Weeding: Breaking Habits

One Million Steps
7 min readJul 21, 2020

Same Cue, Same Reward, Different Routine

This is definitely an awareness and fine-tuning exercise.

And we cannot stress this enough.

Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness.

Get the hint? If you are not aware of your actions they just become routines that may be leading to bad habits. So it’s important that you really begin to focus on things.

It really will help.

In our previous article on Keystone Habits, we explained that once you understand why you have a habit (good or bad), or understand how a pattern can form a new habit(good or bad), it’s hard not to

> see the dots that connect > the sequence of events > that lead to an action (the habit)

This can get confusing but stick with it. We will only focus on Charles Duhigg: The Power of Habit and his Habit Loop.

As an introduction. Have a quick watch of this:


A habit loop can further be broken into three simple concepts that can help us understand. It is made up of cue referred to the trigger, the routine and the reward.

Think about how long it takes to get the balance right on your bicycle or get that perfect turn without putting your foot down. It is impossible to gain perfection at a task without performing it repetitively or until it becomes a habit. But the reward is the joy of a long ride or the exhilaration of crossing the finish line.

But it is just as easy to cultivate a bad habit. You start off with one cigarette, then you justify yourself saying you deserve another one because you are stressed and before you know it, reaching out for a cigarette becomes a habit.

We hope to give you that brief introduction into what a habit loop is and how to break a habit that YOU feel has a negative effect on your lifestyle.

More importantly, we hope to trigger your curiosity so that you begin to find your new

“Habits aren’t destiny — they can be ignored, changed or replaced. But it’s also true that once the loop is established and a habit emerges, your brain stops fully participating in decision-making. So unless you deliberately fight a habit — unless you find new cues and rewards — the old pattern will unfold automatically.” -Charles Duhigg

Here is another video that can help you understand some of the concepts:

Any behaviour, habit, or routine can be analysed in three parts according to Duhigg: the Reminder (cue or trigger), the Routine, and the Reward.

The reminder is also often known as the cue or trigger. The cue acts as the signal, it triggers the automated routine, which leads to a reward. So, the process of forming new habits is a three-step loop:

Reminder — the cue or trigger that signals your brain to go into automatic mode, and which habit it has to use.

Routine — this is the actual behaviour; it can be physical or mental. If you do something, there was a trigger beforehand.

Reward — that is the thing that you get from doing the habit. Your brain needs rewards to figure out what behaviour and what loops are worth remembering for the future. Source


A cue could result at any time of the day from any location or the people you are with.

For example, the music from the ice cream truck can trigger a mental response in an instant. It is the brain sending a loud shout “IT’S THE ICE CREAM TRUCK!” to the body to satisfy the reward — which is a memory of cool sweet ice cream on a hot summers day.

Or let’s look at what makes you drink coffee or tea every day? Do you have a specific time you drink coffee or has this habit been cultivated because you might feel physically weak and drowsy in the morning? What makes you reach for that second coffee? Or the third one?

A cue has further been differentiated based on various factors such as:

  • Location- Identifying surroundings and location that cause the trigger is very important. Check if there are locations that trigger positive habits and focus on them.
  • Time - As people grow into adults and learn time management, they often set schedules that trigger activities. It could be a social gathering to grab a beer once a week or a coffee break at the office with your office pals.
  • Emotions - Does this trigger make you happy or sad? Are you in the right mental and emotional state when the trigger occurs?
  • Thoughts - What were your thoughts that triggered the cue? Are you easily distracted with thoughts that provoke multiple triggers and obsessions?
  • Surrounding environment - Peer pressure can also trigger a cue to get involved in an activity. Are you with the right set of people? Are you around responsible adults who directly and indirectly work towards your welfare? This is why a nurturing environment is essential to nurture a healthy cue.
  • Links with previous actions - Sometimes a cue can result due to the previous actions from activities that lead to the consequent trigger. You must ask yourself, what was I doing before this that made me drink this coffee. Was I under extreme pressure from the workload or was I feeling sleepy or was I pressurised with too much work?


Routine can be understood as the repetition of an activity that either culminates in a habit or nurture a new one to bring a positive change in your personality.

A routine is an action or a series of actions that result from a trigger performed over long periods of time or months repetitively.

Habits are the end results of a routine.

However, habit is a settled tendency or a practice that has been generated from a routine.

It’s the routine that can be re-shaped and changed — however, a habit is harder to let go.


In the words of Charles Duhigg,

“The weird thing about rewards is that we don’t actually know what we’re actually craving.”

Reward is a word that is self-explanatory but you need to ask yourself the reason you are rewarding yourself. What is the thing the brain is craving?

For example, what is the reason that made you buy the bottle of cold soda? What was the trigger for the consumption or the purchase?

Is it because you wanted something cold?

Could a cold glass of water give you the same reward?


Now that we understand the cue-routine-reward procedure of a habit loop, it is vital to formulate a plan to deal with them.

Psychologists believe that particular time and location will have an impact on committing to the habit loops. This has been referred to as implementation intentions.

The basic idea to this is to analyse the ‘if’ and ‘then’ situations to plan new habits. The first step towards changing unhelpful loops is isolating the cue. This can be done by understanding the time, location, mood, emotional state and the people around you.

The second step towards change is realisation. One must understand the issue and underlying implications of current actions and the problems they may cause in the future.

Let us further understand this with three variables X,Y and Z representing cue, routine and reward respectively.

If situation X arises (cue), then Y (routine) should be your planned/new response to the stimulus so that Z (reward) is what you get.

You can never truly extinguish bad habits.

Rather, to change a habit, you must:

> keep the old cue, and

> deliver the old reward, but

> insert a new routine.

That’s the rule: If you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, BUT if you can shift the routine and you can change the habit.

Almost any behaviour can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same. Source

Source: Charles Duhigg`s The Power Of Habit {Book Review}

“What we know from lab studies is that it’s never too late to break a habit. Habits are malleable throughout your entire life. But we also know that the best way to change a habit is to understand its structure — that once you tell people about the cue and the reward and you force them to recognize what those factors are in a behaviour, it becomes much, much easier to change.” Charles Duhigg

Have a look at the flow chart below AND A VERY IMPORTANT NOTE:

We urge you to have a read of this article How Habits Work by Charles Duhigg

Source: Charles Duhigg — A flowchart explaining How to Break A Habit

Written by M A R Kirthy and One Million Steps

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