The Power of Habit Discussion

During our first discussion of The Power of Habit, we talked about the habit loop. A couple people said they read the book years ago so they had some great insights.

The biggest question I have about the habit loop as I understand it now from discussing this and from videos I've watched so far is how do you not cheat the loop?

Picture of Oscar Gonzalez holding The Power of Habit book
Let's get reading!

Setting yourself up to get a reward that you can get at any time seems ripe for self sabotage. One of the examples Charles gives during a talk is that if you wanted to exercise, try having a piece of chocolate at the end of your run as a reward.

But then I wonder, what prevents us from taking the easy route and get the piece of chocolate immediately? It's not like we have to run 3 miles to get the piece of chocolate at the end of the run.

The piece of chocolate is in your cupboard and it takes just a few steps to get it, why would you do the run. And especially if you've struggled with exercising in the first place.

This should be answered as I read the book I suppose.

Thanks everyone for coming out today, hope to see you soon and for those of you that missed the meeting, don't forget to get a copy of the book and check out the weekly progress breakdown on this previous post.


  1. My hunch is that there is a presumed level of self discipline to delay the gratification until after performing the desired task – and if not, then less challenging tasks to build self discipline may need to come first.

    You can have the chocolate any time of course if you can’t otherwise control yourself, but by waiting until task completion you would reinforce the benefit of that positive activity, making it easier to eventually sustain a regular schedule for it – eventually without even needing the chocolate reward.

    • I think you may be right, but so far we haven’t seen anything about self-discipline. I think like David said (below) and like you’re saying, it has to be part of the equation… But at the same time, the book is talking about how habits are formed whether we like them or not, and they become ingrained into our brains in a sort of primal way. In other words, we have to make some conscious decisions that will lead to sub-conscious actions, then if a habit is formed (good or bad), it isn’t something we think about, but something that we just “do.”

      Looking forward to today’s meetup! See you there Steve!

  2. It seems to me that there are several ways to keep yourself from cheating the loop.

    The most obvious is to choose a reward that directly depends on performing the action. Instead of a piece of chocolate, for instance, use the endorphin rush you get from the jog as the reward. No jog, no reward.

    Another way would be to run the loop through an accountability partner (I think you said you were a fan of them). If your AP dispenses chocolate, but only after you prove you’ve done the jogging, you’ll be less likely to cheat.

    My favorite is to act as my own accountability partner — I think this is similar to what’s called “self discipline,” but for me it’s more like adopting personas. For example, I may adopt the persona of a professional chauffeur driving a high-value client, even though I’m both chauffeur and client, to counteract a tendency for road rage. Maybe it sounds schizoid, but I don’t look at it that way. We all have roles we adopt — friend, father, mentor, son, brother, employee, employer, etc. — and finding an appropriate role (mindset) is, in my experience, easier and more reliable than depending on other people to hold me to account.

    • Is this based on the book David, or just your opinion? I am almost finished with the first section of the book and haven’t read anything about accountability partners. Although I agree that this can help in some instances, I don’t know that it fits into the habit loop (yet).

      As for the reward being part of something you can’t get until the task/action is completed, I agree as well but so far it seems that this should be “irrelevant” for lack of a better term. But it is why I am wondering how it will work. I don’t think it has been addressed yet in the book so far. I agree that it has to do with some sort of self-discipline, but given the direction of the book, and the very existence of it, there must be something else to it, otherwise we wouldn’t need this whole understanding of habits because we should just be self-disciplined to do what we need to do. — I think we’ll get to a point where this is a lot more clear. So far it seems that habits happen at a more primal level, almost instinctively.

      • Having read that section now, I think the main point about the chocolate is that it is the reward part of the habit loop – “cue -> routine -> reward”.

        You want to reinforce the habit of running – the “routine” part of the loop. If you skip that part, you are into a completely different habit loop which has the routine of “not running”.

        So taking control of your habits will be more successful if you understand that you really need to follow the loop for running (in this case), and over time the reward of the chocolate will help running become a habit. As time progresses, other benefits of running can become their own reward, so then the chocolate can drop out of the equation.

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