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.

The books I picked & why

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

By Walter Mischel,

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

Why 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.

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

By Ian Ayres,

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

Why 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.

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

By Gregory Berns,

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

Why 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.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

By Mason Currey (editor),

Book cover of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

Why 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.

What I Talk about When I Talk about Running: A Memoir

By Haruki Murakami,

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

Why 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.”

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in running, evolutionary psychology, and motivation?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about running, evolutionary psychology, and motivation.

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Life of Dad: The Making of a Modern Father, British Marathon Running Legends of the 1980s, and Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind if you like this list.