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The Habit Loop, It’s Real

Recognise this? –  You’re just home from work and proper peckish. Yank open the fridge door. Hmmm. Leftovers. Scarf. A hunk of cheese. Ditto. Cold sausage? Be rude not too. Kids’ Easter egg? They won’t miss a little bit. Cheeky beer? After a day like today, you deserve it.

And that’s all before dinner.

Making habits, selling stuff

Like most of us, chances are you’d like to be a bit healthier: shed a few pounds, do some exercise, eat better. In a recent blog we talked about habits: the good and bad. We talked about how they can pin us to the couch, and how we can harness them to get us moving. So, let’s dig a little deeper.

Those wily souls in advertising know a thing about habits. They know the best way to sell us something – and to go on selling it – is to make it a habit. They’ve done it with breakfast cereal. They’ve done it with toothpaste.

Cue – routine – reward. Or why you brush your teeth in the morning

They call it a habit loop: there’s a cue, a routine and a reward. Think about your teeth. You wake up in the morning and your mouth’s a bit – bleugh. In advertising land, the bleugh is the cue.

Traipse to the bathroom. Reach for the tube. Brush. Rinse. Spit. That’s the habit – the action you perform in response to the cue.

And now your mouth’s all fresh and zingy. It’s feeling great. It’s morning time. But here’s the thing. The fresh taste, the zing thing – totally unnecessary. Doesn’t help with the clean. It’s there to make you feel better. It closes the habit loop. It’s your reward.

Break one, make one

So, let’s go back to your fridge.

The cue: back from work and proper peckish. The hunger is the cue.

The routine: open fridge, scarf the sausages.

The reward: hungry no more.

And the thing about habits, what makes them so attractive to advertisers, and so powerful for our health, is they are on repeat: day after day after day. A habit takes a single action and leverages it – massively.

Break it – remake it

So how can habit help us get healthy? Consider the refrigerator. We can’t stop going home, and we can’t stop being hungry. So, what can we do? We change the action. Stock good food in the fridge and not junk– and you’ve made a change. Yes, it takes a bit of thought. Habits don’t change themselves. And there’s no point putting healthy stuff in the fridge if you hate it. If you loathe tofu, don’t max out the fridge with it. Choose things you like but are good for you. Remember: you still need the reward. If it’s sweet things you crave, what’s your favourite fruit? If you’re savoury, swap veg crisps for potato. A little bit of thought and your bad habit becomes good.

What about exercise?

Exercise is easiest if you build it into your day, if you do it on autopilot – and morning is usually best. So here’s an idea. Put some trainers by the front door. Make sure you can see them on the way out. And build a walk in. Get off the tube or bus a stop earlier. Walk the long way to the station. Park a mile from work. Or from your house. And walk it.

Here’s the habit loop:

Cue: the sight of your trainers by the door as you head to work

Routine: whatever walk you’ve decided on

Reward: the feelgood factor – the zing thing you get from exercise.

When it comes to getting healthy, don’t underestimate the power of one. One small thing on repeat can change everything.

Share the one thing that you will change with us on social #powerofone

About the author

Active Nation

We’re Active Nation, a registered charity who are wholeheartedly committed to a bold and exciting mission to persuade the nation to be active.

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