Why are habits powerful?

Habits are ingrained behaviours that we do largely without thinking. They can be good or bad. Most develop subconsciously as we live our lives and once they become ingrained they are difficult to change. However, we can use this to our advantage if we establish good habits.

In his book The Power of Habit*, Charles Duhigg analysed how habits evolve and how they can be harnessed to change our lives.

The Habit loop
The Habit loop is a neurological pattern that governs any habit. It consists of three elements: a cue, a routine, and a reward. 

The Cue
The Habit always starts with a cue, being triggered by something. This could be a time of day, a previous action, or a mental activity, like thinking of someone.

The Routine
The Cue triggers a routine, which could be mental, emotional or physical.

The Reward
Finally there is a reward. This is what drives the habit and what causes habits to develop.

In an article in The New York Times, Duhigg notes, “The cue and reward become neurologically intertwined until a sense of craving emerges”.

According to Duhigg, craving drives all habits and is essential in starting a new habit, or reshaping an old one. Duhigg gives case studies how large corporations have achieved huge profits by working on small habits to change company culture.

Golden rule of habit change.
The Golden rule of habit change is to use the same cue, yet replace the routine with a positive one. It states that if you keep the initial cue, replace the routine, and have a reward, change will eventually occur.

Let’s take an example:
Jenny is a medical student who wants to give up smoking.
She notices that every time she has a coffee she has to have a cigarette.

The cue is the smell of coffee, the routine is smoking, the reward is the nicotine hit.

Once Jenny realises this, every time she has a coffee, she replaces having a cigarette with getting out her flash cards to study for her next exam.
Initially the craving is still very intense and she has to be very conscious of choosing the flash cards over the cigarette.
Every time she studies instead of having a cigarette, she marks it down on an index card she keeps with the rest of her flashcards. The reward is now seeing how many days she has marked of going without a cigarette, which gives immense satisfaction and a little dopamine hit.

Eventually studying becomes the ingrained behaviour and the coffee no-longer triggers smoking.

Of course it is never easy, it can take around 66 days to establish a habit and there are many moments of weakness to fall off the wagon. Habit Daemon addresses this with an arsenal of simple but effective tools, like the Forgiveness aspect. See wobbles

One of the foremost champions of habit mastery, James Clear has many tips in his book Atomic Habits to help in maintaining habits for example preparing your environment, in Jenny’s case, not buying cigarettes, or drinking coffee near smoking friends and making sure she always has her flash cards in her bag.

Duhigg asserts that individuals who do not believe in what they are doing will likely fall short of the expectations and give up. Belief is a critical element of such a change, though it can be structured in a number of ways including surrounding yourself with allies or.. talking to your a Daemon.