Forming Healthy Habits: The Science Behind Why You Do What You Do
5th Jul 2021
Forming healthy habits is more than just a mindset (although that is a crucial piece).
It’s a science; neuroscience, to be exact.
The “Habit Loop” is a concept that provides the framework for thinking about habit formation and destruction. To understand your own habits, you need to identify the components of your loops. Once you have diagnosed the habit loop of a particular behavior, you can look for ways to supplement old vices with new routines.
Understanding the Habit Loop
Understanding the neurological process of forming a habit can help you control and differentiate the good from the bad. There are three components to the habit loop.
- - Cue: A trigger that encourages a specific behavior.
- - Routine: A culmination of the actual habit and what comes before and after it.
- - Reward: The achieved outcome or desired effect
Types of Habit Cues
There are five primary types of cues in the habit loop. These are actions that prompt the habit to occur.
- - Time
- - Location
- - Preceding Events
- - Emotional State
- - Other People
Take a close look at the time that some of your habits occur, such as brushing your teeth as soon as you wake up, or having a glass of wine in the evening. Where you do things, like passing the grocery store and stopping for snacks can be a location cue. Have you gotten a text and then realize that you are spending an unreasonable amount of time checking your social media? How you feel and who you surround yourself with can also cue your habits. Learn more about habit cues and how you can use them to your advantage.
A routine is the usual series of things that you do at a particular time. A routine is also the practice of regularly doing things in a fixed order. Your routine defines your habits.
Routines are one of the greatest tools we have to deliberately create good habits. Routines, unlike habits, are NOT automatic. They require you to be deliberate: turning the lights of before you leave the house, going on a walk once a day, drinking water throughout the day, etc.
Becoming attentive to your daily routines is a great way to create positive habits. Learn more about habits, routines, and rituals.
When it comes to habits, rewards refer to what the behavior does for you. Rewards reinforce routines and help keep habits firmly in place.
Brushing your teeth rewards you with good breath. Texting your significant other on your lunch break rewards you with a deeper connection. Eating a whole bag of cookies rewards you with a full stomach. Like habits, not all rewards are great for you.
Goals vs Habit Rewards
Changing habits is difficult to say the least. Now that you understand the habit loop (Cue, Routine, Reward) identify the habit you would like to address. If you have already done that, more power to you!
Your ultimate reward can be something big like losing 20 lbs (this is more of an overall goal than a habit reward), but it is the little habits such as not putting three tablespoons of sugar in your coffee every day that are going to get you there.
Stop judging yourself. Stop looking for the end goal. There is no end when you are forming a habit. It shouldn’t stop when you lose 10 pounds or when you run out of vegetables in the refrigerator. If it’s not sustainable, it’s not your answer. You got this!