How do habits work?

Episode 23 in Part 2 of our Introduction series: Getting to know yourself.

Habits:  Be curious | Growth mindset

Skills:  Habits | Routines

Description:  This episode introduces Charles Duhigg's habit loop structure, and identifies how habits actually work via the cue, the routine and the reward. We ask what a habit is, and then explore the idea that you have many more habits than you think, and begin the process of looking at how you can change habits you don't want.

How this lesson might be discussed with your child

This episode introduces the structure of habits as outlined by Charles Duhigg in his book, 'The Power of Habit'. This structure (at least as outlined in this episode) is broken into three parts, which Duhigg calls The Habit Loop:

  1. The Cue

  2. The Routine

  3. The Reward

Before you can begin to change a habit, you must first understand this habit loop. Today's exercise begins this process by encouraging students to think of both their good and not-so-good habits, but only in terms of the routine. Our next episode – How can you change a bad habit? – will introduce the final element of The Habit Loop: Craving, and help students to understand both the cue and reward component of their habits.

For today, here are some initial thoughts for any discussion around habits:

  • What kinds of habits do you think are common for most people?

  • Which of these habits are good, and which are not-so-good? Why?

  • Do you have bad habits that you'd like to stop?

  • Are there habits you don't have that you'd like to have?

  • How difficult do you think it is to stop a bad habit? Why?

  • What one habit do you think would most help you achieve your biggest goal? Why?

Some specific discussion points

Discussion of any literary works, historical figures, or current events featuring prominent individuals offers an opportunity to discuss specific habits that may have lead to good or bad outcomes. For example, basketball star Magic Johnson is said to have had a habit of ending every single practice session by shooting (and making) 100 free throws in a row (if he got to 99 and missed, he'd force himself to start over). Sigmund Freud on the other hand was said to have a cigar-smoking habit that meant he smoked nearly continuously. Even after a reported 33 surgeries on his mouth and jaw to remove the cancer it caused, Freud still couldn’t bring himself to kick the habit.

Some possible questions may include:

  • Think of a friend or family member you know well. Can you think of a good habit that they have?

  • What about a not-so-good habit?

  • In thinking of a successful person you know of, are you aware of a habit they've created to become great? (Like Magic Johnson's free throw shooting?)

  • Can the right habits lead you closer to achieving success? Why/Why not?

  • How can the wrong types of habits take your further away from success?

Discussing the quote from this episode:

"Good habits, once established are just as hard to break as are bad habits" — Robert Puller

Possible areas of discussion may include:

  • Do you believe this quote to be true?

  • Do you think it's possible to create a good habit from something you currently don't enjoy? (For example, could you create a habit of eating vegetables everyday)

  • How long do you think it would take to establish a good habit?

Further information on this topic

If you'd like to dive a bit deeper on this topic, you might be interested in watching:


Charles Duhigg – The Power of Habit.


Or you might like to read:

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do and How to Change.
by Charles Duhigg, 2012.