Habit Loops: Why We Do The Things We Do


Habit Loops: Why We Do The Things We Do

Habit Loops: Why we do the things we do. 

Approximately 45% of what we do (and don’t do) is because of habits we have formed. 

Habits can occur outside of our consciousness or they can be deliberately designed. They can even occur without our permission (like developing the habit of going to a fast food place for lunch or dinner).

In order to change or remove a certain habit, we must identify the 3 components. This takes some investigating.

There are 3 parts to a habit loop:

  1. Cue. This is the trigger that starts the habit. It can be a location, visual trigger, time of day, a smell, an emotional state, other people or a series of other behaviors.
  2. Routine. This is the behavior itself. These can be simple or very complex.
  3. Reward. The most important part. It’s why the habit exists in the first place. This can be food, drugs or emotional payoffs like praise, pride or self gratification.

Identifying all 3 components of your habit loop is your first step to changing them.

This requires monitoring your behavior and emotional state around the habit. This can be tricky – particularly the reward component. 

But once you have these 3 components, you can then change one or all of them to create a new habit.

Let’s look at an example of the habit of eating cookies every day, in the breakroom at work.

This habit has led to weight gain or has sabotaged your weight loss efforts. It’s super annoying – you know you WANT to stop eating cookies but some reason it’s been a tough habit to kick.

After a few days of taking notes around your behaviors, environment and emotional state, you identified all 3 components!

Here is what you discovered…

Everyday when you got the urge to get that cookie, you noted the time, the environment you were in, the people who were present and your emotions around the craving.

After several days of tracking, you identified the craving would strike between 3:15pm – 3:45pm, no matter where you were in the office or what type of day you were having.

Cue: time of day at work (between 3:15pm-3:45pm)

The routine is obvious: eating the cookie.

It is THE thing you want to change.

Now you need to determine the true reward around the routine/eating the cookie.

Don’t guess or assume… Experiment. Track. Document.

The reward can be the tricky part. In order to figure out what the reward is, you changed the routine to see if you experienced the same feelings/satisfaction.

  • One day, you ate a candy bar instead. 
  • Another day you went for a walk instead of eating anything.
  • On the third day, you went to the breakroom like normal but you skipped eating anything. Instead, you just talked and gossiped.

After experimenting and tracking your emotions after the routines, you realized the reward was socializing – NOT EATING THE COOKIE!

Habit Loop: Eating a Cookie

Cue: 3:15pm – 3:45pm

Routine: Going to breakroom to eat cookie for 10 minutes

Reward: Socializing, connecting with people, laughing. 

This is an example of a habit that formed unintentionally and without your permission. 

The reward is how your brain learns to save sequences of behaviors and encodes it for future use. Do these sequences enough and they turn into habits. Habits can form fast or slow, depending on the complexity and your mindset around the habit.

There is something else that is very interesting about habits… They are powerful but delicate.

If a cue changes slightly, habits can fall apart. 

This can be a good or bad thing.

For example, you have a habit/routine of working out at 5:30am. The cue for this routine is setting your gym bag out the night before so you see if first thing in the morning.

If you forget to set your bag out the night before, you’re more likely to skip your workout.

Skip this cue enough times, you skip your workout over and over again.

Soon enough, you no longer have the habit of exercise. You’ve developed a new habit (regardless if you consciously chose to do this or not)

This is why highly successful people and champions are meticulous about their routines, environments, schedules, social influences, etc.

Champions don’t do extraordinary things – they do ordinary things religiously. 

They’re consistent. They develop habits. They ensure their “cues” are always in place.

Creating A New Habit

To create a new habit, you need 2 steps:

  1. Find a simple and obvious cue
  2. Clearly define the reward (positive reinforcement is more powerful than a negative consequence)

The more you do this new sequence, the faster it’ll become a habit.

And the more you do the habit, the faster the reward happens even before the action/routine occurs.  The reward will become present with ANTICIPATION of the routine.

What makes habits stick, during times of stress.

I mentioned earlier that habits are powerful but also delicate. One of the biggest factors that cause habits to fall apart is stress.

People can typically maintain their habits when stress is low and routines remain intact. In moments of high stress and pressure, habits fall apart (for most people).

After studying people that have achieved great things in their life, overcame adversities and continued their habits in spite of stress….

There was a common denominator that was discovered. 


Belief in a religion. Believe in a bigger meaning. Belief in a powerful why. Belief that things will get better. Belief that they are worthy and capable.

If we do not believe that the desired outcome is possible, we will not take action in order to achieve it. This is why defining a powerful why for every goal is important.

Community increases belief.

Developing belief is done fastest in a community – negative or positive.

This is why social influence is so important to your behaviors.

This community is PROOF that what you desire is possible.

This community can provide borrowed confidence and belief that you are capable and WORTHY of your goal.

When we falter in our belief, our community is there to remind us of what we can do and achieve.

To wrap up the Habit Loop Concept… 

  • A habit is a behavior that has been repeated enough times to become automatic.
  • The ultimate purpose of habits is to solve the problems of life with little energy and effort as possible
  • Any habit can be broken down into the feedback loop that involves cue, craving and reward
  • Habits are highly malleable… Neuroscience and psychology proves that you can change any habit, at any stage of your life.. Regardless of how long its been in place.

If you’re wanting to make changes to your habits (eliminate, replace and create new ones), apply the tactics above.

  • Nicole Race, Owner Elevate St Pete