Habits are powerful influencers in our lives. I once heard the phrase: “We first create our habits; then our habits create us.” To the extent that this is true, it’s important that we become more consciously aware of forming habits.

In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains three main parts regarding how habits are formed and maintained: Cue > Behavior > Reward

  1. An environmental cue
  2. A behavioral response
  3. A reward or the removal of an unpleasant stimulus

With a habit, a cue triggers a behavior. By conducting the behavior, a reward is experienced.

Brushing my teeth is an example of how habits are formed:

            Cue: Walking into the bathroom after getting out of bed.

            Behavior: Spreading toothpaste on my brush.

            Reward: The cruddy taste in my mouth is replaced by a refreshing taste.

The more often the cue, behavior, and reward occur in close time and proximity to each other, the stronger a habit becomes. This suggests that habits are automatic responses to cues in our environment.

Several factors influence the formation and maintenance of habits:

  1. Focus on the Cue: In order to create new habits, habit researchers suggest NOT focusing on the behavior, but rather focusing on the cue. Choose a cue that already occurs regularly in your life. In my example of brushing my teeth, going into the bathroom in the morning is a regular cue.
  2. Know the Basics: Just knowing the basics about how habits are formed can increase your chances of developing and keeping a habit.
  3. Start Small: If you want to lose weight and decide to do it by working out for 90 minutes six days a week, that will feel like a daunting task and far more likely to give up. However, if you decide to lose weight by walking 20 minutes after dinner, it will feel more doable.
  4. Create the Habit First, Then Optimize Later: Once you are in the habit of walking 20 minutes, it won’t be so daunting increasing to 45 minutes.
  5. The Process IS the Goal, Not Perfection: While consistency is key, missing opportunities to practice a desired habit won’t ruin your chances at establishing that habit in the long run. Those who develop solid habits do so not by being perfect in their execution, but by being able to consistently correct their course when they get off track.

In future Wellness Wednesdays, we’ll consider developing Positive Mental Habits and weakening Negative Mental Habits. Until then, pay attention to a habit you already have and how it follows the Cue > Behavior > Reward formula.

From Willow, Kevin, and Tom…who are habit mindful.

Paul Bernabei
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