Using the habit loop to improve ourselves

For the sake of example, let’s say we want to quit our habit of smoking. We could try using nicotine patches and other products designed by industries. I’m going to ignore them as they don’t fix the problem and when taken away there is a good chance an individual would go back to smoking.

Instead, let’s take a good look at the habit and break it down using cue, routine and reward.

The cue involved in the habit of smoking is the craving. The craving created by smoking for so long that your body has begun to demand it from you. A cue could also come from seeing someone else smoking leading you to be social and smoke with them. There’s plenty of cues that could lead to the routine which is…

The routine here is obvious; it’s the smoking. It’s the action we are trying to stop as it’s doing us damage. However, the routine of smoking is the action which gets us the reward from the next step of the habit loop which is…

After smoking, there are a few rewards we stand to gain. Most notably it is the buzz from the nicotine which also insistently is the drug which keeps you coming back. The drug is so powerful; it creates this buzz that people begin to crave again and again.

But also, smoking allows people to be social. There’s plenty of people in the world who admit to being a ‘social smoker’.

The Plan
What we need to do is find a new routine which provides the same rewards as smoking and uses the same cues to promote the routine taking place.

What we are attempting to do is take the old habit and remove the bad part and replace it with something better. Therefore killing the old habit and making a better one. That’s the secret to quitting bad habits.

The solution
Replace the smoking with something like coffee. Coffee offers the opportunity to fill your drug addiction, but instead of nicotine, we are using caffeine. Caffeine also gives the drinker a buzz like nicotine, but the best part is caffeine is not as addictive as nicotine making it easier to quit in the future if you so desire.

And, what does caffeine also allow us to be? Social. We can hang out with friends and have our coffees together. A whole industry is built off socialising with coffee.

Replacing the old routine with a new one of drinking coffee, we keep the cues and the rewards the same but remove the damaging properties of the routine. Our habit is intact, and we don’t get withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms occur when the reward has been taken away, therefore, making the cues stronger.


Following the steps and information, I’ve just given you. You should be able to change any of your old habits and even build new ones. Just make a cue for a routine and reward yourself. Simple!

Call to action

What habits will you be improving? What habits do you want to create? Tell me down below or over on twitter. Also, if you like this article and want to help others, then please consider sharing and clapping the article for others to see.

If you are interested in reading more about habits and the psychology behind them, then I highly recommend you check out the book ‘The power of habit’ by Charles Duhigg. Buy it here on Amazon.

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