How to Create a Rock Solid Habit with Cues and Rewards

How many habits have you tried to create but ended up abandoning?

I recently taught a business training about habit creation. During my preparation for the training, I learned something interesting from the author of The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg.

What I learned is that we largely focus on the habit itself (i.e. the routine or activity that happens during the habit) and not on the most important aspects of creating a habit, which are the Cues and Rewards.

When creating a habit - let's say the habit of exercising 4x per week, one generally understands the long term benefits of exercising on a consistent basis and assumes that that should be enough to keep that habit going for the long term.

But what actually happens is your brain says that you're a liar when you proclaim that you are "going to stick to it this time!". Because if you don't like to exercise then how can you possibly say that you're going to stick to doing something you dislike 4 times a week?

You jump into that habit with an honest effort, then a couple weeks down the road it turns out to be WAY harder than you thought it would be. To make matters more discouraging, you're not seeing results quite as quickly as you thought. You get burnt out and give up.

Sound familiar?

So how do you create a rock solid habit when your very own brain is against you in doing so? Here's the super simple tip I learned: Do not focus on the actual activity of the habit but on the cue and reward at the beginning and end of the habit.

Cues and Rewards to Create a Rock Solid Habit of Exercising 4x Per Week:

Cue Examples:

• To exercise first thing in the morning: Place your exercise clothes and shoes out where you can see them in plain view upon awakening.

• To exercise other times of the day: Set an alert on your phone for exercise time. Treat it as you would any other important appointment.

Reward Examples:

• Save your most recent episode(s) of your favorite show for after (and ONLY after) you exercise.

• Eat a piece of chocolate! (Make sure that post-exercise is the only time you allow yourself to have that piece…meaning no other chocolate during the week. Period.)

It may seem pretty counterintuitive to eat chocolate after you exercise but what you're doing is developing new neurological patterns in your brain that will move that habit into the rock solid zone.

Giving yourself a reward is a bit of a mind trick; you must have it in place to keep going until you begin to enjoy the habit just for the sake of the habit itself.

A habit that I've been able to stick to by creating a cue and a reward is the habit of following up with people. I own a business and used to despise following up.  I knew that I needed to get comfortable and skilled at this habit because if I didn't, my business would suffer as a result. So I created my cue - I input an hour block into my calendar every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon. My phone alerts me when it's go time. And then I assigned rewards. My reward changed from day to day...the important thing was that I would not let myself indulge in that reward UNTIL I was done with follow-up. I've given myself rewards such as the ones I mentioned earlier: catching up on a show I recorded and NOT allowing myself to do so until after my follow-up…and dessert rewards (not always chocolate).

You know what happened? The more I stuck to the schedule and followed-up, the more I started actually enjoying it! Now I love connecting with people and seeing where I can be of service to them. I've rewired the neurological patterns in my brain, allowing me to drop the physical rewards because following up is a reward in of itself. I can honestly say that the calls are fun and rewarding for me now, even sans dessert. ;)

I want to know: What is a habit that you know you need to get into but haven't been able to sustain? What cue and reward will you create to make your habit rock solid for life?


In Love and Health,