Understanding Habits

In the previous post I talked about habits and how it is more important to build good habits instead of trying to stop bad ones. Now, we’re going to take a closer look into habits, what they are, how they are made, and how to change them. I will mostly be using the book “The Power of Habit: why we do what we do in life and business” by Charles Duhigg as my source. I mentioned this book before and that’s because its a great book, it’s not based on opinion or common sense, it is actually backed by studies and research, and takes a look at habits in a scientific way. It’s educational and just a good read overall.

So,  what is a habit?

All habits consists of three components: the cue, the routine, and the reward.

The cue could be many things, it could be the time of day, or could be a feeling, or even seeing or smelling something. The cue is the spark that triggers the routine.

The routine is the action, in short the part where you’re either working out or eating a muffin.

The reward is the key to it all, it is the drive, and the reason you engage in the habit in the first place. Figuring out the reward is tricky, because often times the reason you think you do something, is not the actual reward.

So now that you know what a habit is, you can begin to analyze the habits you want to change and even figure out how to make new ones. To do that you’re going to need patience, self-monitoring, and some trial and error. First what you want to do is pay attention to what you’re cue is. Try to notice what is happening around you, what you are feeling, or what time of day it is when you get the craving for that particular habit. This will bring awareness to your actions, which most people usually try to avoid, but if you’re serious about changing, it is something that you’re going to have to get used to. Next you’re going to analyze the whole routine, no detail is too small. The reason is because emotions tend to manifest themselves in weird ways when one tries to avoid them. For example, when you might be feeling unloved or lonely you might watch porn. Or if you’re sad or in pain you may turn to pot or alcohol. That leads to the last thing which is finding the reward. This is why it’s important to pay attention to every detail, because sometimes what you think you want is not actually what you need. Also at this point you’re going to do a little experimenting, and switch up the routine. This way you can see what satisfies the craving, and that’s how you know know what your reward is.

In the book, Charles wants to stop a habit of eating a cooky every day, because he was packing on the pounds. He figured out his cue was the time of day, it was always around the same time when he craved the cooky. He then analyzed his routine, he would go to the cafeteria, buy a cooky and eat it while chatting with colleges. Lastly he changed up the routine to figure out what his reward was. He would go to the cafeteria and get a different snack, he would have a snack ready at his desk for when the craving came up, and he also tried going to the cafeteria, buying nothing and just chatting with colleges. That is when he figured out that it wasn’t the cooky he craved, it was actually socialization. After he realized that, he was able to change his habit. Every day at the same time he would get up and go chat with colleges and return to his desk, without getting a cooky, which lead to losing 12 pounds.

It may seem like a lot of work, but if you really want to kick a habit and change your life, the work you that you put in will be nothing compared to the satisfaction and reward of living life by you’re own rules.


Keystone habits are habits that lead to the implementation of other habits. In other words research showed that some habits actually make it easier to adopt more habits and kick bad habits for good. It’s almost like a domino effect, and a change in one area can spread to other areas of your life that also needed change. This is why it is more important to build a good habit, instead of just torturing yourself trying to avoid a bad one. It is also why you want to focus on one habit at a time. In other words some habits take priority over other habits.

The reason behind this is something called “small wins”, there is something about the feeling of winning, even at a small scale, that leads to the desire for more winning. This does not mean winning every day or succeeding at everything you try. It simply means that scattered wins throughout a week, or a month despite failures, created the feeling that bigger accomplishments are possible. The smalls wins act as fuel for motivation, and also serve as a reference for progress. As good keystone habits become more ingrained in the mind, more and more good habits become feasible and easier to embrace.

Lastly, keystone habits lead to a culture of people who support each other, and have similar goals. That is why programs like AA are so successful, and why going to church/temple keeps your faith strong. It is also why it is easier to make exercising a habit when you work out with a friend

Exercise: This is the top keystone habit. It leads to better eating habits, discipline, and overall well being. What research showed was that when people began to make working out a habit, almost without realizing people began to change their diet too. When surveyed most people reported that they did not want the work at the gym to go to waste by eating junk food. Also exercise has been shown to increase energy and drive, which can makes for a less stressed and more focused you.

keeping a journal/log: This is an incredibly powerful habit that is often overlooked. In a study or fourteen hundred obese people, researchers requested that they keep an eating log. After six month those who kept the food log lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t. The reason is that people began to notice patters that they were overlooking before. They used their logs to plan ahead and to replace junk food with healthier alternatives almost without even realizing it. This is just one example but it can be applied to any and every aspect of your life.

These are the two best examples in terms of results, the list goes on and it also depends on the person. I’ll leave you with this: Just remember to focus on small wins and to hang out with people who want to be where you are going. Don’t be afraid of bringing awareness to your bad habits, and facing your reality. In the words of Will Smith “God placed the best things in life on the other side of terror”






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