Have you ever wanted to start a habit and failed miserably? Perhaps you didn’t have the motivation to get started. Perhaps you started and didn’t keep up with it. Either way, it can be quite frustrating. You know what you want to do and ask yourself why you aren’t doing it.
On the other hand, there may be bad habits that you want to break but continue to struggle with. You may wonder why it is so hard to stop doing things that you know are unhelpful for your goals even when you consciously try to change these habits.
I recently read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. In it he discusses the process we go through to form habits, breaking it down in what he called “the habit loop.”
Let’s look at this cycle and see how we can use it to our advantage.
Overview of the Cycle
According to Clear, all habits are formed by the promise of reward through a four-step process called the habit loop. This loop consists of a cue, desire, response, and reward.
Our brains continually scan our environment for information. When the information presented predicts a reward Clear calls it a “cue.” Once the cue is noticed, a “craving” may happen where your desire of wanting the reward builds.
Finally, if the craving gives you enough motivation, it’s time for the “response.” The response is simply what you do to satisfy the craving. But we aren’t finished there, in order for a habit to be formed you must actually experience the “reward” in a satisfying way.
The final step in the habit cycle is just as important as the first. Without experiencing the “reward,” the habit will not stick. In fact, without each of these steps, a habit will not be formed.
As the loop is repeated over time, the cue is associated with the reward. This begins the cycle again and eventually, a habit will form. If any one of these steps is missing, the loop will not be completed and a habit will not form.
Most of the time this loop is a subconscious process. To understand the habit loop a little better, let’s look at some examples of how this may look in real life.
*Atomic Habits, by James Clear
Forming or Breaking a Habit
Knowing this information is good, but understanding how to use it to create or break habits is where there’s power. According to Clear, “you can think of each law as a lever that influences human behavior. When the levers are in the right positions, creating good habits is effortless. When they are in the wrong positions, it is nearly impossible.”
To form a habit:
The 1st law (Cue) - make it obvious.
The 2nd law (Craving) - make it attractive.
The 3rd law (Response) - make it easy.
The 4th law (Reward) - make it satisfying
To break a habit:
The 1st law (Cue) - make it invisible.
The 2nd law (Craving) - make it unattractive.
The 3rd law (Response) - make it difficult.
The 4th law (Reward) - make it unsatisfying
I’d love to hear about habits you have formed or broken. It would be neat to break it down and see what the habit loop looked like for you.
P.S. Check out this article to learn more about creating or breaking habits.