Skip to main content

Building and Breaking Habits: The 4 Steps of Transformation

In this article, we look at a framework for habit formation and transformation and how it can help you build positive habits and dismantle negative ones.

By Luke Sullivan, Personal Trainer at Prahran

This week I attend a seminar with James Clear, the author of the bestselling book Atomic Habits. This book provides insights into habit formation and transformation. The model for building and breaking habits is structured around four stages: Cue, Craving, Response, and Reward. This offers a framework for understanding how habits are created and how they can be broken. In this article, we'll look into the framework from the book and how it can help us build positive habits and dismantle negative ones.

1. Cue - The Trigger for Habit Formation

The first step in the habit loop is the cue, which is the trigger for habit formation. Cues can be external or internal, such as a notification on your phone (external) or feeling stressed (internal). In the book, James Clear emphasises the importance of making cues obvious to facilitate habit formation. To build a positive habit, you need to identify a clear and consistent cue that prompts the behaviour you’re wanting to do. For instance, if your goal is to establish a habit of daily exercise, setting a specific time each day and having a reminder pop up (e.g., 7am Monday) as your cue can make it more obvious and likely to happen. The advice here is simple yet powerful: "Make it obvious."

2. Craving - The Desire for Reward

Craving is the second stage of the Atomic Habits model and represents the emotional and psychological component of habits. It's the desire for a reward that drives us to act. To establish a positive habit, it's crucial to associate the behaviour with a positive and satisfying reward. For example, if you're trying to develop an exercise habit, the craving may come from the desire to move away from the pain being unhealthy and towards the pleasure of being able to live a long and healthy life. By associating your habit with a compelling craving, you make it more attractive and motivating. The advice here is to "make it attractive." Another way is to find a social environment where the desired behaviour is the normal behaviour. This is because, as social beings, we long to be accepted into a group.

3. Response - Taking Action

The response stage is where the actual habit is performed. It's about acting based on the cue and craving. Here the emphasis is on making the desired response easy and convenient. If you want to build a habit of healthy eating, for instance, you can pre-pack healthy snacks or prepare nutritious meals in advance to make it easy to follow through. On the other hand, if you aim to break a negative habit, you can make the response more difficult by adding friction. For instance, if you're trying to reduce screen time, you can place your devices in a different room, making it less convenient to access them. In this stage, the advice is to "make it easy" for desired habits and "make it difficult" for unwanted ones.

4. Reward - Satisfying the Craving

The final stage of the habit loop is the reward. It's the moment of satisfaction that reinforces the habit loop. Rewards are what our brain associates with the craving, and they play a critical role in cementing habits. For a positive habit, the reward should be fulfilling and align with what we are craving. To maintain a health and fitness habit, the reward might be the joy of being able to run around at the park with your kids or buy a new outfit in a better fitting size. On the other hand, for breaking a negative habit like smoking, the reward of better health and improved lung capacity can be highly motivating. The advice here is to "make it satisfying" by ensuring that the reward fulfills the craving.

Remember, building and breaking habits is a gradual process that requires patience and persistence. Small, incremental changes can compound and lead to remarkable transformations over time. As James Clear says in the book, "You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems." So, start building the systems of positive habits today, and watch your life transform.

Are you our next success story?

Enjoy a two week FREE experience pass, when you book a free consultation today.

Icon FacebookIcon Linkedin