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4 Steps to Changing a Habit

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Step Three: Isolate the Cue


Cues are the triggers for our habitual behaviors. They are often the most difficult part of habits to identify, because there is so much information bombarding us as our behaviors unfold. Do you eat at a certain time of day because you are hungry? Or because the clock says 7:30? Or because your kids have started eating?

To identify a cue amid the noise, we can use the same system as researchers in the field: Identify categories of behavior ahead of time to scrutinize them for patterns. Experiments have shown that almost all habitual cues fall into one of five categories: location, time, emotional state, other people, immediately preceding action.

Write down the information for these five things the moment an urge hits. (These are my actual notes from when I was trying to diagnose my cookie habit):

  • Where are you? (Sitting at my desk)
  • What time is it? (3:36 p.m.)
  • What’s your emotional state? (Bored)
  • Who else is around? (No one)
  • What action preceded the urge? (Answered an email)

I did this for three days, and it became pretty clear which cue was triggering my cookie habit: time. I felt an urge to snack around 3:30 each day. I had already figured out, in step two, that it wasn’t hunger driving my behavior. The reward I was seeking was temporary distraction — the kind that comes from gossiping with a friend.

My habit loop was completed.

Once you’ve identified your own habit loop, you can begin to shift the behavior. You can develop a better routine by planning for the cue and choosing a behavior that more constructively delivers the real rewards you are craving.

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Read more: Addiction, Health, Self-Help, Spirit

By Charles Duhigg, From Experience Life

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+ add your own
7:57AM PDT on May 11, 2013

Thank you for the good tips

11:20AM PDT on May 3, 2013

thanks. I just need a reason to end a habit, if it isn't harmful i let it be. If it is, I research how its harmful, and I quit

2:36AM PDT on Apr 9, 2013

It really takes a lot of strong wills, and a lot of support from the loved ones around us.

5:57PM PST on Feb 28, 2013

Very good!!

10:11PM PST on Feb 26, 2013


1:33AM PST on Feb 24, 2013


7:10PM PST on Feb 6, 2013


10:51PM PST on Jan 28, 2013

Great article,
After reading this I decided to cultivate some good habits one by one and bring back my good habits I lost in the past.

And I've started this with Hab It! - Android motivation tool.

10:03AM PST on Jan 27, 2013

Good tips. Thank you.

8:14PM PST on Jan 23, 2013

Good post Megan,thanks

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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