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Breaking a Bad Habit and The Habit Loop

Posted May 10 2013 1:21pm

For research for A Whole New You – Six Steps to Ignite Change for Your Best Life , I had the pleasure of reading The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business . In his book, Charles Duhigg looks at the habits of individuals, organizations, and societies, and tries to explain the science and behavioral psychology of how habits work. He writes, “When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision-making.” He tells us habits make up about 40 percent of our daily routine, and in order to change them, we have to understand what he calls the “habit loop.”

The habit loop consists of a cue or trigger, a routine, and a reward. Duhigg provides a personal example where at 3:00 p.m. every day he would go to his cafeteria and buy a cookie. Over time, this ultimately led to his gaining weight. Curious about what was at the heart of the weight gain, he conducted a few experiments and realized that his cue was the time of day (3:00 p.m.), his routine was a trip to the cafeteria to purchase a cookie, and surprisingly, the reward was socialization with friends and colleagues—not the taste of the cookie itself. As a result, he saw an opportunity to change the overall habit by tweaking specific components of the habit loop. He decided to maintain the reward of socialization, while modifying the less healthy routine of purchasing and eating a cookie. At 3:00 p.m., instead of going to the cafeteria for a cookie, Duhigg started to find ways to socialize within his office environment and avoid the cafeteria altogether. He soon found his craving for the cookie had disappeared.

Changing a habit may not always be about changing the routine. It could involve changing or eliminating the cue or replacing an unhealthy reward with one that is healthier. In short, to stop or modify a bad or unwanted habit, you must understand the habit loop, and identify what part of it is creating unwanted results. You can then redesign it (or stop it all together) so that new, healthier habits can form.

If you are interested in turning a current bad habit into one that is better (or getting rid of it altogether), do the following:

  1. Charles Duhigg's Habit Loop

    Source: A Whole New You

Understand the Loop: Duhigg breaks up his habit loop into the following three components:

  • Identify the Cue, Routine, and Reward in Your Habit: In order to modify your habits or behaviors, find which part of the loop is causing unfavorable results. Modifying that part will create healthier habits. Examine your habit and identify the cue, routine, and reward.
  • Decide Which Part Needs to Change: Decide what part of the habit loop needs to be modified. Specifically, what part of the habit loop is causing unhealthy or unwanted results?
  • Identify Opportunities for Modification: Once you understand which part of the habit loop needs to change, come up with ways to modify it so you can reap healthier or more attractive results or outcomes.
  • Follow the Rewritten Loop: Finally, rewrite your loop so it acts as a guide that you can follow as you try make the change.
  • What habit are you hoping to change? Share which part of your habit loop is contributing to unfavorable results and how you hope to modify it for the better in the comment section below!

    A Whole New YouLearn more about making changes you want with A Whole New You: Six Steps to Ignite Change for Your Best Life .

    Have a question you’d like me to answer? Ask here.

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