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A Habit’s Loop

May 17 2013

There’s a whole lot of research out there explaining how habits are formed.  With all of the available factors and variables, however, the consensus comes down to a specific framework of action items:


1.    Choose the habit
2.    Identify the loop
3.    Pinpoint your routine
4.    Experiment with rewards
5.    Isolate the cue
6.    Have a plan
7.    And … ACTION!

Because forming and changing habits is such an important part of a wellness plan, we’ll be devoting several challenges to this concept.  For now, we’ll focus on the first two:  choose the habit and identify the loop.

The first step in forming or changing a habit is to figure out exactly what we want to form or change.  Would you rather not think twice about choosing a handful of protein-packed nuts instead of sugary candy for that much-needed energy boost?  Or perhaps you’d like to turn that occasional workout into part of your natural routine?  Take a moment to identify the specific habit that you want to form or change.

Now that you have a habit in mind, it’s time to identify the loop.  A group of MIT researchers found, and others have confirmed, a simple neurological loop at the core of every habit:  cue, routine, and reward.  Every habit has a cue that triggers a specific routine and ends with a specific reward.  For a snacker, the elements may be:

Cue:  Sit down to watch TV
Routine:  Grab a bag of chips
Reward:  Salty, crunchy, satisfying … mmmmm!

In order to change a habit, we must first identify each part of the loop that we created when forming that habit.  Once each element of the loop has been identified, we can make a conscious effort to change the pattern of behaviors and replace the bad habit with a good habit.


TODAY’S CHALLENGE:  Pick a habit you’d like to change and write down each element of the habit’s loop.  Start with the cue … what sets this habit in motion?  Do you look at the clock, see a specific time, and then get soda on the brain?  Once you have your cue, you can move on to the routine.  Do you grab a muffin for breakfast every day at the same local coffee shop?  Once you have identified the routine, the last step is to ask yourself, “what is the reward?”  Is the reward the satisfying taste of that soda or muffin?  Is it a needed change of scenery or temporary distraction?  The more conscious you are of the habit, the easier it is to change/form!

Information courtesy of Sonic Boom Wellness