An Introduction to Habit Creation & the Habit Loop: How Your Habits Control You VS How You Can Control Your Habits

Intro to Habit Creation & the Habit Loop

Everyone knows that habits are a part of regular day in day out living. What a lot of people do not know however, is that your habits can not only control you; but you can take control of your habits. This can be achieved in a variety of ways; the well-known 21 day plan to a establish the pattern of a new habit, placing a rubber band around your wrist and snapping yourself every time that you realize you’ve done something that you meant to avoid doing, etc...

However, the majority of these methods prove unsuccessful in the long run. When you force yourself to do something new; whether it is over and over, results in a reward or punishment; it does not necessarily ingrain that action into your long term behavior. The action remaining a part of your regular behavior depends upon a variety of conditions that must be met in order for the new habit to remain intact.

The average person cannot just decide to do something ‘from now on’ and stick to it indefinitely. This is not because we as people are weak willed, or destined to fail; it is for two very logical reasons:

  • It is partly because we rely on certain cues, events, and people (all of these things boil down to being unconscious reminders; or triggers) to guide what we do next. We are all so busy thinking most of the time that a great deal of what we do is automatic behavior that requires no conscious thought.
  • Another very important factor; that is somewhat less common knowledge; is the concept of inducing a craving for the reward that you have designated for your new habit. This is in fact, the key to truly establishing a new long-term habit; in most professional opinions, as well as personal experiences.

All of us have habits; whether our schedules are hectic and seem completely disorganized, or well-planned out and concise. Some of them we are aware of, but the majority of us are not aware of many of our habits. This just goes to show how deeply our habits truly are ingrained in our behavior. Before we get into the details of how each of us’ habits control us; and how we can turn that information around and begin to control our habits; we need to talk about two things- the basics of each concept, and why it should matter to you.

The Basics of the Habit Loop

  • Cue- The first stage of the habit loop revolves around cues; which are the sensory signals that we rely upon to influence what we do next; whether they are conscious or subconscious cues. A cue can be something visual, a physical touch, a smell, a sound, or even a taste; that results in a routine behavior.

An example of a subconscious cue- A smoker (who does not smoke inside their home) is sitting on their couch late in the evening watching their favorite show. As one of the characters pulls a pack of cigarettes out of their purse, the viewer suddenly begins to crave nicotine. Without thinking about it, the person gets up and goes outside to have a cigarette; even though they had been comfortable and content on the couch until the cue of seeing a pack of cigarettes on television.

An example of a conscious cue- A family decides that they would like to start eating more healthy foods, and less junk food, so they begin by doing the two most obvious things that they think will help. The first being to get rid of all of the junk food in the house, so that it isn’t lying around, waiting to cue them to relapse into old eating habits. The second thing they would do is stock the house with healthier foods. But there’s still something else that could be done to help them stick to the families new designated eating habits- they can consciously decide to create a meal plan and post it on the refrigerator (or sync it in a shared family planner app). This physical reminder becomes a new cue for the family.

  • Routine- The second stage of the habit loop is the routine. In this particular context, routine refers to the specific series or sequence of actions that you complete after encountering a cue. Your commonplace tasks, chores, or other duties that consistently stick to are your routine. Whether or not you realize it, each of these activities has been ingrained into your routine through the habit loop.
  • Reward- The third stage of the habit loop is the reward. Rewards are not necessarily something that you are consciously aware of working towards, although the majority of the time we are aware of our rewards. It is easier to identify your reward if you are considering a conscious habit.

An example of a conscious reward would be if someone begins a new exercise routine, and then as a reward allows themself to have a favorite snack, or to watch an episode of their favorite show and relax. Some rewards are more subtle however.

An example of an unconscious reward would be if you hear your phone go off (the cue) and immediately check to see what the notification is for (the routine). You are rewarded by learning the information that you wanted.

How You Can Successfully Create New Long-term Habits

As mentioned above, turning new habits into long lasting habits requires two main things:

  • Creating new cues for yourself.
  • Enforcing a cue for yourself that induces a craving for the reward.

What this actually means for you and I is that when we design a plan of action in order to help develop a new habit, we must find the key to tying happiness or pride directly to the cue itself; but maintain a routine that must happen before the reward is received. This is where cravings initiate; when a person (for instance) grows to associate something as simple as the opening of a carbonated beverage with happiness, because the brain already recognizes this chain of events that leads to the reward of having a soda.

It is a little more difficult to purposely develop this feeling in ourselves, but it is possible- with some effort on our parts, and access to good information. We all have the power to change, and the fact that you’re reading this shows that you’re ready to begin!