’ve compiled my list of what I believe are the five best books for habit formation.
These books are not listed in order of value but it seemed appropriate to start with a book about the “one thing,” which has been my go-to for years. 
1) The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, by Gary Keller
I read this book after its publication in 2012, but it took a couple of years for me to really put it into action. I love the approach. 
Main Idea: Devoting consistent, focused time to your top priorities will produce extraordinary long-term results like a series of dominoes that gain momentum and energy as they continue to fall. Continually refocusing acts as a big-picture map and a small-focus compass.
Key Quote: “Focusing Question: What’s the ONE THING I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

2) The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg
Main Idea: Our brains use a process to develop habits to conserve mental energy. Some 40 percent of our actions result from these unconscious routines. Duhigg calls this the “Habit Loop,” which can be effectively hacked to change negative habits and create new habits.  
Key Quote: “This [habit development routine] process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which behavior to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is the reward.”

3)  Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, by James Clear
Main Idea: Clear notes the compounding effect of small changes in habits: getting one percent better every day will produce results that are 37 times better at the end of the year. The key is to change your identity, how you view yourself and rely on systems to sustain your changes.
Key Quote: “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous.”

4) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen CoveyI’ve read this classic book many times over the years, using it to reinforce these timeless principles to guide one’s life. 
Main Idea: Covey identifies seven “true north principles” that can help to build an effective, sustainable business and personal life. These habits include, among others, personal development, proactivity, and seeking to understand others rather than being understood.
Key Quote: “These habits are basic; they are primary. They represent the internalization of correct principles upon which enduring happiness and success are based.”
5) Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything, by B. J. FoggDr. Fogg is a social science researcher at Stanford and has been teaching his Tiny Habits methods for a decade. I’ve followed his work for years and appreciate the neuroscience basis of his simple method for personal transformation.

These are the key elements of Fogg's work:
Main Idea: Motivation and willpower are unreliable for change. The way to work around them is to make small changes and keep expectations low. Extremely small actions, 30 seconds in length, with positive reinforcement, grow habits that eventually fuel transformative behavior change. 
Quote: “With the Tiny Habits method, you celebrate successes no matter how small they are. This is how we take advantage of our neurochemistry and quickly turn deliberate actions into automatic habits. Feeling successful helps us wire in new habits and motivates us to do more.”
As change accelerates and distractions intensify, your habits keep you grounded and in control of your life.

Let any one of these great books guide you to sustainable health and happiness.


* Books listed are Amazon affiliate links 


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John Millen

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