Habits = Water

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

— David Foster Wallace


Like a fish to water, where it doesn't even recognize its surroundings, habits are subconscious choices and invisible decisions that surround us. Sure, at some point you made a conscious decision to do that thing, but as you continued to do that particular thing, it became an automatic process in our routine that freed your brain to think about other things instead. In the most simple terms, when it comes to habits, our brains follow a simple process. When I see a cue, I will do a routine to get the reward, this pattern unfolds automatically and your brain doesn't have to fully participate in the decision making process. For good habits like going for a walk first thing in the morning, or drinking water with every meal, this process is great. With bad habits, this process makes breaking them a lot harder to successfully achieve.


The Habit Loop: All habits follow the same, simple, three-step loop:


  • The cue is a trigger which signals your brain to push play on the automation. These cues can be a time of day, something you see, an emotion your feel, a particular thought, or a person you are around.


  • The cue triggers automation of your brain to perform a particular routine. Routines vary from simple to complex and can be mental, emotional, or physical in nature


  • After the routine comes the reward that completes the habit loop and keeps you coming back to that habit time after time. These rewards can be physical or emotional in nature.


As an example, the cue can be a stressful event, the routine can be pouring a glass of wine when you get home, the reward would be the alcohol sedating and depressing the nervous system and generating a relaxing feeling within the body.


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