Diagram of a Habit (Cue, Routine, Reward)


Desk and a chair - diagram of a habit with cue, routine, reward. Sitting too long in a desk chair all day

I’ve never crocheted before, but in a recent conversation with a friend, she mentioned how she likes to crochet while she is watching TV. Of course, I decided to google “how to crochet for beginners” (and found this comprehensive instruction set, in case you are interested (https://sarahmaker.com/how-to-crochet/). The instructions provide a step-by-step guide: which hook to use, how to hold the hook, how to wrap the yarn, how to make the first loop, etc. It seems like a lot of steps to remember! But after you learn to crochet, habit takes over and, like my friend, you don’t need to think so much about all of the steps involved in crocheting. In other words, habits allow efficiency.


Think of habits that may not be serving you well. Overeating too often? Getting too many speeding tickets? Staying up late on the weekends? Procrastinating on a challenging project at work? Sitting at your desk for extended periods? Sometimes efficiency morphs into automatic behaviors that no longer serve you well.


In the book, The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg shares a framework for observing and understanding the behaviors that you want to change rather than a prescriptive process for change. Is it possible to change our habits? Duhigg suggests the framework of Cue, Routine, Reward.


What is the habit that you want to change? I’ll use my example of sitting for extended periods of time at my desk and explore how cue, routine, and routine work. What gets me up and out of my chair?


Cue: bodily sensation (hunger, thirst, restroom)

Routine: Stay seated for hours on end

Reward: Stay comfortable, stay in the zone (but stiff hips at end of the day)


What if I change the cue by setting a timer once an hour?

Cue: Timer goes off once an hour to remind me to move

Routine: Stay seated for hours on end

Reward: Stay comfortable (stiff hips at end of the day)


Wait - why would changing the cue result in the same routine? Maybe the reward (comfortable hips) is far in the future while staying comfortable is an immediate reward. Try experimenting with your rewards. When your timer goes off, instead of just standing up, try talking to someone or going outside for a deep breath of fresh air or dancing to “It’s Raining Men”.


Let’s look at the new reward and how it fits into cure, routine, reward


Cue: Timer goes off once an hour to remind me to move

Routine: Dance to “It’s Raining Men”

Reward: Bring joy to the moment as you practice your best John Travolta moves.


The cue may take one of these forms. I'll use the habit of overeating too often as an example. Is your cue time-related? For instance, at 2:00 every afternoon, you eat a big snack regardless of hunger. Maybe it's person-related: every time you interact with your boss, you search out a snack afterward. What if the cue is task-related? Every time you pay bills, you serve yourself chips and salsa. Or maybe every time that you get angry, you grab a bite of ice cream to calm down.


Changing habits takes a little bit of investigation. Some habits are much more complex than others and take a lot more time to dig into.


I'd love to know what habits you are interested in changing?


Are you interested in the science part of habits, check out these two articles:


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