The Formula to change any Habit

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Habits cannot be erased. But rather changed. In one of my previous blog posts about habit change, I stated that habits can be developed easily. With time, I realized there are more techniques and things to be aware of. Furthermore, developing a new habit or changing a bad old habit is more difficult. In this blog post, I will explain the formula to change any habit, defined in the book: “The Power of Habit” – Charles Duhigg.

The Formula to change any habit – The Habit Loop

Since then, the problem of changing a habit is that there is no formula for it. But thousands of it. Like habits, individuals are all different. And so using one formula to change habits is impossible. Because changing our patterns differs from behavior to behavior and person to person. For example, giving up on cigarettes is different from waking up at 5 am, which is different from working out, which is different from changing how we speak. The list goes on. What is more important, each person’s habits are driven by different cravings.

So, instead of presenting the only solution, we need to understand how we develop a habit. Once we understand how a habit works, we will understand how we can change a habit.

Step 1: Identify the routine

The formula to change any habit - the habit loop
The Habit Loop

The core of every habit, a loop consists of three parts: the cue, the routine, and the reward. Besides, to change or to develop a new habit we need to know what pushes us. By analyzing the habit and breaking it down into the three components, we will understand how our habit works.

For example, I have a bad habit. I smoke for 9 years now. And soon, I want to quit smoking. But all approaches were destined to fail. I tried with replacement like one of the electronic cigarettes. But they did not bring the desired satisfaction. And every time, I feel stressed or overwhelmed with work, I need a break and I smoke one. And this turned into a bad habit.

So, how do we start to change the habit? We do it by analyzing the habit loop. And the first step is to identify the routine. In this smoking scenario – as with most habits – the routine is the most obvious aspect. It is the behavior we want to change.

My routine is that I take a break from reality and smoke. So that is what we put in our loop.


The formula to change any habit - identify the routine
The habit loop – Identify the routine

The next question would be: What is the cue for this routine? Is it stress? Boredom? Craving for nicotine? That I need a break before continuing working?

The Formula to change any habit: #1 Identify your Routine.

Learn more about breaking a bad habit and creating a new one. Get the book: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Step 2: Experiment with rewards

The formula to change any habit - experiment with reward
The Habit Loop – Reward (Relax)

Rewards are powerful because they satisfy cravings. But most of the time, we do not know what kind of cravings we want to satisfy. Moreover, I doubt that I am craving nicotine. But rather another craving I try to replace. And at this point, many of the changing-habit-formula will not work. Because each person has another reason to practice the habit. For example, some smokers need a reason to go out, some others need this numb feeling, or for some, they need a break. It is essentially important to find out how to identify the reward we are seeking.

To figure out which cravings are driving our behavior, it is useful to experiment with our rewards. And it is simple. In this case, do something that has nothing to do with smoking.

  • Go out and get some fresh air
  • Chat with a friend
  • Get some snacks or sweet beverage
  • Close your eyes and listen to your favorite soundtrack

Doing these things and returning to work would provide me with the necessary answers I am seeking. If I would get some fresh air, return to my work satisfied, I would know that I am actually craving fresh air instead of a cigarette. That works to all of the other points. Chat with a friend (craving for socializing), get some snacks or sweet beverages (craving for energy), or listen to music (craving for a break).

You get the idea. Try to list all possible cravings and replace these cravings with the typical routine yours. It is crucial to write down how you feel. Because writing your emotions down will make it clearer what you are craving.

The Formula to change any habit: #2 What is the reward you are seeking? Experiment with rewards.

Step 3: Isolate the Cue

The formula to change any habit - Isolate the cue

The Habit Loop – Cue (Feeling stressed or under pressure)

Third, identifying the cue is the hardest part. When do I smoke? Is it because of nicotine? Or because someone asks me to join them? After waking up? At 2 pm as usual? Or maybe all of them?

Luckily, science provides us with a solution. We need to identify categories of behaviors ahead of time to watch to see a pattern. Experiments have shown that almost all habits cues fit into these 5 categories:

  • Location
  • Time
  • Emotional State
  • Other People
  • Immediately preceding action

So, if we want to identify the cue we immediately write down five things the moment the urge hits. Here are my notes:


  • Where are you? (desk at Starbucks)
  • What time is it? (1 pm)
  • What is your emotional state?(tired/stressed)
  • Who else is around? (no one)
  • What action preceded this urge? (finished a huge task)


  • Where are you? (in front of a restaurant)
  • What time is it? (7 pm)
  • What is your emotional state? (tired, stressed)
  • Who else is around? (friends)
  • What action preceded this urge? (eating out with a friend)


  • Where are you? (at my desk)
  • What time is it? (9 pm)
  • What is your emotional state? (stressed)
  • Who else is around? (no one)
  • What action preceded this urge? (finished a project)

Three days in, and I know what triggers me to smoke. When I feel stressed, I smoke. It can be easily explained why I start smoking. When I worked in a stressful environment, or when some sad events occur, I smoke. Now, I can define my habit loop of smoking. I smoke because I feel stressed. And I crave the reward of the relaxed feeling after every cigarette.

The Formula to change any habit: #3 What triggers it? Isolate the cue.

Step 4: Have a plan

A habit is a formula our brain automatically follows: When I see a CUE, I will do ROUTINE to get a REWARD.
Once we know our habits they can be fixed. All we need is a plan.

Because I crave a relaxed feeling, my plans look as follow:

Every time, I feel stressed out, I will listen to my favorite music and close my eyes. This will calm me down and reset my brain.

The Habit Loop – Exchange the Routine but keep the cue and reward the same.

The Formula to change any habit: #4 Change the routine and keep the cue and reward the same. Have a plan




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