Have you been trying to build new habits, but they always end up disappearing shortly after? Maybe you can try this method! James clear, the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Atomic Habits, created a simple 4-step method that we find incredibly useful. The 4 stages of habit are cue, craving, response and reward. Each one of the stages is important in building the habit. Now, let’s dissect the steps!
Stage One: Cue
This is the trigger that signals your brain to initiate an act or behaviour. The cue is information that can predict a reward, meaning a positive outcome. The reward can be anything you find worthy to chase like: money, praise, attention, power or a sense of satisfaction etc. Your mind is constantly looking for cues, both external and internal, seeking an opportunity of being rewarded. Aim to make the cues as obvious as possible to you. After identifying a cue, your brain will then move onto the second stage, craving.
Stage Two: Craving
This is the actual motivation that creates your desire to act. For example: when you want to watch a movie, you aren’t really craving watching the movie but rather the entertainment that the movie would bring you. You are looking for the state that the habit will leave you in. All your cravings are linked to your desire to change your internal state. Cravings are evoked by cues, and different cues trigger different people differently. So, it is not the cue that is mainly triggering you, it’s how you interpreted the cue and associated certain feelings and thoughts to it. So, surround yourself with the cue that connects you to the habit you’re trying to build.
Stage Three: Response
This is the action you perform, the habit itself. It can also take the form of a thought. The likelihood of the response depends on how motivated you are, which is dependent on how much effort you would need to put in. The more effort the response requires, the less motivated you probably will be. Your response is also dependent on your ability. So, if it involves something that you cannot do for whatever reason, you will not do it. Always aim to make the task as simple and easy for you as possible. Breaking down the task into smaller easier tasks can help you stay more motivated.
Stage Four: Reward
A Reward is the goal you are after. It is the reason you want to develop the habit in the first place. Rewards mainly help you achieve two purposes, satisfaction and learning. Satisfaction can be achieved in many forms of rewards like money, praise or achieving a certain emotional state but ultimately, satisfying the craving. Satisfying your craving is more important than the benefit of the reward itself. Rewards also help you learn which habits to keep and which to drop. Depending on the feelings of pleasure or disappointment you end up with, your brain starts to differentiate between useful actions and useless ones.
Combining the stages together helps develop a habit.
Each stage is equally as important in building the habit. A clear cue triggers your craving, which then motivates your response to take place, which leads to obtaining the reward. The reward then becomes associated with the cue and the cycle restarts. If any stage was lacking, the rest will not be enough to complete the loop. For example, if the cue wasn’t visible enough, no craving would arise or if the response is too complicated, you would not act upon it and hence, receive no reward. Identify the stage you need to improve to make sure you complete the cycle.
You are capable of achieving anything you put your mind to, you just needed a strategy. Good luck on your journey to finding, and creating, yourself.
When done inversely, the same theory can help you break your bad habits.
- Try making the cues invisible to reduce your cravings.
- Demotivate yourself from acting upon your cravings by making them unattractive.
- Make the response tedious and difficult to discourage yourself from doing it.
- Create an unsatisfying reward to teach your brain to slowly break the loop.