Thanks to Charles Duhigg, we now know about the habit loop. We know that it is comprised of three components; the cue, routine and reward. We even know from reading up to this point in his original publication that anything from a candy bar to an emotion can act as a cue.
But we’ve yet to talk about cravings. How important are they when it comes to understanding habits? Do you think that you can maintain new habits over a prolonged period of time without cravings? From what Charles tells us, in this chapter of his original work, “It’s just not likely!”
“Yes!” Through sheer force of mind you can start work on creating a new habit. It would be like practicing a musical instrument or first learning how to drive a car. Your concentration level would be high initially. But, since practice does make perfect, driving the car or playing the musical instrument would become second nature to you over time. However, if there wasn’t anything in it for you, loss of interest in driving or playing that musical instrument would likely occur.
This is where cravings come into play. Let’s say that you want to start working out every morning. You need some sort of cue to remind you that this is what you plan to do when you get out of bed. So, you put your gym clothes out next to your bed so you can put them on when you get up. You do the workout and are rewarded by your sense of accomplishment, the rush you feel afterwards or perhaps have a special snack that you really like after each daily workout is completed.
At first your brain doesn’t register the reward until the cue and routine are finalized. After a time though, your mind will begin anticipating/craving the reward that performing your new habit (working out, in this case) will bring to you. The craving will be triggered by the cue.
So, “Yes,” seeing gym clothes would be the cue that activates the craving for that feeling of accomplishment, or other rewards you give yourself, after your workout routine/habit is complete. This triggers your motivation to execute the routine. Thus, according to Mr. Duhigg, once the craving has kicked in a solid new habit is born. But don’t think for a second that you’re the only one who is looking to trigger your cravings with the intention of supporting your current or new habits.
Through advertising, companies target a cue (like having whiter teeth) and then attempt to convince you that getting into the habit of using their product will bring you a greater reward. Their goal in all of this is that you will eventually grow to crave more of what they are selling. In some cases you might crave it because of a sensation or other experience; all starting with a design in a laboratory to make you think the product works exceptionally well, “Even when it doesn’t!”