Healthy Habits – Part 3

So far, we’ve defined what habits look like.  Last week, we dug into the psychology of habits.  We examined the reward.  Our habit cue immediately makes us crave the reward and carry out our routines.  The reward is powerful.  The rewards are what drive our behavior.

This week lets get into changing habits.

Habit Change Is Easy, Right?

There are many studies on habits available and lots of good data.  With all that information, it’s easy to think that there’s a simple formula for changing a habit. It’s not that there isn’t a formula, it’s that there are many many formulas!

Habits are all different and so are people.  Our personal habits are triggered through different cravings.  Some habits are so easily changed it’s astonishing.  Others are so tough and complex it may take lots of time just to figure out what is going on.  There does exist a framework we can use to help, and I present this to you here.

Any Habit CAN Be Changed

Will it be fast?  Maybe, maybe not.  Will it be easy?  More often than not it won’t be.  But it IS possible if you understand the steps.

The book I read that sparked my curiosity in habits is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.  Mr. Duhigg studied habits deeply, and presented this framework for changing habits.

Duhigg’s Framework:

  • Identify the routine
  • Experiment with rewards
  • Isolate the cue
  • Have a plan

Start With The Routine

It’s typically the most obvious.  This is the behavior you want to change.  An example would be that I want to change going home after work and sitting on the couch watching tv.  Now we have to experiment to figure out the cue for this routine, and the reward.


This is where you gather data points.  I’m not changing my couch potato routine here, I’m figuring out why I’ve developed it.  I start to play with new routines.  When I get home and feel the urge to lounge, I might take a walk, or eat some food, or work on the checklist of things I need to do around the house.

The routine doesn’t matter so much.  I’m trying to figure out what craving is driving my routine.  Am I bored, tired, melancholy?  I am attempting to isolate exactly what I’m craving.  Entertainment perhaps, or rest?  I might make some notes of what it is that I’m satisfying by sitting on the couch.  If it’s boredom, does a walk take care of it?  It it’s entertainment does reading a book satisfy the craving?

The Cue

Well, we’ve got the routine pegged.  From experimentation we have a clear picture of the reward portion, so all that is left is for me to figure out what the cue is.  The cue is the tough part.

There’s a lot of information to look at.  Do I want to chill on the couch because I didn’t sleep enough the night before?  Is it the sight of the couch first thing when I walk in the door?  Is it how my furniture is arranged in my living room?  Is a great show on that I love?

Well it turns out that all cues fit into about 5 categories:

  1. Location
  2. Time
  3. Emotional State
  4. Other people
  5. Immediately preceding action

Here’s how I’d figure out the cue.  When I got home and felt the urge to watch yet another episode of the Kardashians, I’d quickly write down where I am, what time it is, how I am feeling, who else is with me, and what I did just moments ago.  I’d do this for a week or so.

Patterns will emerge in the notes.  For instance, the time I get home and the location, home, are the same every day in my notes.  Chances are I’ve trained my brain that at 5 o’clock at home I need to watch tv.  And I do this automatically at that time and location.


If you aren’t a planner, best of luck.  I’m not saying things don’t get done without a plan, but having one makes a huge difference.  We’ve learned that habits are fairly automatic.  We execute them without much thought (our brains get efficient).  A plan makes us start thinking again, which we’ve got to do if we want to change.

In my example lets say that I’ve identified my cue to be location based.  I get home = I sit on couch.  I need a plan.

The Plan:  put gym clothes in bag and take with me to work.  Do not go home after work, go straight to gym.

I write this plan down and hang it on my bathroom mirror and read it every day.

Is this going to be tough?  Yes.  I’ll forget my gym clothes some days.  I’ll even ignore I brought them and still go home.  Over time, automatically I will start to set my clothes out to take with me.  I will no longer think about going to the gym after work, I’ll just do it.  And likely I’ll be healthier getting a daily dose of wall balls instead of a daily dose of Kardashian.

DO NOT skip the planning.  Just write it down on paper and hang it where you are forced to look at it.  This works!

Sick Flowchart

Turns out Mr. Duhigg made a sweet flowchart to help us out.  Find it here.

Make A Habit

About learning about habits.  We all have a few that could stand to change and we’d be the better because of it.  If you’re interested in further reading on the subject, check out the following:

Duhigg: The Power of Habit
Kahneman: Thinking Fast and Slow
Medina: Brain Rules

Tomorrow, maybe you make a habit about not putting the HEAVY KBs you’re carrying down during the farmer carry.  Even though your brain is cueing you that this really sucks!

The O-Board Says…

3 Rounds:
400 meter run
40′ DB Bear Crawl
14 DB Hang Power Cleans (below the knee)
200m Farmer Carry (DB/KB)
-25 min cap-

Posted by: Stets