The best way to understand the concept of developing habits is to understand the Cue, Craving, Response, Reward stages. All habits go through these stages and in this order!
Frequently, we are addicts to our old but also bad habits. This can be as simple as not putting something back where it belongs (in its home) but instead we habitually put it off for later and later, well, later seldom happens. As it may seem, forming new habits may be tedious at first, you will soon begin to appreciate the advantage. You will be able to find something easily because you know exactly where it is – in its home!
A cue is basically your brain’s first reaction to something. It could just be to put away your laundry. You see the laundry lying there and the brain is whispering that you need to put it away. Cues are either the desire of an outcome or the fear of a negative experience in the past. Your pet might have decided the clean pile of clothes was the ideal place to go! You remember that load all too well and never want to repeat that experience. The brain is continually scanning the surroundings, predicting the possible outcomes of different responses and learning from the outcome.
The craving is the reason why your brain is nagging you to put it away. Your craving might be a more efficient morning routine or simply wanting to remove the clutter. To know more about the reasons for the noisy mindfill, you might want to consider your vision and goal.
And that will bring you to your response. What you chose to do is your response. You might pick that load up and put it away, or you might let it sit.
A great deal will depend on your ability. Ability is a great contributor to whether or not we chose to respond positively. If you find that you are unable to do the task due to physical or time constraints, then it is important to delegate.
And the last stage is the reward. The cue in the mind comes from anticipation of the reward. The craving is to see the reward as a attainable outcome and that brings about a response.
Rewards satisfy a craving. They provide contentment and relief from craving. This can be short term or long term.
The factor I find varies the motivation to respond, is the size of the reward you are anticipating. Rewards that have a bigger impact create habits faster and last longer. However, an important thing to remember is that a combination of tiny habits that is paramount in achieving your reward. So, instead of thinking about the benefit of that task, think of it as a small part of the big picture.
This cue, craving, response and reward can be translated as the cue triggers a craving which motivates a response and provides a reward, which satisfies the craving and ultimately becomes associated with the cue. These four steps repeated, cue, craving, response, rewards; cue, craving, response, rewards will ultimately create a new habit. *
If you are not responsive to any of the stages, you will not form the habit. If you stop thinking about it, you will have eliminated the cue, making the reward unobtainable.
To put everything in perspective, let’s use the same example. You have folded laundry lying in the laundry room which you occasionally (to say the least) forget to put away. You know your pet might have an accident. So, you want to make that basket of laundry obvious. Place it near the staircase so you remember to take it upstairs.
Secondly, you want to make the craving attractive and impactful. Do not think of it as putting laundry away, think of it as clean clothes laid out for the next morning. Think of it as a small aspect of an organised home. Think of it as anything that motivates you.
Thirdly, as mentioned above, your ability is an important part of your response. If you can find a fairly easy method of getting this chore done, there is more chance of accomplishing it. So buy yourself a hamper that suits your needs in terms of colour, size and ease of carriage. That will really help.
And lastly, make your reward satisfying. Take a pic of your closet or the empty hamper and mark it as a ta-da. Celebrating your small successes while still having your vision and goals in mind, will definitely give you a boost in the right direction.
Understanding these stages and laws will definitely help you create good habits and break old bad habits. Let me know how you create new habits, I’d love to hear from you.
* James Clear writes about habits, decision making, and continuous improvement. He is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Atomic Habits. The book has sold over 5 million copies worldwide and has been translated into more than 50 languages.