Good Habits, Bad Habits

Author: Wendy Wood

Publisher: McMillan, 2019


This article was originally published in Quality Business Magazine, where I have recently commenced as Book Editor. I’d love to hear your book recommendations here

Author Credentials

Wendy Wood is a research psychologist who devoted the last 30 years to understanding how habits work. She is Provost Professor of Psychology and Business at the University of Southern California, where she also served as Vice Dean of Social Sciences. A 2008 Radcliffe Institute Fellow, and 2018

Distinguished Chair of Behavioral Science at the Sorbonne/INSEAD in Paris, Wendy has advised the World Bank, the Centers for Disease Control, and global companies, including Proctor & Gamble and Lever Bros.

What is the central argument of the book?

Good Habits, Bad Habits explores the history and evolution of the psychology of habit formation. It explores the many factors the influence habit formation and provides suggestions on how to use this knowledge to influence our behaviour.


Does the book provide a well-reasoned case to support this argument?

Yes! Wood refers to her own and others’ research and publications to support each point. Concepts are explained in easy-to-understand and non-technical language and backed up with references and further reading.


Something interesting that you learned:

I was intrigued with the concept of “friction”, those things that can interrupt an automatic response and disrupt otherwise habitual behaviour. For example, if you have a habit of making a cup of coffee every morning before you go to work, you would normally do this without thinking. If you wake up one morning to a power outage, your habit is interrupted, and your brain shifts from automatic to actively making a new plan, such as deciding to pick up a drive-thru coffee on the way to work.


Something that you disagreed with:

Wood spends some time discussing concepts from the book “Nudge”, which looks at how the environment can be structured to encourage people to behave in certain ways. While I agree with science, I have some ethical concerns. I believe it’s important to exercise caution in this area as there is potential to impose our personal agendas on others without their knowledge or consent.


A memorable quote from the book:

“Here’s the very happy implication: the worst, most effortful run will be that first one. Or the second, perhaps. But the effort doesn’t last (in fact, if it does, you’re doing it wrong). Habits will form and take the effort off your hands.”


How is this book relevant to quality?

There are many parallels between habit and business process. Being aware of how the human mind develops habits can help us develop more reliable and effective processes. And as Aristotle famously said: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”


Who would you recommend this book to?

Professionals who influence or design procedures for people.

Marketing Hype Audit: How well did this book deliver on what was promised?

On the 5-step range of ‘Non-compliant’ to ‘Exceeds expectations’ this book achieves a ‘4 – Compliant’


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