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August 8, 2019

Atomic Habits Part 4 - Understanding Rewards

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We’ve dove into detail in the first 3 parts of the Habit Loop presented in James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits.  It starts with a cue, which creates a craving, which induces a response and leaves us with reward.

Rewards are crucial to the habit formation process because we need to know which habits are worth keeping. The experience at the end whether positive or negative, reinforces the behavior you just did so that you can later decide if you want to do it again. This also makes sense evolutionarily.  A great example is sex. The reason sex feels so good is because sexual reproduction is the objective and mechanism of natural selection. So, those animals that were rewarded for doing it more often were more likely to have more offspring carry their genes in the next generation. The core concept is, what is rewarded is repeated, and what is punished is avoided.

Now, here’s the tough part. Our brains are still in survival mode and immediately attribute rewards to their triggers to see if it should repeat it. For instance, take smoking. The rush of nicotine provides a reward, but in the long run smoking that cigarette does more harm than good. So, there’s an interesting distinction that needs to be addressed when trying to build a new positive habit. What is immediately rewarded is repeated, and what is immediately punished is avoided.

So, to make a positive habit, which usually presents a delayed reward, more frequent, it needs to be more immediately satisfying. His suggestion is to associate the positive behavior with a natural immediate reward. For example, after finishing a glass of water to hydrate, have a sugary grape. Or after meditating, acknowledge it on a goal tracking sheet. Both of those immediate rewards build a strong enough association to encourage the behavior again.

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