Book Review: Curious Habits by Luke Mathers
It is very rare that I find a non-fiction book that makes me laugh out loud, in a café, three times before I have finished the introduction. Curious Habits is one of those books. Despite a relatively serious topic, the book maintains a sense of humour throughout, which makes it a joy to read.
If you have every done something and then wondered “Why did I do that?” then you have stumbled across a curious habit. It’s where you do something that at some point must have made sense or provided a positive benefit, but now either doesn’t help, or even actively hurts you.
Curious Habits is a stand out read. It has a gentle, easy going style that hides the fact that it will challenge you to examine your own habits and the reasons for them. It is filled with stories: examples from Luke’s own life, from people in the public eye, and from people who Luke has worked with. He uses humour to illustrate often complex concepts. In the introduction he discusses the sea squirt, which “moves away from toxins and towards food and safety”. This then gives him a great shorthand to explain some of our own habits – going into “sea squirt mode”.
The book takes us through the evolutionary and social reasons why we behave the way that we do. Luke supports us to first understand the reasons why we do something, and then gives us the tools to modify our behaviour. His writing pulls together neuroscience, biology and psychology, and presents the questions that we need to use to think about exactly what our habits mean for us.
In the first section, he explains why we should get curious about our habits – actively looking for and recognising the outcomes of the actions and behaviours that no longer serve us, as the first step in deliberately then change those habits. The second section then dives deeper into some common habits, such as procrastination or negative self-talk and provides questions to support you to get curious about how that habit is impacting on your life.
I really enjoyed the tongue in cheek way Curious Habits describes the neuroscience and evolutionary reasons behind our habits – for example:
“Humans are designed to be insecure. We were designed to seek validation and support from the tribe, because if we got too confident and rocked out on our own, we got eaten by sabre-toothed tigers.”
I found the breakdown of the types of habits and the different ways to approach them very useful. Luke has given me strategies to recognise when I am being ‘caught’ by a particular habit, ways of working out whether this is a bad thing or not (one example that stood out for me is that procrastination is not necessarily a bad thing - sometimes you can deliberately procrastinate to help your brain recharge), questions to ask myself about why I am behaving a certain way, and a large number of tools and ideas to help me replace unhelpful habits with more positive ones.
I absolutely recommend Curious Habits. Whilst the humour, the stories and the clear diagrams help to make it feel like an easy read, it also challenges the reader to take a different lens on the way that they act and behave, and, by doing so, helps to give them a pathway to more helpful habits.
Review by Jo Toon FCIPS, Commercial Portfolio Manager, Ministry of Justice
Curious Habits: Why we do what we do and how to change by Luke Mathers is available now.