The Habit Loop: What You Need To Know About Your Mind to Form Good Habits

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Most people think building good habits is all about motivation and having the will to push yourself, but true success in breaking bad habits comes from being smarter about how you approach the issue.

And what better way to be smarter about forming good habits than by understanding the neurological process of habits.

The first thing you need to be aware of is that all habits follow a simple process that occurs in three steps.

These are:

The Trigger: the cue that starts the habit

The Routine: the habit you perform

The Reward: the value of the routine that makes it worthwhile

This is called The Habit Loop, and it’s explained in detail by Charles Duhigg in his best-selling book, The Power of Habit.

Understanding the fundamentals of these three points that make up the cycle of The Habit Loop is vital to increase your chances of success in forming good habits.

We’ll go over each point to arm you with the knowledge of how habits work.




The Trigger:

This is what prompts you to begin performing your habit.

Think about your daily morning routine, the trigger for your morning shower or brewing that first cup of coffee is the act of waking up and getting out of bed.

It’s a really simple equation; The trigger prompts you to begin the routine, completing the routine prompts the reward, the reward prompts you to do it again to get another reward.

Thus the cycle repeats.

James Clear wrote a fantastic article explaining the 5 primary triggers for most humans, we definitely recommend checking it out, but we’ll also go over James’ information briefly.

  • Time:

My earlier example of your morning routine is considered to be a time-based trigger; it’s the morning, so that’s when you trigger the habit of taking a shower or making your cup of coffee.

  • Location:

This is a big one; we’ve mentioned before that your environment is one of the most vital aspects of breaking bad habits or forming good habits.

And that’s because where you are impacts your decision making and impulse control; if you spend a lot of time somewhere with alcohol, you’re more likely to drink, which will build the habit of drinking in your mind.

Alternatively, if you spend a lot of time somewhere that promotes good health, like a juice bar, for instance, you’re more likely to drink juice, and that will promote the habit of drinking healthy.

The other important thing to know about the location trigger is that your common locations - your home, workplace, hangout spot, etc. - are deeply connected with your regular routine, which can make it hard to develop new habits.

But if you go somewhere new, you will not have any location-based triggers, meaning you’ll have an easier time developing good habits if you’re somewhere you’ve never been to before.

This is why some people can find massive success by starting a new life with a clean slate; they are no longer tied to their location-based triggers.

  • Prior Event

Some of your habits can be tied to the exact event the happens before you perform the habit. Your phone vibrates so you check your notifications, a new episode of your favorite show is released, so you click on that shit with a quickness!

You can use this to your advantage by using your habits that are triggered by prior events to build new good habits.

This ability is called habit stacking, and it basically involves using pre-existing habits as a foundation to develop a new habit.

Say you want to start stretching in the mornings, you can tie your habit of making a cup of coffee to this new habit by telling yourself, “I will stretch for five minutes after I finish my morning cup of coffee.”

This is great because it also works as a SMART Goal (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-based).

  • Emotional State

If you’ve ever lit a cigarette or took a swig from the bottle because you were feeling sad, then you’re definitely familiar with the emotional state trigger.

This one is a very slippery slope because for most people your emotional state triggers bad habits.

Boredom, loneliness, anger, sadness trigger smoking, drinking, yelling, fighting.

  • People

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. - Jim Rohn

Jim’s quote is the perfect way to define this trigger; who you spend time with will directly impact your daily rituals.

If your friends are stoners, you’re more likely to smoke too.

If your friends are all about the gym, you’re more likely to hit the gym too.

If you want further proof, a research paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that if your spouse became obese, you’re 37% more likely to become obese too!

People around you and your location are the two biggest and impactful triggers, which is why if you want to form good habits, you need to make sure your environment supports that, and the people around you make it easy to work on those good habits.

The Routine:

This is the central point of the Habit Loop cycle, and it represents the habit you are performing.

The important thing for you to do regarding your routines is to recognize and evaluate them.

You need to recognize them so you know when your bad habits are in play, this will give you better self-awareness that will lead to greater self-control.

You need to evaluate them so you can measure just how much a particular routine affects you.

A perfect example of this would be to time yourself every time you go for a smoke, add up the minutes throughout the day, and what you’re left with is how much time you lose each day feeding your smoking habit.

The Reward:

This is the value of your habit; your brain decides that the routine (your habit) is worth keeping around by the reward you receive.

Our brains love positive reinforcement, and if our routine provides a sufficient enough reward, you’re more likely to continue that routine.

The reason why cigarettes are such an easy habit to develop is that the reward is tied into the habit; the nicotine high becomes so deeply ingrained to your mind and ends with you becoming dependent on it.

Alternatively, productive habits are great because they can trigger the release of dopamine, which is pretty much the natural way we reward ourselves.

Understanding what reward you get for what habit is vital for evaluating a habit. If you know what you’re getting out of a particular bad habit, then you’ll have more tools to your advantage to break that bad habit.




Armed with the information of the Habit Loop, you’re now more aware of how habits form and take hold in your mind.

Understanding your habits is the first step to breaking bad habits and developing good ones; you’re basically getting a clearer picture of where you stand, and what routines make up your foundation as a human.

If you’re skeptical of the benefits of the Habit Loop, just ask yourself this;

“Would it be easier for me to change if I understood why I have a certain habit, what I get out of it, and what causes me to perform it, or should I just focus on the change I want to make 100%?”

We’re all about promoting greater self-knowledge and understanding so you can use that to your advantage to shape your reality to whatever you want.

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