Infographics: How habits work?

Habit loopI’ve been recently writing about how to change bad habits and how the habit loop looks like. This loop makes us follow the pattern ‘cue->routine->reward.’

However, we’re not always able to say why we act in a certain way or what is the reason behind our actions. Sometimes we reach for a pattern unconsciously and unreflectively, we do something like a robot, something we don’t even want to do, seemingly having no influence on it.

In order to identify the reason behind such behavior, we need to identify the cue, that is, the trigger of a habit and the reward, that is, a state or behavior, for which we subconsciously have strong desire just before the habit starts.

Ho to identify the cue?

According to the book ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg, every cue triggering certain pattern may be put into one of these five categories:

  1. Location
  2. Time
  3. Emotional state
  4. Other people
  5. Immediately preceding event

In order to figure out the cue we need ‘data’. Where to take it from? It’s easy – you just have to sit and write down the answers to five simple questions every time you observe a certain behavior:

  1. Where are you?
  2. What time is it?
  3. What’s your emotional state?
  4. Who else is around?
  5. What action preceded the urge?

Give yourself some time and you should be able to identify which cue is triggering your habit. I myself, identified a typical situation in which ‘gorging on cookies’ habit triggers: 1. Conference room, 2. P.M., 3. Tired after work, 4. People who came for the meeting, 5. Replying to emails or concept work. This is how I realized that being tired because of work triggers the urge of raising the sugar level and feeling relaxed. And because I’m exhausted, I don’t have enough willpower to refrain from eating, unlike in the morning.

To identify the reward

you have act in a similar way, namely, write down on a piece of paper what you feel after performing certain habit. After taking a few notes you should be able to identify the reward – is it physical or emotional state?

And if the habit is unwanted and we want to replace it, then, except for changing the habit (for example: eating an apple instead of cookies), it is best to make sure if the reward is fulfilling your brain’s needs.

A way to do this could be setting your clock 20 minutes later and checking if the feeling of desire is still there. What may happen is that after eating the apple, and after 20 minutes, we are still in a need of eating the cookies lying in front of us. If such situation occurs we can experiment with a different habit. If we can find another habit to replace the first one with – bingo – we have the cure, which will cause our brain to think: „OK – I’ve got my reward!”

…and this is how we can get rid of the unwanted behavior.

Good luck!

Print out short infographic below:

How to change habit


 Refresh icon designed by Luboš Volkov from the Noun Project