The Power of Habit: Make & Break Habits with the Habit Loop

Habit loops are a powerful tool of self-directed change. They help us identify our habits and the triggers that lead to them, as well as learning how to make or break those behaviors with new actions.

The “the power of habit pdf reddit” is a book that covers the science behind habits. It talks about how habits are formed and how to break them.

A motivational poster of Good Habits about the armor that protects us from the arrows of defeat.

Our habits mold us, for better or ill. A good habit is a powerful ally in our quest to become the men we want, but a poor habit is a weight over our necks. (Wondering why?) This Manvotional is worth reading.) It is vital to battle our negative habits and promote the good ones in order to reach our objectives, whatever they may be. However, how do you go about doing so? We’ve spoken about how to form and break habits previously, but much of what I offered was based on anecdotal evidence of what has worked for me in the past. Sure, such recommendations may help, but I’ve been looking for more efficient, science-based methods to improve my routines since then.

Fortunately for me, a book was released early this year that summarized the most recent studies on habit development by psychologists and neuroscientists. It’s Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, and it’s one of the top five books I’ve read in 2012. Duhigg describes how habits function in our brain in The Power of Habit. More crucially, he explains how a habit develops into a habit. We may take control of our habits by being conscious of what he refers to as the “Habit Loop.”

We’ll look at the science of habits and how we can use the Habit Loop to break harmful habits and form new ones in the sections below.

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Habits in Our Brain

The basal ganglia is a little bit of neuronal tissue that lays underneath our gray and squiggly cerebral cortex. Researchers didn’t know much about the basal ganglia for years, save that it could be involved in Parkinson’s disease. However, starting in the 1990s, MIT researchers suspected that the basal ganglia had a role in habit development.

Researchers were inspired after seeing that mice with wounded basal ganglia have difficulty learning how to go through mazes. Curious, researchers surgically implanted cables and probes into the brains of healthy mice, allowing them to monitor their brain activity as they progressed through a labyrinth.

Mental activity in the mice’s cerebral cortex was high during the initial maze runs. The mice had to smell and scrape the walls to get to the end of the labyrinth since it was unfamiliar territory for them. They had to really consider their options. However, as the days and weeks passed, the mice’s ability to navigate the labyrinth grew more automated. It was as if they didn’t have to think about it, and the brain probes confirmed that they didn’t. When the well-trained mice hurried across the labyrinth, the activity in the cerebral cortex fell nearly quiet. Even memory-related areas of the cerebral cortex revealed a reduction in activity.


However, although activity in the cerebral cortex, or “thinking” region of the brain, reduced, the probes revealed that the mice’s basal ganglia were overworked. The MIT researchers came to the conclusion that the maze-running sequence was basically off-loaded from the cerebral cortex to the basal ganglia, where it was stored as a habit. Furthermore, the mice developed the behavior of “maze running” whenever they heard a specific clicking noise. The “click” signaled the basal ganglia to start the maze-running script (we’ll return to this key fact later).

Researchers have discovered that habits act in the same manner in people as they do in mice since the first studies. Our brain activity transfers from our higher-thinking cerebral cortex to our more primitive-thinking basal ganglia whenever we enter “habit mode.” It’s one of the ways we can improve the efficiency of our brain. Our brains may utilize that mental energy for more essential things like establishing a life plan, starting a company, or even exploring the science of habits by freeing up mental RAM from our cerebral cortex.

Neuroscientists have also shown that once a habit is encoded in our basal ganglia, it never really goes away. It’s constantly on the lookout for the right trigger to start the habit cycle. That wouldn’t be an issue if all of our behaviors were beneficial to our health. Unfortunately, our brain is incapable of distinguishing between good and negative behaviors. Even if it is to our harm, it will off-load any repetitive action to the basal ganglia.

You should not be discouraged by the persistence of poor habits: According to the most recent habit study, change is still feasible. While it is impossible to completely eliminate a negative behavior, it is possible to develop more strong beneficial habits that simply outnumber the bad ones. To do so, you must first comprehend how habits are created. You may start changing the different components to alter and build whatever habit you want once you understand how our brain encodes habits. The Habit Cycle is a term coined by author Charles Duhigg to describe the process of habit formation.

The Habit Loop

Vintage men working at computers for programming work stations.

The Habit Loop is similar to a computer program — although a very basic one — in that it is made up of three parts:

  1. Cue. A cue is “a signal that informs your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to apply,” according to Duhigg. The trigger for the mice in the MIT study was a “click” sound; for people, it might be “sitting at the computer,” “boredom,” or “lunch time.”
  2. Routine. The routine is the action you do almost instinctively after encountering the cue. Physical, mental, or emotional routines are all possible.
  3. Reward. Our “brain figures out whether [a] specific loop is worth remembering for the future” thanks to the reward. Anything may be used as a reward. The mice in the MIT study were rewarded with chocolate. It may be the sensation we experience after eating a Five Guys burger, having a cigarette, or watching pornographic television.

The process gets increasingly natural when we face this three-part loop again and over again. When the Cue and the Reward work together to produce significant neuronal desires that push us to do the Routine, the habit is really cemented in our brain. Cravings, in other words, are the source of energy for the Habit Loop.


This is how it works: When we want something, our brain produces the same kind of pleasure response as when we get a reward – whether it’s a delicious burger or an orgasm. However, this anticipated pleasure causes cognitive dissonance in humans, since there is a discrepancy between what our brain perceives (the joy of eating a burger) and what we really experience (I’m not eating a burger right now). Our brains don’t like this connection, so they’ll force us to participate in the Routine that will provide us with the pleasure we’re looking for (hitting the drive-thru).

When we form a habit, our brain closely links various Cues to certain Rewards. The “clicking” noise cue was closely connected with the reward of a piece of chocolate in the case of the MIT mice. The mice started to feel the pleasure of eating the chocolate just by hearing the click, which led to a desire to consume the chocolate. It’s a little like Pavlov’s dogs. The mice’s desire for chocolate pushed them to go into automatic mode and go around the labyrinth in search of it without even thinking about it.

It’s the same with people as it is with mice.

We all have signals that we identify with specific rewards that produce practically insatiable appetites in us, whether we want it or not. The buzz or chime of incoming email triggers a compelling desire to check our mailbox to see whether we’ll be rewarded with some life-altering or thrilling email for many contemporary males. Other guys have a need for the reward of a runner’s high when they put on their running shoes, which motivates them to go out the door and start jogging. When our brain links a Cue with a Reward, an unbreakable habit develops inside our basal ganglia.

Changing Bad Habits by Hacking the Habit Loop

We don’t have to be captives to our habits, even if they never really go away. According to research, we may turn harmful habits into positive ones by being aware of the Habit Loop in our life and making little changes to it.

Simply follow the Golden Rule of Habit Modify to change a habit: Change the routine while keeping the cue and reward. 

That is all there is to it.

“It sounds incredibly basic, but once you understand how your habit works, once you identify the signals and rewards, you’re halfway there,” Nathan Azrin, a habit researcher interviewed by Charles Duhigg for The Power of Habit, stated. “It seems like it should be more complicated.” The brain, in fact, can be altered. It’s simply a matter of being diligent about it.”

Below is a step-by-step process that Charles Duhigg recommends adopting to discover the component pieces of your life’s Habit Loop so you can start taking intentional action to modify how it functions.


Step 1: Establish a Routine

The first step is to identify the routine in your life that you wish to modify. Do you want to quit constantly checking your email? Do you wish to put an end to your nightly viewing of porn? Why don’t you give up your caffeine habit? Or maybe you’d want to stop spending your weekends playing video games and start exercising? This is the component of the Habit Loop that we’ll be adjusting to help us break our bad behaviors.

Step 2: Play about with the Reward.

“Rewards are effective because they fulfill desires. “However, we’re typically unaware of the desires that drive our actions,” adds Duhigg.

It’s simple to identify our rewards — pizza, orgasm, and drinking – but what are we actually desiring when we pursue them? Is there any reward that will fulfill the real desire in a more positive manner?

You’ll need to run a series of experiments to test different hypotheses in order to answer those questions. Don’t get irritated if it takes longer than you expected or if the findings aren’t what you expected — think of yourself as a scientist who is driven by curiosity and pursues the truth objectively.

Let’s assume you have a habit of getting a Diet Mountain Dew from the vending machine every day. You want to alter it since it’s costing you money and Diet Dew isn’t very healthy for you, so you need to find out what you’re seeking and if an other Reward will fulfill it just as well.

To begin your experiments, change your Routine so you receive a new Reward the next time you feel that all-too-familiar tug towards acquiring that wonderful neon nectar. Purchase a 7-Up instead on the first day of your experiment; on the second day, just drink water from the water fountain; and on the third day, simply browse the web or go for a stroll outdoors. Set a fifteen-minute alarm on your watch or computer when you begin the substitution activity (or after, say, drinking the 7-Up). After fifteen minutes, ask yourself, “Do I still have a need for Diet Mountain Dew?” Examine your craving’s current situation. If you still feel compelled to do the Dew after reading the web, you’ve realized that your habit isn’t driven by a desire to be entertained. If, on the other hand, your Dew need goes away after going for a stroll outdoors, it’s possible that your Dew habit was motivated by a desire for a rapid energy boost. You may fulfill your urge for a pick-me-up-Reward by exchanging the soda-Routine with a walk-Routine, but in a healthier, more pleasant manner.

Step 3: Recognize the Cue

After you’ve determined the reward, you’ll need to determine the cue, or the item that causes the desire. Almost all habit signals, according to habit researchers, fit into one of five categories:


  • Location
  • Time
  • Emotional Condition
  • Other Individuals
  • activity that occurs just before another action

Write down responses to the five potential cue categories whenever you develop a craving for a Mountain Dew. Do this every day for a week. You should start to notice a recurring signal after a time. For instance, you could want a Diet Mountain Dew at a certain time of day or anytime you are weary and bored. Make a mental note of what your Diet Mountain Dew Habit Cue is.

Step 4: Make a Strategy

You may begin making arrangements to modify your habit after you’ve identified the Cue and Reward. The best method to plan your habit change, according to academics, is to use implementation intentions. This is something we discussed earlier this year. In a nutshell, an implementation intention is a conditional statement that connects a situational signal to a specified action.

So, using our Diet Mountain Dew example, let’s construct an implementation aim to assist us in breaking the habit. You noticed after days of experimentation that you got the desire to drink a Diet Mountain Dew about 2 p.m. You also discovered that you weren’t truly desiring Diet Dew, but rather an energy boost, by testing with other incentives. Fortunately, you discovered that taking a 15-minute stroll outdoors provided you the same energy boost as downing the sweet stuff. As an example, you might write an implementation goal like this:

At 2 p.m., if I’m fatigued, I’ll get up and go for a 15-minute stroll outdoors.

When it comes to actually putting your implementation plan into action, you’ll need to be systematic. You can’t do it half-heartedly. The idea is to link walking with your tiredness-energy increase cue/reward combination. Overriding your old bad behavior with your new good one might take a few weeks, depending on how ingrained it was. Change will occur if you are patient and adhere to your implementation plan.

Step 5: Have Faith in Your Ability to Change

The belief that change is possible is the last factor required for long-term behavior transformation. Researchers have shown that surrounding oneself with a supportive group of individuals is the greatest method to build that confidence in yourself. “Change happens among other people,” says psychologist Todd Heatherton. When we see it in other people’s eyes, it looks genuine.”

One of the reasons academics think Alcoholics Anonymous has been so effective in helping individuals overcome their alcohol addiction is the power of groups to inspire confidence in the possibility of change. They attend a weekly gathering where everyone feels they can improve.

It is not necessary for your group to be as big as an AA meeting. In fact, simply having another person to confide in while you try to break your bad habit might help you believe that you can. Find a frequent accountability partner with whom you can discuss your progress and get support. Your partner should ideally be someone you can meet in person, although virtual check-ins may also work.


Using the Habit Loop to Form a New Habit

Understanding how the Habit Loop works might also assist you in forming new habits that you’ve been intending to start but haven’t had the motivation to do so. All you have to do now is construct a cue-routine-reward loop and work your way through it until you develop a hunger that drives the cycle. It may take some fiddling and experimenting, but if you have enough patience and perseverance, you’ll find something that works.

Your Man-Up Prompt

Today I have two challenges for you. First, choose a behavior you’d want to break and begin testing to figure out what your Habit Loop is. I’d love to hear about the habit you want to break, so let us know in the comments. Second, I strongly advise you to get a copy of The Power of Habit from your local bookstore or library. In this piece, I just touched the surface of the Habit Loop. Duhigg delves further into the Habit Loop and presents fascinating instances of it in action. After reading, you’ll be a better guy. 

For considerably more, listen to my podcast with Charles Duhigg: 




The “the power of habit audiobook” is a book that discusses the science behind habits. It also includes many examples of how to create and break habits.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is The Power of Habit legit?

A: The Power of Habit is not a scam.

Why do we have The Power of Habit?

A: The Power of Habit was created by Dr. Charles Duhigg to explain how habits are formed and why they persist in our lives.

What does The Power of Habit teach you?

A: The Power of Habit is a book that teaches you about how habits are formed and why they exist. It also goes into detail about the science behind it, which was interesting to me because Im pretty ignorant on this subject!

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