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This step will help you to fully understanding the concept of the “Habit Loop” and its three parts: the trigger, routine and reward.
The first part, the trigger, is what you studied in lesson two and is usually defined by time, and/or preceding action, and/or location and/or people.
Now that you have filled out the grid from lesson two, you know what triggers your routines and this will make it easier to spot other triggers and routines in the future.
The second part of the habit loop is the routine itself, which is the action part. This is the part you usually call your “habit,” but as you can see, it’s only one of the three parts in the habit loop. This second part can be the most difficult part to break, but when you understand the trigger that starts the habit rolling and then the reward after the habit is performed, you can drastically reduce the time and effort required for changing your habits and creating new ones.
As you have probably noticed by now, I often use the words “routine” and “habit” interchangeably because most people think of their habit as the routine or action part as the whole habit loop.
The habit part is the easiest part to understand because most of us are already aware of it, but the trigger and reward parts are more obscure and few people understand them or are even aware of. Now that you are aware of the trigger part from the last lesson and the habit part because of your own familiarity with it, we can now focus more on the reward part of the habit loop.
Each habit has a different trigger and each routine offers a unique reward, along with its own unique neurochemical prize, usually coming in the form of a shot of dopamine. Once you understand how this neurochemical system works and how addicting it can be, you will realize how every habit, no matter how ingrained and old, is malleable. This is how alcoholics can become sober, drug addicts can get clean and sugar cravings can transform into vegetable cravings!
I know this is to be true personally because I used to be a major sugar addict. My main staple each day was soft candy orange slices. You may know the candy I’m talking about – the ones made of sugar, colored with artificial toxins and then coated with more sugar? Yep, I could eat a whole Costco-sized tub in just two days! Now my cravings for broccoli and other dark green vegetables is twice as strong as the orange slices craving ever was because I retrained my brain to atrophy those cravings and created new cravings that ended up even deeper.
Once the habit loop has triggered certain neurochemical responses enough times (especially dopamine), that habit loop turns into an addiction. The brain wants more hits of those chemicals so that addiction becomes a craving. Once it turns into a craving, the habit loop closes and at that point, it can feel uncontrollable and even hopeless. There is hope though and hacking into your own brain is the best way to do it.
Understanding this process is half the battle, so you’re already halfway there! Now that you know about the “habit loop” and how it works, you can control it and even use it to your advantage.
Those ingrained habits that seem beyond your control aren’t about “willpower” anymore. It’s a neurochemical process that can be broken.
Based on your chart from lesson two, what are the rewards you see? What are you getting out of the routine/habit part of the loop? How does it make you feel? Is it an emotion or sense of accomplishment? The “reward” and the “post-mood” on your chart might be linked, or they might be independent. This is the part that is important to understand. Once you do, you will see a pattern in your habit loops and when you have analyzed several habit loops, you will see some common threads and themes.
Maybe it will come out that you are an emotional eater or stress eater. Maybe you will see that you are a social drinker or social smoker. It’s all great information and part of your “biohacking” journey to figure out how to crack certain habits and create other habits and you will!
Now take another few days to fill in more lines on the grid from lesson two, with the reward part as your focus. Put a weekend day in there too, so you can see any pattern changes.
If you have figured out the whole habit loop on some of your habits already, start with new ones, but try to limit your focus to just 2-4 habits so you can properly analyze them.