Habit Loop: What It Is and How to Break It?
Work Wellness

Habit Loop: What It Is and How to Break It?

|Oct 13, 2023

Once you get used to doing something over and over again, even in cases where you know it is not good for you, it is easy to get stuck in a habit loop. The pleasure you get when you are rewarded for that habit makes it very difficult to figure out how to break a habit loop on your own. 

It could be a relatively insignificant habit, such as playing computer games while seated behind your standing desk, instead of working, or it could be a very serious habit that affects your health, such as taking recreational drugs. Either way, if it is something that is affecting your productivity, you need to find a way to break a bad habit loop before it turns into an addiction. 

In many cases, it takes a lot of work, including help from those close to you to finally break free from a bad habit loop. If you are struggling with a habit loop that is negatively affecting your life, perhaps it is time to replace it with something positive. If your mind can focus on beneficial habits, you will not have any time left for destructive behaviors. 

This article will explore all there is to know about habit loops, including what they are and how to break them. If this sounds like some advice you desperately need, read on and find out more. 

What Is a Habit Loop?

A habit loop is a mental and emotional routine that determines how and when you do something. It can be a good or bad habit loop, depending on how it affects you. Sometimes, you might think that doing something that makes you feel good is a great habit loop, without realizing the negative emotional and mental effects it has on you. 

If you do not learn how to understand and identify habit loops, you may end up diminishing your productivity without knowing it. A habit loop usually consists of three important elements, which are: 

The Cue

Most habit loop examples start with a cue that triggers the habit. It is sometimes referred to as simply the reminder, and is responsible for kickstarting the habitual behavior. A cue can be anything that reminds your brain that you need to do something. This includes: 

  •  Location
  •  Your last action
  •  Time
  •  People around you
  •  Current emotional state 

If, for example, you are stuck in a habit loop that makes you eat compulsively, simply walking into the kitchen can be the cue your mind needs to remind you that you need to eat. 

The Routine

The second part of a habit loop is the routine, which is the repeated behavior itself. Thus, the problem with the routine is that, in some cases, this can be a subconscious action that your body will automatically do without you even realizing it is happening. 

Consider a bad habit routine of biting your nails when you are anxious. As soon as something triggers your anxiety, you will start biting your nails. Sometimes, it will take someone else to remind you to stop doing it for you to realize what is occurring. 

This is very different from a conscious routine that you knowingly do after receiving the trigger. Seeing your yoga mat on the floor might trigger you to start doing your apartment workout routine, but this is not something you will do without thinking about it.

The Routine

The Reward

An essential element of every habit, whether good or bad, is that there is some form of reward at the end that motivates you to repeat the habit over and over again. The bigger the reward, the more it will reinforce the habit, making it more difficult to break free. 

Some rewards are beneficial, such as how being triggered to wash your hands each time you flush the toilet is a good practice for your hygiene. However, some rewards can also be detrimental, such as how you might enjoy spending all day relaxing in your ergonomic chair, and binge-watching TV shows at the expense of working or studying. 

The problem with rewards is that as soon as your brain associates the habit with feeling good, you will soon develop a craving for that reward, which leads to the trigger that causes you to repeat the habit. If you allow yourself to get stuck in such a toxic habit loop, you may find yourself just one step away from addiction.

The Reward - habit loop

An Example of a Habit Loop

Not every action can be classified as a habit loop. You get in your car and drive to work at 7am every morning, but this is not essentially a habit loop because there is no craving for the reward. It is simply an action that you repeat daily out of necessity, because you have no other means of getting to work on time. 

As such, it is important to provide a couple of habit loop examples so that you will know how to identify any habit loops that you may be stuck in. 

A great example is the habit of compulsively drinking coffee every time you feel low. Your diminished emotional state acts as the trigger that makes your brain crave a cup of coffee. Soon, you will start finding it hard to concentrate without wishing you could get up and have at least one cup. Drinking coffee is the habit, and the caffeine boost you get at the end is the reward.

Another example is when a student suddenly feels like watching a series or movie every time they sit down to study. Seeing their laptop and knowing it has some great shows on it acts as the trigger. Giving in and deciding to watch a movie instead of studying is the habit, and enjoying the show is the reward that the brain is looking for.

An Example of a Habit Loop

Why Is the Habit Loop Important?

If you consider what a habit loop diagram looks like, you will see that it is a full circle form cue, to habit, to reward, and back to the cue again. If this habit loop diagram is for a habit that is beneficial to your health (think of the benefits of running on a treadmill for 30 minutes), then being stuck in this habit loop may be great for your health. 

However, imagine if this habit loop diagram describes the way you carve and eat junk food every time you step into the kitchen. With time, such a habit loop will have very serious consequences for your health. 

The importance of a habit loop lies in the fact that it can be very difficult to break free once you are stuck inside it. It sometimes takes a lot of work to even recognize that you are in a habit loop. Knowing things such as the difference between emotional and mental health can help you identify a habit loop, which is the first step to finding a way to break free if necessary.

Autonomous Ring - Habit promise for a better you

How Do You Develop a Habit Loop?

The habit loop diagram starts with the cue. This is what triggers the habit, and is one of the most essential elements in the development of a habit loop. Understanding how cues lead to a habit, and also considering whether the rewards are good or bad for you, are important aspects of developing or breaking a habit loop. 

If you are trying to get healthier, for example, you might consider developing an exercise habit loop. You can start by understanding the benefits of running vs. walking. This will allow your brain to associate positive results with the habit, which will reinforce it.

   How Do You Develop a Habit Loop?

How Do You Break the Loop of Bad Habits? – Four Easy Steps

Many people struggle with breaking a bad habit loop because they do not understand how to tackle each of the elements that contribute to the reinforcement of the habit. If you are trying to figure out how to break a habit loop, the following four easy steps can help you: 

1. Identify the Routine

This is usually the simplest part of breaking a bad habit loop because all you need to do is identify what action you are doing that you want to stop. Using one of the examples from above, the routine you are trying to stop may be drinking coffee many times a day. Getting up and going to make a cup of coffee is the routine you need to target. 

2. Try Alternative Rewards

The driving force behind your coffee-drinking habit loop is the caffeine boost that elevates your mood after every cup of coffee. Your brain craves this energy boost, so you need to find a healthier way to feed the craving. 

Regular exercise has been known to boost dopamine levels in the body, which will leave you in a better mood without resorting to caffeine. When you feel the urge to go get a cup of coffee, you can do your stationary bike workout routine instead, which is a better reward than the coffee.

Try Alternative Rewards

3. Explore Your Triggers

Carefully explore the triggers that cause the urge to drink coffee multiple times a day. Maybe your desk is too close to the cafeteria, meaning the smell of fresh-brewed coffee is irresistible. You may also be triggered by watching your co-workers enjoying their steaming cups of coffee while you are trying to avoid it. 

Each time you give in to your habit loop, try to make a note of what the trigger was. You can then look back at your notes to see if any triggers stand out, in which case you can take steps to avoid these triggers. 

4. Find Ways to Avoid Those Cues

Looking at most of the habit loop examples that you struggle with, you will realize that if you avoid the cues, you will have a great chance of avoiding the habits. Once the craving for the reward has been planted into your mind, it will be difficult to stop yourself from falling back into the bad habit loop.

If, for example, you notice that boredom is one of the things triggering your need to binge-watch TV shows during study time, you can try a bit of exercise right before your study, such as doing a simple leg stretch routine. This can boost your mood and put you in a better frame of mind that will allow you to focus better when you are studying.

Find Ways to Avoid Those Cues


1. What Triggers the Start of the Habit Loop? 

According to the habit loop diagram, the cue is the starting point, or trigger, of a habit loop. This is what is responsible for kickstarting habitual behavior, and is one of the first areas you must identify if you are trying to break a bad habit loop.

2. Why Is Changing Habits so Hard?

The problem with a bad habit loop is that it often comes with a reward that the brain begins to crave, which makes it difficult to break free. In some cases, the reward may even seem like a good thing for you, when in reality, it is causing a lot more harm than good. 

3. Why Are Habits Considered Better Than Goals?

Habits are easier to accomplish and can be used as the key element in self-improvement. While goals will only benefit you once you have attained them, habits can have a recurring positive impact on your health, productivity, and well-being.

Why Is the Habit Loop Important?

Final Thought

Figuring out your triggers and the rewards you are craving is the first step to figuring out

how to break a habit loop. However, depending on how deeply ingrained the habit is, it might take a lot of work to break out of the loop. 

Also, you must realize that some habit loops can be recurring, especially if you do not take adequate measures to deal with the cues that trigger the habits in the first place. If you follow the advice in this article, you will have a great chance of finally breaking free of any bad habits you are dealing with.

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