A habit is a 3-step loop: Cue, Routine, Reward

In the book, “The Power of Habit”, writer Charles Duhigg discusses a three-step loop involved with every habit: A cue, a routine, and a reward.

The cue is the trigger that makes the brain start searching for the right habit to use. The routine is the actual “thing” we do (could be mental, physical or emotional), and the reward is the benefit you get from this process which reinforces that it’s worth doing again. The more this plays out, the stronger this loop gets.

The first step in changing unwanted habits is that you need to respect this three-step loop. Our brain is wired to follow it.

Duhigg’s recommendation is to change the routine to a healthier behavior insomuch that it produces the same reward.

For example: Let’s say you wake up every morning and have a cup of coffee. In this situation, the initial cue is feeling tired, the routine is drinking coffee, and the reward is feeling more alert. The cue will remain the same and it will require the same reward, but we’ll want to find a different routine to accomplish it.

Perhaps you take a green juice instead of coffee. Or do ten pushups to wake the body up. Or take 30 deep breaths to get more oxygen into your bloodstream.

You get to play around with what new routine you’d like to implement, but if it doesn’t serve the same reward, you’ll be unhappy, and the brain will often resort to old ways.