The best books for harnessing the power of habits

Who am I?

When I became a minimalist, I found that having less made my household chores so much easier. Before then, I thought I was a loser who lets dirty dishes and laundry pile up. But when my environment changed, what I had believed was my personality also shifted. Once my apartment was tidy, it became a habit to do the dishes right away and vacuum the floor before going out, and my life became consistently enjoyable. But other habits were harder nuts to crack, like quitting drinking or exercising regularly. In Hello, Habits I write about my journey of acquiring these habits through a process of trial and error.

I wrote...

Hello, Habits: A Minimalist's Guide to a Better Life

By Fumio Sasaki,

Book cover of Hello, Habits: A Minimalist's Guide to a Better Life

What is my book about?

Fumio Sasaki changed his life when he became a minimalist. But before minimalism could really stick, he had to make it a habit. All of us live our lives based on the habits we’ve formed, from when we get up in the morning to what we eat and drink to how likely we are to actually make it to the gym. In Hello, Habits, Sasaki explains how we can acquire the new habits that we want―and get rid of the ones that don’t do us any good.

Drawing on leading theories and tips about the science of habit formation from cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and sociology, along with examples from popular culture and tried-and-tested techniques from his own life, he unravels common misperceptions about "willpower" and "talent," and offers a step-by-step guide to success.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Marshmallow Test: Why Self-Control Is the Engine of Success

Why did I love this book?

Researchers placed a marshmallow in front of a child, and if they could wait for several minutes without eating it, they would be rewarded with an additional marshmallow. This is the famous psychology experiment known as the Marshmallow Test, and it teaches us what it takes to acquire the habit of delaying gratification for a greater reward. The children who performed well on this test not only had good grades in school but also tended to be healthier and less likely to abuse drugs later as adults. Taking the test results at face value, one might conclude that much of life is predetermined by genetics. However, this book also shows there were certain techniques which greatly improved the test results—and that’s what gives me hope.

By Walter Mischel,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Marshmallow Test as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A child is presented with a marshmallow and given a choice: Eat this one now, or wait and enjoy two later. What will she do? And what are the implications for her behaviour later in life?

Walter Mischel's now iconic 'marshmallow test,' one of the most famous experiments in the history of psychology, proved that the ability to delay gratification is critical to living a successful and fulfilling life: self-control not only predicts higher marks in school, better social and cognitive functioning, and a greater sense of self-worth; it also helps us manage stress, pursue goals more effectively, and cope…

Book cover of Carrots and Sticks: Unlock the Power of Incentives to Get Things Done

Why did I love this book?

Hyperbolic discounting is a term used in behavioral economics to describe our tendency to overvalue immediate gratification while undervaluing future rewards. When asked to choose between getting (A) one apple a year from now or (B) two apples a year and a day from now, people pick (B). However, if the choice is between getting (A) one apple today or (B) two apples tomorrow, people find (A) more attractive. Why is it so difficult to acquire good habits, like going to bed early or getting important work done, instead of playing with our smartphone? The idea of hyperbolic discounting offers a brilliant explanation, shedding light on the troublesome natures we humans possess. Although that’s not the main focus of this book, it’s still an excellent, easy-to-read introduction to behavioral economics.

By Ian Ayres,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Carrots and Sticks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Could you lose weight if you put $20,000 at risk? Would you finally set up your billing software if it meant that your favorite charity would earn a new contribution? If you’ve ever tried to meet a goal and came up short, the problem may not have been that the goal was too difficult or that you lacked the discipline to succeed. From giving up cigarettes to increasing your productivity at work, you may simply have neglected to give yourself the proper incentives.

In Carrot and Sticks, Ian Ayres, the New York Times bestselling author of Super Crunchers, applies the…

Book cover of Satisfaction: Sensation Seeking, Novelty, and the Science of Finding True Fulfillment

Why did I love this book?

Why do we need to acquire good habits to begin with? One reason is we can’t feel a sense of fulfillment or achievement where there’s no stress. People like Elon Musk and Bill Gates surely have enough wealth to spend the rest of their lives lying on the beach, but that’s not what they do. Eating sweets is all it takes for the neurotransmitter dopamine to be released and give us a dose of happiness, but that doesn’t satisfy us for very long. In this book, author Gregory Berns focuses on the stress hormone cortisol. He shows us, in an approachable and entertaining manner, that a reasonable amount of stress is what actually helps us experience a deep sense of satisfaction.

By Gregory Berns,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Satisfaction as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A discussion that is meaty, contemporary and expansive . . . Berns artfully blends social critique with technical expertise.”—The Washington Post Book World

In a riveting narrative look at the brain and the power of novelty to satisfy it, Dr. Gregory Berns plumbs fields as diverse as neuroscience, economics, and evolutionary psychology to find answers to the fundamental question of how we can find a more satisfying way to think and live.

We join Berns as he follows ultramarathoners across the Sierra Nevadas, enters a suburban S&M club to explore the deeper connection between pleasure and pain, partakes of a…

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

By Mason Currey (editor),

Book cover of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

Why did I love this book?

This book summarizes the habits of 161 famous geniuses—authors, musicians, philosophers, and more. When we think of someone who’s a genius, we tend to imagine someone living a very eccentric life. But according to this book, many geniuses actually spend their days in a very regular, disciplined manner: they wake up early, get their work done in the morning, take a nap, and go for a walk. (Of course, some of them do live an eccentric life, like Marcel Proust.) As it turns out, people become geniuses not by waiting for inspiration to randomly strike, but by developing good working habits and devoting time to their work every day.

By Mason Currey (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Daily Rituals as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

More than 150 inspired—and inspiring—novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians on how they subtly maneuver the many (self-inflicted) obstacles and (self-imposed) daily rituals to get done the work they love to do.

Franz Kafka, frustrated with his living quarters and day job, wrote in a letter to Felice Bauer in 1912, “time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible then one must try to wriggle through by subtle maneuvers.”
Kafka is one of 161 minds who describe their daily rituals to…

Book cover of What I Talk about When I Talk about Running: A Memoir

Why did I love this book?

What really fascinates me about Haruki Murakami is not his body of work per se, but the process through which he rose from anonymity and became a world-renowned author. Until he was 29, he’d never imagined he had the talent to write a novel. Before his rise to fame, novelists were known to live a wild and intemperate existence, drinking lots of alcohol into the wee hours and getting started on their manuscript past deadline. Murakami, however, broke this stereotype as someone who wakes up early, works out every day, and has run multiple full marathons. I have no doubt it was the power of his habits that made him a world-famous author. He even says his motto is to turn himself into “a creature of habits.”

By Haruki Murakami,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked What I Talk about When I Talk about Running as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional'

A compelling mediation on the power of running and a fascinating insight into the life of this internationally bestselling writer. A perfect reading companion for runners.

In 1982, having sold his jazz bar to devote himself to writing, Murakami began running to keep fit. A year later, he'd completed a solo course from Athens to Marathon, and now, after dozens of such races, he reflects upon the influence the sport has had on his life and on his writing.

Equal parts travelogue, training log and reminiscence, this revealing memoir covers his four-month preparation for…

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