‘Making Habits, Breaking Habits’ Business Book Review

habits, business book, performance improvement

Making Habits, Breaking Habits by Jeremy Dean

‘Making Habits, Breaking Habits’ by Jeremy Dean is a relatively new book, published in 2013.  Normally we at GoodBusiness don’t recommend new books because we like to give theme a chance to season, but we’re going to make an exception in this case.  And we have a very good reason.

We’re very keen on habits because they make our business lives much easier and more effective.  At their best, good habits marry expert aptitude with persistence to be applied whenever it’s needed, even if we’re tired, distracted, or even dispirited.  What entrepreneur or innovator wouldn’t want that kind of help?  However…

There are a lot of self-help books on the market.  We ignore most of them because they over promise and under deliver.  For instance, Max Maltz published Psycho-Cybernetics in 1960 and argued that people can make life changes in 21 days.  Now twenty one days has a certain appeal, doesn’t it?  Sure enough, the advice-meisters climbed on the 21 day bandwagon by claiming that 3 weeks will fit us up with a brand spanking new habit.  Really?  The truth, as Jeremy Dean makes very clear, isn’t so rosy.

In a (recent) study carried out at University College London, 86 participants were asked to choose an everyday behavior they wanted to turn into a habit.  Each of the 84 days of the study, they logged into a website and reported whether or not they’d carried out the behavior, was well as how automatic the behavior had felt.

So, here’s the big question: How long did it take to form a habit?  The simple answer is that, on average, across the participants who provided enough data, it took 66 days until a habit was formed.  And, contrary to what’s commonly believed, missing a day or two didn’t much affect habit formation.

Jeremy Dean isn’t afraid to demolish hype, and that’s the kind of truth about habits that we need to hear now.

Three Business Books in One

‘Making Habits, Breaking Habits’ is powerfully useful because it’s actually three books in one:

  1. It’s a readable introduction to the science of habits.
  2. It’s a practical guide to forming and breaking habits.
  3. The notes section at the end of the book is a solid bibliography of decades of research and scholarship.

When I read this book, practical person that I am, I skipped right to Part Three, Habit Change.  We read Chapter 9 (Making Habits), Chapter 10 (Breaking Habits) and Chapter 12 (Creative Habits).  When we need practical advice we need it fast and clearly presented, and these three chapters give it, with just enough background to lend authority and authenticity.     While most books about habits tell us how to form good ones, very few discuss the thorny issue of dealing with bad habits.  And no one offers Jeremy Dean’s provocative discussion of habit’s effect on creativity; it’s an eye-opener, and my favorite chapter of the book.

Then I stepped back and read the introductory discussion, concentrating on Chapter 2 (Habit vs. Intention: an Unfair Fight) and Chapter 4 (Don’t Think, Just Do It!).  It’s here that I learned just how complicated this business of habits can be.  I took that as advice to be thoughtful about my habits and their impact on my business life.

Finally, I looked through the notes section.  Those notes are actually literature citations, grouped by chapter.  The citations, all 269 of them, span almost a century of research and this gives the book both currency and perspective.  It’s a bold (and responsible) author that gives us access to all the background information, so that we can search further for our own additional wisdom.

Where to Get This Book

You can find a paper copy of Jeremy Dean’s ‘Making Habits, Breaking Habits’, used, at abebooks for about $3, or you can read it for free as a subscription download at Oyster books (an Oyster subscription is $9.95 per month).  GoodBusiness recommends it highly.

If you’ve read ‘Making Habits, Breaking Habits’ we’d really like to hear from you.  What’s your favorite chapter or section?  Did something Jeremy Dean wrote disagree with your experience?  Would you recommend this book to a friend?  Make a comment and help everyone.  Thanks in advance?

Want to Read More About Habits Right Now?

We’ve put together two very practical posts that will help you work with your habits, starting right now.  One of them shows you how to start making good habits.  If you’ve picked up some bad habits (don’t we all); here’s another posts that shows you how to deal with bad habits.




  1. Carol Orris says:

    Thank you for posting this. I always read that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. The author’s approach makes sense in so many areas of habitual behavior. I appreciate his point of view. For a few dollars, this is a wonderful business and personal resource.

  2. After reading your article about habits I was intrigued to navigate through your website some more. I have come accros this review and I much appreciate it! Since I want to get rid of some of my useless habits and replace them with habits that will actually help me with my business, this book is a prfect opportunity for me.

  3. What is the best part to read in this book? I’m asking to see if I want to buy it today. Thanks for the information.

    • Chris Chadbourne says:

      Tony, if I only had 15 minutes alone with this book, I would read chapter 12. I don’t know of anyone else who’s addressing the role of habit in creativity. The idea that creativity is at least partially a habit, and that there are practical steps anyone can take to be more creative, is really powerful. Can you just imagine what that would mean for companies committed to incremental change for the better?

  4. Very nice pick of the week. I just love Dean’s book. Dean does a terrific job on breaking down research into some very wise principles and guidelines for dealing with your habits. His treatment habits are words to live by since they focus on creativity and happiness. I’ve read a few of his blogs and they go pretty deep in behavioral research.

    • Chris Chadbourne says:

      Mel, I’m going to be spending more with this book too. I’m particularly interested in what he has to say about creativity; I want to see if I can combine his insights with Peter Drucker’s insights on purposeful innovation.

  5. The title of this post compelled me to read it! Nice and simple template I like it.

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