Habit formation

13 Sep 2022

4 Laws of Habit Formation

The Four Laws of Behaviour Change are a simple set of rules we can use to build better habits.

For whatever reason we are trying to implement change in our lives, we must understand how our brains work to be able to enact change.

Every behaviour we perform is underpinned by a four-step process: cue, craving, response, reward. 

Essentially, the cue prompts a craving, which provokes a response, which delivers a reward. This satisfies the craving and becomes associated with the cue, which our brains then redeploy when faced with the same stimulus. Our bodies do this because we have finite conscious cognitive resource and having to consciously decide on our responses each time would limit our ability to perform other tasks.

Now that we have explored the neuroscience of why habits are formed, we can focus on the process of creating them.

There are 4 laws of habit formation:

  1. Make it obvious

  2. Make it attractive

  3. Make it easy

  4. Make it satisfying

Law 1: Make it obvious

To elicit a response, we must be exposed to a cue; our behaviours are largely shaped by what we can see in front of us. By simply adding a visual reminder, we can greatly improve the likelihood of us performing a habit we are trying to engrain. One great example is to set out our gym clothes before we go to bed, so we will see them when we wake up.

Law 2: make it attractive

Our brains are primed to make us act when we expect a reward, rather than receive one.

We are creatures that value inclusiveness and community; we naturally have a desire to fit in and feel valued. We should seek to surround ourselves with a culture where your desired behaviour is the norm and where you have something in common with other members.

Law 3: Make it easy

When we are required to act, we will naturally gravitate to the path of least resistance. We are always looking to economise our actions to be able to perform as many as necessary. If we want to make a new habit stick, we must reduce the amount of friction associated with performing it.

To do this, we can try strategies such as priming our environments. Similar to putting your gym clothes out before bed so you see them the next morning, this also makes the process easier as it saves you time and energy.

Downsizing can also help form a habit by making the desired activity easier. You could plan to run 1km instead of 5km, or read a single page of a book instead of an entire chapter.

Law 4: make it satisfying

We already know that habits are a means of satisfying our cravings. The brain has evolved to prioritise instant rewards over delayed ones, so we should always try to reward performing a new habit immediately.

One of the easiest ways to gain satisfaction is to feel like you’re making progress. For example, if you’re training for an upcoming running event, track your progress - such as how quickly you can run certain distances.

If you note down on a calendar everyday that you perform your desired habit and start forming a streak, the satisfaction of this will keep you going to ensure the habit is performed repeatedly.