The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change

Cue — Routine — Reward

This is the typical habit loop. You have some sort of cue (such as being bored). When this cue kicks in, your brain has a habitual routine to respond to it (such as visiting facebook). The reward, then, is what your brain expects when the routine is enacted, and is what it desires in response to the cue (in this case, being entertained).

Cravings are what drive habits — figuring out how to spark a craving makes creating a new habit easier.

Any behavior can be changed if you take a cue, provide the same reward, but shift the routine that gets you there. Maybe you get bored at work so you go to the cafeteria and get a cookie, the reward being a distraction and time spent socializing. If you turn your routine into going to a coworkers office to chat, you cut out the unhealthy routine of eating a cookie, while having the same reward for the same cue.

Keystone Habits

By focusing on one very important pattern that presents itself in numerous parts of your life, you can affect the other smaller habits. i.e. people who start exercising a lot will tend to smoke less, because smoking interferes with their exercising.

Keystone habits offer “small wins”


Willpower is not a skill, it’s a muscle that needs to be trained. Success has a higher correlation to willpower or “grit” than to any other attribute, whether it be GPA, IQ, etc.

Willpower gets tired just like a muscle, it can be drained by fighting your habits and it needs time to rest.

Willpower can be made a habit though. If you predetermine a certain behavior in response to a cue ahead of time, you’ll naturally go into the new routine instead of the old one and you’ll need significantly less willpower to do so. Foresight is extremely helpful.

Framework for Changing Habits

  1. Identify the routine
  2. Experiment with rewards until you identify which one it is you crave
  3. Isolate the cue
  4. Have a plan of attack

Almost all Cues fit into 1 of 5 categories

  1. Location cues
  2. Time cues
  3. Emotional state cues
  4. Other people as cues
  5. Immediately preceding an action cues

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.”

“This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future:”