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This topic is adapted from the Epipheo YouTube channel.

If you’re anything like most people, you have habits you probably want to break. However, it can sometimes seem like an unobtainable goal. Charles Duhigg is here to explain how habits work – and how to break them.

Each Habit Has Three Components

People usually think of a habit as a single thing, but that’s not the case. The first component of a habit is the “cue” which is like a “trigger” to begin the habit. The next part is the routine, or the actual habit itself. After this comes the reward aspect of the habit.

Take smoking as an example. The cue could be stress at work, the routine is smoking a cigarette, and the reward is the feeling you get afterward. That reward is how your brain learns to encode that behavior to use in future situations.

[Related: 2 Keys to Self-Discipline]

Cues and Rewards are the Keys to Habits

When people are trying to break habits, they usually focus on the routine, or habit, itself. The real focus should be on the cues and rewards that are associated with that habit. They determine how the habit forms and how to change them. As your brain begins to associate a certain cue with the reward that comes in the end, it forms the habit. The longer you let this habit grow, the more intertwined those cues and rewards get. The part of your brain called the “basal ganglia” is where this all occurs, and it makes those habits automatic responses. You can use this to your advantage, though. If you want to create a positive habit, use a specific and consistent routine followed by a small reward. This can help you create positive habits like working out or studying. To either make or break a habit, you simply have to separate it into its individual parts: cue, routine, and reward.

[Related: How to Say “No!” to Almost Anything]

Creating or breaking habits doesn’t happen overnight. You have to work at it repeatedly, but with this knowledge, you are one step closer to better habits. Evaluate the habits in your life and determine what you need to change and how you are going to change.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
  2. What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
  3. What are some “bad habits” people that can get on your nerves?
  4. Do you think it is easier to break a habit or make a habit? Explain.
  5. What are habits you want to break? How did you first develop these habits?
  6. What are some habits you want to develop? Why do you want to form these habits? How will you go about forming them?
  7. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.