Updated: Nov 9, 2019
There are three elements that make up the habit loop.
Cues are triggers that prompt the body to do an automatic response. These cues can fall into one or more of these categories: Time: When the habit took place (time, day, month, season etc)
Location: Where the habit took place (home, conference room, dinner table, couch, work, etc)
Event: The moment preceding the habit (meeting, walking dog, texting etc)
Emotions: Emotions felt before habit happened (anxious, happy, angry, bored, etc)
People: Who was around before the habit happened (boss, friend, parent etc)
When one of these cues take place, you will automatically perform the routine.
Routine is that automated response you do upon receiving a cue. When building new habits, the routine is what you want to change or develop. This could include behaviors like exercise, eating healthy, and watching less TV.
Reward is the positive reinforcement that you gain by doing the routine. The reward will act as your motivation to your cues. This positive reinforcement can range from a cookie, a trip to the mall, or 30 minutes of watch time! It was discovered that cues also motivate our habits. Cues play a huge role in the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for the ability to feel pleasure. It is easy to assume dopamine is released whenever you gain a reward, but Robert Sapolsky's experiment showed that the dopamine system is highly sensitive to the cue that a reward is going to happen. It is actually the anticipation of the reward that causes the release of dopamine into the system. For more information about Robert Sapolsky's experiment, check out my science of habits playlist.
A very common habit loop that people have is walking their dog in the morning to provide their dog relief. The cue is time because it's done every morning. The routine is walking the dog and the reward is it keeps you and and the dog healthy!
When you are building a new habit, you need to first identify all your habits, whether its checking your social media or brushing your teeth. This can help you decide which habits you want to keep, replace, or build upon. If you identify your habits, you can use the habit loop to your advantage by using it to identify all of your cues. Finding out what triggers your habits is powerful because you can now develop a strategy to making, breaking, or changing your habits. Here's how!
If you want to make a new habit, you could make one of your existing habits into a cue.
When you want to break or change a habit, being aware of the cue can help you perform a replacement habit instead of the usual one.
Gain awareness of your habit cues by downloading my free Habit Identifying Template. It will help you become more mindful of when you are likely to perform a specific habit. For example, if you have the bad habit of drinking soda, first identify the cues. This vital piece of information could help you moderate drinking soda. Is it a location, time, event, person, or emotion? When you find out what your cues are, you can try to remove the cue or make it difficult to do the habit.
If you find that your cue is passing by the vending machine at work, you should try to stop passing by the vending machine. If you don't pass the vending machine, you won't receive the cue to drink soda! If you identify the cue is whenever you have cash you buy soda, you should stop carrying cash. This will make it difficult to perform that habit!
For more information on how to effectively use the habit loop, watch my video on how to build self discipline and make habits stick.