Chocolate can help you lose weight.
No, seriously. It can. Or at least that’s what Charles Duhigg, habit expert and author of The Power of Habit, says:
“Although it seems like very dissimilar rewards, it’s actually very similar in a neurological perspective … What happens is that chocolate is an extrinsic reward. You’re eating it and it tastes good. Over time, your brain will learn that there’s intrinsic rewards from exercise.”
When you set goals and find the right reward, you can build strong habit loops that last for a long time. That’s why we want to help you do just that.
Let’s take a look at how to set goals and achieve them using rewards, how to choose a good reward, as well as some resources to help you build great habits.
But first, let’s break down the issues with typical goal setting.
Why traditional goal setting sucks
Think about the last New Year’s resolution you set for yourself. It might have been to work out more, or maybe read a book a week, or maybe you just wanted to save more money.
Whatever it was, ask yourself: Did you get it done?
If you’re like the vast majority of Americans, you probably failed at achieving your NY resolution goals.
That’s because the problem with how you set goals is that they rely too much on human willpower — which we have a very finite amount of each day. Relying on it all the time takes away from that willpower until it’s depleted entirely.
Let’s take a look at that old nugget of personal savings advice that says you should cut out lattes or give up something else you love in order to save money. In your first few days of giving up lattes, you might be very motivated to stick with it. As the days go on, though, your willpower depletes until you revert back to buying lattes and forget about your savings goal entirely.
It might end up looking something like this:
This, my friends, is also known as the “Treadmill of Disappointment” — a cycle where we fluctuate between being very motivated and completely unmotivated. And it’s all because of willpower.
How, do we get off the Treadmill? Simple: With habits.
The power of Habit Loops — and rewards
Habits are the systematized solution to achieving your goals.
According to Duhigg, every habit you build has three parts to it:
- Cue. This is the trigger for a behavior.
- Routine. This is the behavior in action.
- Reward. This is the benefit you receive from the behavior.
Altogether, this creates something called a “Habit Loop,” which allows your habits to stick.
And at the heart of any good Habit Loop is a good reward. In fact, it might just be the most important aspect of building good habits.
That’s because it has the biggest impact on whether or not we stick with the behavior.
Let’s take a look at an example: Working out.
A typical approach to this might look like this:
- You go to the gym.
- You work out on the machines for 30 minutes.
- You go home.
Here’s what it would look like if you implemented the Habit Loop:
- Cue. You head to the gym when you wake up.
- Routine. You work out at the gym.
- Reward. You get a delicious breakfast when you’re done.
See the difference? One will likely result in you giving up the habit after a few weeks (or even days), while the other greatly boosts your chances because you’re rewarded for your behavior.
It subverts having to rely on willpower, because you reward yourself for achieving your goals.
THAT’S the power of a good reward.
Of course, it can work negatively for you as well. For example, smoking cigarettes.
A habitual, pack-a-day smoker is someone who has ingrained a Habit Loop that causes them to smoke cigarettes. Here’s what that Loop looks like:
- Cue. You wake up, or it’s lunch time, or work just got done, or you’re stressed — most anything can be a cue for smokers.
- Routine. You smoke a cigarette.
- Reward. You receive a euphoric buzz from nicotine.
Luckily, rewards can be used to counteract this. For example, whenever you get the urge to smoke a cigarette you go on a walk, or listen to music, or drink a soda. Whatever healthy reward can be used to replace your routine of smoking a cigarette.
Winning rewards for your goals
Let’s take a look at a few more examples of good Habit Loops you can build — and the great rewards that you can build with them.
- It’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner time.
- It’s the beginning of the week.
- You wake up before work.
- You arrive at a restaurant.
- You get hungry.
- You learn to cook a new healthy recipe.
- You cook a week’s worth of healthy meals.
- You make a salad for lunch.
- You order a healthy meal.
- You snack on fruits or vegetables instead of junk food.
- You get to watch your favorite TV show after you cook a healthy meal.
- You have a “cheat meal” one day out of the week where you indulge in unhealthy food.
- You get to listen to your favorite podcast or music during work if you packed a healthy lunch.
- You treat yourself to a movie after you ordered a healthy meal at a restaurant.
- You get one serving of your favorite unhealthy snack at the end of the day (e.g., candy, soda).
Quitting an unhealthy habit
For giving up unhealthy habits, you have to first be able to recognize the cues, the bad routine that follows, and the reward you get from them. Some examples:
- You wake up.
- You’re about to go to sleep.
- You work on a big project.
- You just got home from work.
- Something stresses you out.
Potential bad routines:
- You smoke a cigarette.
- You drink a beer.
- You watch Netflix.
- You browse the internet.
- You browse social media.
- Euphoric nicotine buzz.
- You enjoy the taste and feeling of drinking a beer.
- You’re amused by Netflix shows.
- You’re entertained by the internet.
- You get the dopamine hit from social media.
From here, you have to replace the routine with something that’ll give you a similar reward. This depends entirely on the routine.
For example, if you regularly smoke cigarettes, you can instead start going for walks or runs that’ll give you an endorphin boost. If you drink alcohol, you can start replacing it with sodas or La Croixs. Whatever works, as long as you have a good reward in place.
- You’re on a bus or an Uber.
- You’re in a waiting room.
- It’s the end of the day and you’re in bed.
- It’s a weekend morning.
- You just made a cup of coffee.
- You read your book … that’s it.
- You watch an hour of your favorite show on Netflix.
- You buy a new book after you finish your current one.
- You have a snack after you finish reading for a certain amount of time or pages.
- You watch the movie version of the book when you finish.
- You have a cup of tea or coffee as you read.
- You wake up.
- You get home from work.
- You dropped the kids off at school.
- You finish your first cup of coffee.
- You eat breakfast.
- Go on a run.
- Go to the gym.
- Lift weights.
- Start yoga routine.
- Head to a fitness class.
- Drink a smoothie.
- Drink a protein shake.
- Eat a hearty breakfast.
- Have a piece of chocolate.
- You go back to sleep.
Build habits for life
Choosing the right reward when you set goals is key to building good habits and accomplishing them.
To help you crush any goal you set out for yourself, we want to offer you something we’ve worked on to get you there:
In it, you’ll learn the actionable steps to crush any goal through smart habits, including:
- How to set goals — the RIGHT way
- How to create and implement winning keystone habits
- How to make any habit last forever
Just enter your name and email below and I’ll send it straight to your inbox.