“If a behavior is insufficient in any of the four stages, it will not become a habit. Eliminate the cue and your habit will never start. Reduce the craving and you won’t experience enough motivation to act. Make the behavior difficult and you won’t be able to do it. And if the reward fails to satisfy your desire, then you’ll have no reason to do it again in the future. Without the first three steps, a behavior will not occur. Without all four, a behavior will not be repeated.
In summary, the cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response, which provides a reward, which satisfies the craving and, ultimately, becomes associated with the cue. Together, these four steps form a neurological feedback loop—cue, craving, response, reward; cue, craving, response, reward—that ultimately allows you to create automatic habits. This cycle is known as the habit loop.”
Welcome to Chapter #3: How to Build Better Habits in 4 Simple Steps.
The 4 steps form the “habit loop” and the basis for the 4 Laws of Behavior Change. They are (once again): Cue + Craving + Response + Reward. We have a cue in our environment that leads to a desire to do something, we respond and we get a reward. Repeat.
(This is very similar to Charles Duhigg’s model from The Power of Habit. James tells us he sees his work as building on Duhigg’s. I agree. It’s a nice, super-practical extension.)
Here’s the quick look at the 4 Laws of Behavior Change that are driven by those steps:
Each of those 4 Laws gets its own section in the book with really-well organized sub-chapters that help us figure out how to actually apply the wisdom to our lives. Again (echo!), check out the book for the details. For now, let’s take a SUPER quick look at how we’d build a habit.
Let’s say we want to… hmmmm… meditate first thing in the morning.
Law #1: Make it obvious. James tells us we can use implementation intentions such as, “I will meditate first thing in the morning in my bedroom.” (Note: When and where are super important. Be precise and increase the odds of crushing it.) You can also make the cue obvious by “designing your environment.” Perhaps you could put the cushion you’ll sit on in your way from your bed to your bathroom so you trip over it. That’s “obvious.” (Or, if you want to work out, put your gym clothes in the same spot, etc.)
Law #2: Make it attractive. Think about all the research demonstrating the benefits you want—a calm mind, etc. You can also pair it with something you really enjoy doing like drinking a cup of tea or coffee AFTER you meditate. Another good way: “Join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.”
Law #3: Make it easy. Easiest way to make it easy? “Downscale your habits until they can be done in two minutes or less.” (Think silly-small Mini Habits.) We also want to “Master the decisive moment. Optimize the small choices that deliver outsized impact.” (Think winning fight-thrus a la Organize Tomorrow Today.)
Law #4: Make it satisfying. Give yourself an immediate reward after doing your new habit. James also tells us to never miss twice—very much like the idea of “Habit suicide” we discussed in Superhuman by Habit. And, he recommends: “Use a habit tracker. Keep track of your habit streak and ‘don’t break the chain.’” ← For me, once I committed to meditating daily, in addition to the benefits of a calmer mind I started experiencing (after the Plateau of Latent Potential, btw!), I LOVED my streak. I’m now over 10 years in and I’ve missed one day. Super satisfying.
Insert your desired behavior. Follow the 4 Laws. And… Do the opposite for the stuff you want to get rid of. How about a quick walk through of a bad habit we’d like to break? Eating junk food?!
First: Make it invisible (not obvious). How? Remember to “buy your willpower at the store.” In other words, DON’T BUY JUNK FOOD. (And throw away what you have.) Make it INVISIBLE. (Why? Well, when it’s “obvious”/in sight, what do you do? You eat it!! lol)
Second: Make it unattractive. “Reframe your mind-set. Highlight the benefits of avoiding the bad habits.” For example, imagine your energy stabilizing and your health Optimizing, etc.
Third: Make it difficult. “Increase friction” by increasing the number of steps between you and your bad habits. For example, you need to drive the grocery store to buy the junk food!
Fourth: Make it unsatisfying. Keep that reframe from above in mind and make the connection between your spike/crash energy levels and that junk food!
Your turn! What’s the #1 good habit you’d like to create? #1 bad habit you’d like to break? If you feel so inspired, spend a moment working it through the model!