When I discovered the 3 hidden steps behind my daily habits, I was surprised.
I thought a habit was a habit. A repetitive action that was helpful or regretable.
I didn’t know how to change the negative resulting habits, until I learned about habit structure.
All habits follow the same structure.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a tiny habit or a huge one, the structure is the same.
Habits work in a three step loop. Like this:
- you encounter a cue
- that triggers a certain routine or behaviour
- which delivers a reward
Over time, with repetition, the loop becomes more and more automatic until it creates a sense of anticipation and craving.
Psychologists and habit researchers call this the “Habit Loop”.
Cue — Routine — Reward — Cue — Routine — Reward —
The reason habits are so hard to break is because, once that cue, routine, reward loop has been set up in your brain and you’ve repeated it enough times so that neural pathways have made it automatic, it’s very hard to break the loop.
Every time you encounter that cue, you feel compelled to execute the routine, to get the reward.
I’ll break it down.
These are not always obvious. The cue can include things like:
- feelings/emotions – stress, worry, boredom, fatigue, loneliness, agitation, overwhelm, procrastination
- time of day – getting home from work, Sunday mornings, mid afternoon, after dinner
- people – a family member, your boss, a specific friend, TV character
- activities – watching TV, buying a coffee
- sound – a song, an alarm, a noise
This is the behaviour, thought or action you engage in when you experience the cue. It can be physical, mental or emotional.
Your reward can be a positive feeling, or even relief from the uncomfortable feeling that was your cue.
Don’t be misled by the word “reward”. It’s not always positive. Sometimes, the reward your brain is looking for is a familiar feeling. The reinforcement of a deep seated perception you have of yourself. Like guilt or sadness or “I deserve this!”.
How to break a habit loop
To change a habit, you need to replace it something different. Going cold turkey is rarely successful.
If you think about the three parts of a habit loop:
- cue – this is often impossible to change. You can’t change some stressful situations, evenings roll around every evening, social outings occur, you have to come home from work
- reward – it’s also very difficult to change the reward. Your brain is lazy (remember) and is always looking for pleasure, validation and emotional stability
- routine – this is what you need to change by replacing the old with the new.
The secret to changing any habit is to keep the cue and the reward, and replace the routine.
Once you understand the parts of your habit loop, you can fiddle with the control knobs and change it.
Bite Sized Action
If you’ve been thinking about a habit you want to change, now’s the time to make a plan.
In order to do that, you first have to identify each part of your own habit loop.
Download this habit mapping workbook which will give you instructions on how to map out your habit loop.
With your consistently good habits in mind,
I can help you create consistent habits. Here’s how:
- Book in for a consultation (in Clinic, Zoom or over the phone) to get personalised coaching on changing any habit – Click here
- Creating habits around eating the right foods for your body is a great place to start – Click here
- Grab a copy of my Rebuild Your Life Journal for 5 simple daily journal prompts to ground you and get those habits and routines consistently set – it’s your daily reset button – Click here
- Not sure what you need? Book in for a 20 minute FREE discovery call chat with me – Click here
- Sign up for my Newsletter for more consistent habit tips – Click here