Real Talk: How to Form Good Habits & Break Bad Habits

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Real Talk: How to Form Good Habits & Break Bad Habits - Thomas DeLauer

First, there is the cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use - it’s a trigger from the environment that tells your brain to go into autopilot and which habit to use

Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional action you take whenever presented with the cue

Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future - it’s what you get from the habit that fulfills a craving in your brain

Over time, this loop becomes more and more automatic - the cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges

When this pattern of “cue-routine-reward” gets repeated many times it becomes more and more automatic

This is because the more we repeat it, the more it gets wired into our brains (in neuroscience, this is called “long-term potentiation”)

However, by better understanding habit loops, we can more easily disrupt the cycle and rewire our brains to new habits

Every time a trigger precedes a habit, our brains strengthen the association between a habit and its trigger

As an association between a habit and a trigger increases, the habit becomes more and more ingrained until we can perform our habits on full auto-pilot

How to Create a Good Habit

Many people fail to adequately reward themselves for taking action on a beneficial habit

Most addictive and destructive habits have a built in reward system that requires little or no input from you

Smoking or drinking are all easy habits to adopt because they light up your brain with the neurotransmitter dopamine (and a slew of other pleasure chemicals)

These substances naturally reward your brain and encourage continued usage even though they are harmful to your overall health

On the other hand, many positive habits such as exercise, meditation, focused work, and healthy eating don’t have immediately obvious rewards

Yes, after extended practice, exercise, meditation, and focused work will all become activities that naturally stimulate your brain in positive ways and reward you for taking action, but they need a little bit of help to get started

How to Break a Bad Habit/Change a Habit

So what you need to do is identify your habit loop:


A trigger is defined as an event that kicks off the automatic urge to complete a habit - triggers are the key to forming new habits and breaking old ones, so simply put, triggers make the habit action happen

A trigger can be anything in our environment which our brains associate with a habit - these contextual factors such as where we are, who we are with, and what just happened have a powerful and invisible effect upon our behavior.

An understanding of our triggers is essential for an ability to break old habits - our old habits are constantly being reinforced by their triggers as we tend to repeat what we previously did in a similar situation

If the trigger for an old habit never occurs, the habit loop is interrupted - without repeated reinforcement, the association between habit and trigger weakens through neglect

Therefore, if we can eliminate our exposure to triggers for old habits, we can eliminate the habits themselves


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6) Putting habit into practice, and practice into habit: a process evaluation and exploration of the acceptability of a habit-based dietary behaviour change intervention. (n.d.). Retrieved from
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