The Anatomy of a Habit

26.06.2017 |

Episode #2 of the course How to change any habit by John Fawkes


In the second lesson of the course, we’re going to talk about what makes a habit and how they work. You’re going to learn four components of a habit, and then you’re going to pick the first bad habit you want to change, and identify each of its four components.

But first, let’s be clear on what habits are.


What Is and Is Not a Habit

You may have heard people say that they want to get into the habit of doing something. There are three things that make a habit a habit.

First, a habit is a specific behavior, not an overall goal or pattern of behavior. Going to the gym after work is a habit. Staying in shape is not.

Second, a habit is something you do regularly in a particular situation. If you always (or at least, frequently) waste time browsing the internet when you should be working, that’s a habit. If you cheat on your diet once or twice a month, that’s not a habit.

Third, a habit requires little or no psychological effort to engage in—it’s largely automatic. Absentminded snacking is effortless. Going to the gym after work may or may not require a lot of psychological effort on your part.

By these definitions, a new behavior you start to engage in isn’t usually a habit. It becomes a habit once you’ve followed it for so long that it becomes second nature.


The Habit Loop

According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, every habit has four components. These components, put together, form the habit loop.

The first component is the cue—something that signals you to begin engaging in the habit.

The second is the routine—the thing you do. Most people think of a habit as only being the routine, but the routine can be understood without knowing the context in which it happens and what motivates you to do it.

The third is the reward—something you get as a result of the routine, which reinforces your behavior.

Finally, there’s a craving that drives your desire for the reward. Remember from the last lesson that motivation can be extrinsic or intrinsic.

For example, one habit might be that every time you leave home to go to work (cue), you go to McDonald’s and get a milkshake (routine), then you drink it (reward), which you enjoy because it tastes sugary (craving for flavor).

Or, a habit could be that when you sit down at your desk (cue), you write an article and post it to your blog (routine), and then see how many views it gets (reward), which you value because it makes you feel good about yourself (craving for accomplishment).


Exercise: Habit Loop Identification

For today’s exercise, you’re going to pick the first of two habits you’ll be changing in this course. Choose one bad habit that you’d like to get rid of, one that relates to the goal you selected in the first exercise. Identify the cue, routine, and reward for that habit, as well as the craving that drives it, and write them down.


Recommended book

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg


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