The Trick to Setting Habits = Cue – Routine – Reward

The Trick to Setting Habits = Cue – Routine – Reward

We have written many times about our love for the science of setting habits. After all, it’s what we do every day that matters far more than what we do just once in awhile.

A recent article in The New York Times on habit-setting in your 20s had some great points. First, the importance of laying good groundwork at this age if you can: When you’re in the midst of early independent adulthood, it’s time to set healthy patterns before later-life concerns such as children or caring for aging parents crop up.

After all, as Charles Duhigg writes for the paper, “How much money you make, how much time you spend with your friends and family, how well your body functions years from now — all of these, in many ways, are products of the habits you are building today.

Duhigg also offers a framework for setting habits — which can be applied no matter your age or your goal. There are three parts: a cue, a routine and a reward. And this is something you can train your brain to understand and expect, so that over time, you won’t need a reward.

For example, getting up early for exercise may require a strategy — a little bit of self-negotiation that might look like this:

Your first cue is your alarm going off, then there’s something else to wake you up — whether that’s immediately putting on your sneakers (because you have no excuse not to go to the gym once your shoes are on); or splashing cold water on your face; or attending a certain class you can’t cancel (in this case, a monetary cue).


After your workout, you might need to treat yourself with a latte, a steam in the sauna or some other kind of healthy treat. (Running blogger Ali on the Run uses a special mango-scented soap after every marathon long run — a great idea!)

Over time, your reward will become more intrinsic: You’ll know how good you’ll feel after exercise — or whatever your healthy habit might be — that it will become easier and easier to get out of bed without the latte, or the sauna soak, or the soap. Endorphins alone will be enough.

What habit are you trying to form? Share your cue, routine and reward for how you made it apart of your everyday!

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