How to better form habits using the habit loop

How to better form habits using the habit loop

Use the habit loop to create better routines for your family

When considering a habit, you might consider whether it is good or bad and how it might help you reach a goal, but have you ever stopped to understand the science of them?

Learning how habits actually form can help you make small, but incremental changes that just might change your family’s life.

Habits form because the brain is constantly looking to work smarter, not harder. Habits are shortcuts that the brain forms to work more efficiently. Habits typically consist of three parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward. This “habit loop” is the subject of the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. He summarizes the stages in what he calls a "Habit Loop".


The Habit Loop

Cue – the trigger that alerts your brain to go into auto-mode.
Most commonly, this trigger is time-based, such as a specific time of day. According to habits expert James Clear, cues could also be based on location, date, or events, people, or even emotions. Our environment often determines which cues we are receiving.

Routine – the routine is the automatic behavior that gets triggered by a cue.
This is the action you take immediately following the cue.

Reward – the benefit you get from the routine.
If a reward is positive, you’ll develop a desire to repeat the routine the next time the same cue is delivered.

For example:

Cue – The alarm clock goes off.

Routine – You reach for your running shoes to go for a jog.

Reward – Your body feels energized and is surging with endorphins.


Just because you understand the science behind habits doesn’t mean habits are easily implemented. To give you a jumpstart to lasting habits, here are three tips for forming them:

Habit Stack.

Group a wanted habit with one you already have in order to prompt your brain to include it regularly. For example, if you have a cup of coffee each morning and want to pick up journaling, try writing while you have your coffee each day. Drinking coffee each morning is something you already do and rarely skip, so coupling the two actions together will help remind your brain to do both.

Divide and Conquer.

Sometimes a habit you’d like to form is too daunting to conquer all together. Splitting up the goal into bite-sized pieces can lay the groundwork for the larger habit. If you want to complete a marathon each year, but have never even run a mile, it would not be smart to start with the full on race. Divide the habit you want to begin into smaller chunks. For the marathon example, this could look like taking a daily walk, which then can turn into running three days a week, all to gear you up to starting a marathon training program, which leads to your actual habit which is participating in a marathon each year. Think of this tip as stairsteps to the ultimate habit you’d like to create.

Treat Yourself.

Rewarding is key to not only forming habits, but keeping them. While a child may prefer to be rewarded immediately with something like a sticker, sometimes stretch rewards that are given after a certain amount of time work better. You can always do both! Perhaps grant instant rewards the first 21 days and plan a stretch celebration once they have stuck with it for 90 days. Note this may not help you get through bath time for kids without a popsicle, but it will help them learn to cleanse regularly in adult life ;)


Be Mindful of Your Environment.

Remember, habits are triggered by cues, and those cues can be anything from a certain time of day, to hanging around a certain group of people. Different people, emotions or environments can trigger different behaviors and habits – sometimes even subconsciously. If you want to avoid a bad habit, you might want to avoid being in an environment where that “cue” could be triggered. On the other hand, if you want to encourage a good habit, you should proactively think about how you can be around people or environments that are conducive to your new habits.

Some family habit ideas we like are putting our dishes away after breakfast, learning to save and spend money properly once received, and taking our belongings to our room / putting them away before going to bed each night. Small, incremental habits you help your kids with now can assist creating a long and lasting family bond, as well as important practices for adulthood.


Still need help forming habits?
Try out Hearth’s routine builder feature, which can help you and your family form good habits. You can habit stack by building personalized routines for your family members, and build in rewards to encourage everyone to be consistent. These routines are designed to empower everyone in your family to track their habits independently – so you don’t have to constantly remind or nag everyone about their daily routines:

 For more advice check out the book Seven Habits for Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, available in teen and kid versions too!

We hope these tips help you create and keep your habits. Make sure to strive for good habits, as the brain doesn't discriminate between healthy or bad. You can form unhealthy habits as easily as good habits; but, just like bad habits, a well-formed habit is hard to break. You’ve got this!

Want to dive deeper in goal setting with your family? Check out some of our other posts on similar topics:

Family Habits to Raise Empowered Children
How to Establish Healthy Habits Around Screen time
Creating Healthy Habits Around School, Even During Remote Learning


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