These are just fancy-pants words for what we call habit. And habits can be our friend or foe. Sometimes undesired habits are what bought us to the tough-stuff-table in the first place.

Most certainly, it's the desired habits that are going to be the thing we seek moving forward. 

What is a habit anyway?

Our habits are essentially an energy conservation method our bodies developed thousands of years ago. Our brain constantly seeks pattern recognition, and as soon as it has anticipated a behaviour loop, it takes it from our pre cortex (the thinking part of our brain) and encodes it into the deeper recesses of our ancient brain. In other words, it takes it from being a very conscious effort (which requires a lot of energy) and shifts it to an unconscious process (which requires much less energy)

There's been a tonne of research into habit formation in recent years and what we've learned is there are three stages to a habit loop. Trigger. Behaviour. Reward.

Trigger - this is the event or circumstance that cues the brain to undertake the behaviour. It could be putting your keys in the ignition that then automatically results in you putting on your seatbelt. Perhaps it's when you put out your exercise gear the night before that results in you getting up super early for a run before work? 

Behaviours - these are the physical acts that define the habit. A series of interlinked behaviours.

Reward - the reason we continue to do things is because at some point there was a payoff. If you're struggling to break old habits, effectively you're trying to undo old reward structures too. Too often if a behaviour doesn't stick, it's because the old payoff was still there, or the new behaviour just simply wasn't rewarding enough.

Right. Good then. So now what?

Our role as a manager is to look not just at the desired behaviour we want, but also the trigger and reward. So let's explore some key rules around both good use of triggers and rewards to make habits stick.


For triggers to work best, they need to be consistent. So think about trying to align the new behaviour to something that happens consistently rather than sporadically. What are the consistent structures at your work? Start time. Lunch time. Team meeting time. When you think about it, even the craziest fast paced workplace has rhythm in it. Look for these regular rituals and attach the behviour to it. e.g. "after every team meeting, let's get you immediately working on x-project while it's still fresh in your mind"


Such a crucial component to establishing rewards. There has to be a payoff. And not getting fired is not a payoff. Often positive social interaction is almost the strongest reward we know. Every time the new behaviour is delivered...especially early in the habit formation...a quick note of appreciation or a quiet word of encouragement works wonders to see it happen again.


Extra Goodies: 

Charles Duhigg is the author of 'The Power of Habit' in which he explores what it takes to change our behaviours and create a habit. This interview between Charles and Jonathan Fields provides some interesting insight into the patterns of behaviour-change.