The Power of Habit

As humans, our days consist mainly of collections of habits and routines. From the time we wake up until the time we go to bed, we don’t give much thought to our basic  activities. There’s a reason for this- it helps us conserve mental energy for creative thinking and other mental work.

For example, imagine going to the grocery store and having to decide what to buy from scratch, from the thousands of products on the shelves- every time! You can see how our habits and routines save time and energy.

Sometimes, however, we fall into habits that don’t serve us so well, and we want to create a new habit. As anyone who has ever made New Year’s resolutions know, it’s not as easy as it sounds!

Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit- Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, explores this challenging area and describes a plan to change pesky bad habits into good ones.

The Power of Habit outlines the basic habit loop. It consists of three parts: a cue, a routine and a reward.

For example:

Cue: your teeth feel furry

Routine: your brush your teeth

Reward: a fresh, minty mouth.

We know a habit loop is established when  any undelivered reward sets off a craving that keeps the cycle in motion. For example, you order dessert in a restaurant (cue) and it doesn’t arrive, and you get grumpy or irritable (sign of craving). When you get home you raid the cookie jar to satisfy the craving.

Simply denying ourselves is ineffective over the long run- it only triggers powerful cravings for the very thing we’re trying to change!


How to Change a Habit

According to Duhigg, once a habit is established, it always exists. That’s why people who have exercised daily for years, stop, or why people who have quit smoking for years, start again. There was a pre-existing habit the person fell back into.

We can’t get rid of a habit but we can change the ones we have. The way to do this by keeping the same cue and reward, and substituting a new routine.

The existing habit may be this:

Cue: you’re working at your desk and it’s 3:30 in the afternoon

Routine: you go to the cafeteria and eat a chocolate chip cookie

Reward: you have fresh energy to do another chunk of work


A new habit could be this:

Cue: you’re working at your desk and it’s 3:30 in the afternoon

Routine: you go for a brisk walk with a colleague and discuss a mutual interest

Reward: fresh energy to do another chunk of work


It can take some time to get clear about what your cues and rewards are, but then it’s relatively easy to substitute a new routine. After that it’s a matter of practising the new habit until it’s established.

With this new information, I’ll be looking at the habits and routines I’ve been trying to establish this year, with mixed success. Next week I’ll share some of my findings and insights.


Your Challenge

Here’s a good challenge for you: identify a cue-routine-reward loop for one habit you’d like to change and post it in the comments below. What routine could serve you better?

Bonus Points awarded if your habit loop creates more inspiration, freedom, sense of possibility,  or any other really good feeling you want more of in your life!

I would love to coach with you! To find out how coaching can help you live you live happy and fulfilled, let’s have a conversation about it!

Live your best life now and make your difference in the world!