Is There Really Such Thing as a Habit Loop?


Charles Duhiggs’ wonderful book “The Power of Habit” which looks at human behavior is outstanding.

I listened to the audible version several months ago and recently, when Derek Halpern from Social Triggers interviewed the author I found a renewed interest.

I am now reading The Power of Habit in an attempt to work with these principles and develop a resource both for myself and to help my patients make long lasting positive life changes.

The entire book is based on this one simple yet powerful principle:

The Golden Rule of Habit Change

Which states: To change any habit we must keep the same cue and the same reward, then a new routine can be inserted.

There are a lot of habits we need to change. Today we are going to focus on something perfect for the new year. Creating a new eating habit!

Let’s take a moment to focus on the five key players of any habit change: Cue, Routine, Reward, Craving, and Belief

The 5 Rules of Habit Change

1. CUE: An action or event that is a signal for somebody to do something

2. ROUTINE:  A set of normal procedures, often performed mechanically*

3. REWARD: The result of an action, whether good or bad

4. CRAVING: To want strongly as to satisfy an appetite. To long for, to yearn (example: I know I should diet more, but every afternoon I crave a soda so I have one)

5. BELIEF:  Mental acceptance of a claim as truth regardless of supporting or contrary empirical evidence*


*I emphasized routine because this is where we will be focusing the majority of our attention!

* Remember that to believe something you do not have to have any evidence that it exists. You can believe that you have the potential to be thin, healthy and sexy despite any physical proof to the contrary.

Cue, Routine, Reward, Craving, Belief… Oh My!

Cue Routine Reward Running - Charles DuhiggI want you to repeat these 5 words until you can recite them without looking at this page.

This is the habit loop: Cue, Routine, Reward! Craving drives the loop and Belief is the secret juice that makes it all possible.

How to Make a Habit Loop:

Find a Cue, Create a Habit, Experience the Reward, Make it a Craving!

To change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine.

That’s the rule: If you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.

The Golden Rule has influenced treatments for alcoholism, obesity, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and hundreds of other destructive behaviors, and understanding it can help anyone change their own habits. (Attempts to give up snacking, for instance, will often fail unless there’s a new routine to satisfy old cues and reward urges. A smoker usually can’t quit unless she finds some activity to replace cigarettes when her nicotine craving is triggered.)

As much as I love The Power of Habit I didn’t feel that the author provided many easy to digest action steps. The process is easy . Today we are going to go through the steps of our new Habit for 2013:

4 Easy Steps to Creating a Diet Habit Loop!

Let’s look at one habit loop: Beginning a new diet.


Step 1

Identify the keystone habit you wish to change

Where should a would-be habit master start? Understanding keystone habits holds the answer to that question: The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns.

In the case of Slow carb we are looking at changing the keystone habit of eating.  It sounds complex but it is not.

Step 2

Identify and sketch the habit loop of  our keystone habit: Identify the Cue, Routine Reward cycle.

In this case:

The Low Carb Diet Habit Loop
  • Cue: Hunger, Mealtime.
  • Habit: Low Carb Foods.
  • Reward: Feeling of satiety, enjoyment of food.
  • Craving: Health Feeling, looking and feeling great!
  • Belief: I believe that I can be thin, healthy and vibrant. I believe that these slow carb foods and these dietary changes can help me achieve my goal. I believe that my life and health are the most important thing I have and I believe that inside me there is great potential.

Here was your damaged habit loop before:

  • Cue: Hunger/mealtime
  • Habit: Crappy high carbohydrate food, highly processed, fat generating food.
  • Reward: Satiety.
  • Craving: Taste.
  • Belief: I don’t believe that I have a thin healthy vibrant person inside me. I do not believe that eating more can help me become thin. I don’t believe I am worth the time and effort.

All you are really doing is creating a new habit loop. We are keeping the same “cue” (in this case hunger/mealtimes) and replacing it with a new habit: slow carb foods.  The “reward” actually stays the same, you eat to feel satiated.

Important Point:

Many people stop the slow carb diet within the first month or two claiming the reward is not the same. People often feel unsatisfied after or during meals when beginning a slow carb diet.  They complain that the food is “boring” or “feel a lack of energy” or “low blood sugars.”  In this case both the habit and the reward have been changed which is a recipe for disaster.

Your Goal:

Keep the Cue and the Reward exactly the same. Thus you must find slow carb foods that make you feel satiated and content.  The Craving will be the healthy feeling you will start to develop, but you have to Believe in the process and give it time.

Step 3:


This is the final ingredient: you need to believe that this diet will work. This is not placebo effect, this is just pure fact. In order for something to work you have to give yourself over fully to the process.

Take it from me THIS DIET WORKS. I have given this to well over 100 patients and the ones who believed in the process have done very well. Several have gone on to lose over 100 pounds. Others have lost less but developed a leaner more sculpted body.

Step 4:

Reinforce the CRAVING for health.

It is easy to be beaten down by the world. It could be work, our love life (or lack there of) our kids, families, responsibilities, coping with loss, illness or injury, a lost job or fear of future uncertainty. It doesn’t really matter. The point is that a craving comes from a sense of enjoyment or pleasure.

After watching my sister go from 289 pounds to a light and lean 165 pounds she gets nothing but compliments. She feels and looks great this = craving.

Many of my patients who have successfully transitioned to a slow carb diet say now when they eat unhealthy foods they feel horrible. This is not a simply mental. It is your body working in a new and renewed state of health.

Myself personally, being able to run like the wind, feel healthy, play with my kids, know that I am treating my most important asset (time) with care makes me crave healthy living. For the first time in a long time I feel good about myself and this is a huge reward.

Final Note:


The line separating habits and addictions is often difficult to measure.  And in the case of food the lines become blurry. I will talk more about this in my next post and give you some tools to help you kick the food “addiction”.

But believe me when I say. There is a healthy new you inside just waiting to come out.

Start today, change your HABIT. Define your Cue, Routine Reward Cycle and Believe in yourself and the process!