Habit feedback loop is a model of the mental process that allows habits to be formed and maintained.
The habit feedback loop consists of four stages:
Reward is the end goal of every habit - it's essentially the only reason we do it. When a behavior gives us a reward, our brain silently nods and thinks "yess, i could get more of that".
Over time, brain learns that the reward is preceded by a
Cue stage is the moment our brain notices a potential reward.
When a potential reward is noticed, brain starts anticipating it, dopamine hits in and causes us to feel
Craving is strong enough, and
Response is easy enough, we perform the action - our
Response to the craving.
Response leads us to expected
Reward. At this point, our brain reinforces the idea that this behavior is desired, making sure to fire the whole process again when it notices a
If any of the four stages are insufficient, the habit will not happen:
- If the cue is not apparent, the loop will never start
- If the craving is not strong enough, you will not have enough motivation to act
- if response is too difficult, you will not do it
- if the reward fails to satisfy the craving, the loop will be less likely to start on the next cue
The rule above is in the essence of The Four Laws of Behavior Change.
The simplest habit most of us have probably formed over time is turning on a light when coming into a dark room. It's not something you think about or pay attention to, you just hit your hand against the wall on the spot where you expect the switch to be. Let's break down this example to see what exactly happens:
- you open the door of a dark room and notice that you cannot see anything (cue)
- you get a desire to see what's in the room (craving)
- you reach your hand to the expected place where switch should be, feel the switch and press it (response)
- the room is no longer dark, you can see again (reward)
Another example is receiving a notification on your phone:
- hear the phone buzz (cue)
- crave to see the notification (craving)
- unlock the phone and check the notification (response)
- craving satisfied (reward)
The same is true for stress-induced social-media-scrolling:
- a situation at work is causing stress (cue)
- feel the craving to relieve the stress (craving)
- open social media and start scrolling (response)
- stress is temporarily relieved (reward)
Any habit - good, neutral, or bad follows these four stages. Think of some habits you have and try to divide them into the four stages!