The Habit Loop

I started reading the Power of Habit for one main reason. I wanted to learn why I have some bad habits and how to change them. One is I have trouble getting going in the morning. This is something I have struggled with since I can remember. My brother Billy was always a morning person. He’d jump out of bed at 5 am. I, on the other hand, had mastered the snooze button at an early age.

Charles Duhigg in the beginning of his book talks about the process of chunking and how habits are actually formed. “This process – in which the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine – is known as ‘chunking,’ and it’s at the root of how habits form. There are dozens -So if not hundreds – of behavioral chunks that we rely on every day.”¹

And we owe it all to our basal ganglia. “So our basal ganglia have devised a clever system to determine when to let habits take over. It’s something that happens whenever a chunk of behavior starts or ends.”²

What’s even more awesome is there is a behavior loop. We all know that habits are automatic. That’s kind of it’s definition. Why is it that some habits are so hard to break? Why is it that the older we get that these habits get even more engrained? These are more questions I’ve had about the process.

If there are things that I could improve could it all be in changing my habits? Are those who appear more successful just doing a series of habits that got them there? How can I reshape my habits to become the person I really want to be?

The process starts with the habit loop. Charles defines this process in three simple steps:

“This process within our brains is a three step loop. First there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into  automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is the reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.” ³

So to go over what he just discussed…

  1. Cue (trigger)
  2. Routine
  3. Reward

I’ve tried to make myself start a habit and it doesn’t work that way. Why? Because along comes a cue that triggers me to do an old routine with old rewards. For example, going to McDonalds, cue is the Golden Arches and a rumbling tummy. The routine is buying fast food. The reward is the salty, greasy fries and sugary coke. Of course, later we pay for it. So in order to change these routines we have to start by consciously changing our routines and rewards.

The reward needs to be immediate and not way off in the future either. It can be small, just immediate so that your brain remembers that the cue equals the reward. Otherwise it won’t stick as a habit.  So in order to work on curbing my morning routine, I will start drinking coffee and reading in the morning in my favorite green chair.  I have a feeling that will lead me to great things! We’ll see. Now that I’ve put it out there, I have you to keep me honest.

  • Cue – Uptown Funk Alarm 6:30am (No Snoozing!)
  • Routine – Waking up early, sitting in green chair and reading
  • Reward – Starting the day with reading and introspection, not feeling rushed

Do you have a habit you would like to change? What is your cue, routine, reward?

Sarah Jackson

Vigilant Poster Girl

Read along with us The Power of Habit 


From “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg

  1. Pg 17 
  2. Pg 18
  3. Pg 19 


  1. Pingback: Habit Change ~ How I “Really” Became a Morning Person – Vigilant Poster Girl

  2. Pingback: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg ~ Wednesday’s Book of the Week – Vigilant Poster Girl

  3. Pingback: Keystone Habits – Vigilant Poster Girl

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