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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Bari Levine

How to Hack Our Habits (Part 5)

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

Up until now we have been discussing how to create what Charles Duhigg refers to as a three-step "habit loop"--a cue, which triggers an automated physical, mental or emotional routine, which produces a reward that makes the habit worth repeating. But there's one more component to making desired behaviors recurring habits: the craving. As Duhigg explains, "as we associate cues with certain rewards, a subconscious craving emerges in our brains that starts the habit loop spinning." This is because, as James Clear articulates, "dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure, but also when you anticipate it."

In other words, a cue not only triggers semi-automatic behavior but also a desire to execute that behavior. To better understand how this is experienced, consider this example financial columnist Jason Zweig: “Obviously you’re never going to just work out without conscious thought. But like a dog salivating at a bell, maybe you start to get antsy around the time of day you normally work out.” This example hits home for me as I sit here writing, eagerly awaiting a long afternoon bike ride.

The reward that comes from doing a routine may be sufficient to cultivate a craving, as we saw in the example of that minty tingly feeling we get from brushing our teeth. But we can also cultivate that craving using the following techniques:

Temptation bundling. One way to cultivate a craving, which we have already touched on, is pairing a desired behavior with a desired outcome (aka something you already crave). Such bundling may include a fresh-pressed juice after a productive workout or a relaxing bath after hours of uninterrupted work. By closely aligning the action you want to do with the one you "have to" do, you can create an external craving until the benefit of the desired behavior feel like a reward in itself.

Finding Good Role Models. Another way to make desired behaviors more appealing is to leverage a specific craving we all have--the craving for bonding and social acceptance. According to Clear, we tend to follow the behaviors of three types of people: the close, the many and the powerful. Therefore, we can stimulate behavior change by surrounding ourselves with people who value and perform the behaviors we desire. For example, if you want to eat healthier, spend more meals with your friends who enjoy cooking. If you want to be more physically active, join a hiking group. If you want to be more financial responsible, follow successful entrepreneurs or money managers on Twitter. The more you surround yourself with people who exhibit the habits you want to cultivate, the more likely you are to develop those habits yourself.

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