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The Habit Loop

Habits are much more powerful than we realize. So often we act out of what we are used to, what we know, what we have done in the past instead of making a better choice. A choice in the moment that might be for our higher good. In researching for this issue, we saw that oftentimes, detrimental behaviors can be modified by focusing on changing patterns, and forming new neural pathways. Now, we aren’t saying that we’re giving up our shrinks. But how empowering to have the tools to make significant change by identifying the kind of choices you want to be making and habitualizing them? Charles Duhigg, in his fascinating book The Power of Habit, investigates habits both in individuals and large corporations. It provides some fascinating insight into just how much our lives are ruled by habit, both at home and at work.


How to Create New Habits, and Change Old Ones

These charts, made from the concepts in his book illustrate how to make and break a habit. In the book, Duhigg breaks habits down into “habit-loops”: “First there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then, there is a routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop—cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward—becomes more and more automatic.”


Click image for larger version


Click image for larger version

Courtesy of Random House


Things to keep in mind about habits…


Be Aware:

As Duhigg explains, “A number of studies show that informing people about their habits makes them easier to control. They don’t need to be looking for the cues and rewards, but just being aware of repetition actually helps people a lot.”

Keystone Habits:

We also learned about habits that can trigger other positive habits: “There are some habits—called keystone habits—that can cause a chain reaction through someone’s life or an organization. A great example of a keystone habit is exercise. When people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they often start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives. Typically, people who exercise start eating better and getting to work earlier. They smoke less, and show more patience. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. It’s not completely clear why, but for many people, exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.”

“When people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they often start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives.”

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