You may not be aware but cues are everywhere.
I’ve been reading and researching a ton about habits lately.
I have made it my new goal to study human behavior mainly for my personal improvement and to cultivate better habits but also for the larger benefit of using them in designing successful products in the future.
Today, I wanted to share a few thoughts on cues, how ubiquitous they are in our lives and the role they play in our habits and behavior.
It is important to familiarize yourself with the power of cues. They often go un-noticed yet they carry a huge influence in shaping our rituals which further shapes our behavior.
No one wakes up to become a serial smoker and finish 2 packs a day.
No one wakes up to become furious and pick fights with their partner.
No one wakes up to stuff themselves with cookies and risk their health.
These are chronic behaviors developed over time due to routines performed at the trigger of a cue.
Someone who is a serial smoker feels the pack of cigarettes in their pocket at lunch and suddenly develops a craving which can only be extinguished by walking out and taking a smoke.
Someone “sees” a set of cookies on the kitchen counter after a tired day at work and suddenly develops a craving which can only be extinguished by grabbing two or three cookies.
Cue is where it all starts and no amount of will power can help you if you have strong cues lined up all around you.
Two people whose work on this topic impresses me the most are Charles Duhigg and James Clear. Charles is a Pulitzer-prize winning American journalist and non-fiction author of the famous book “The Power of Habit” which has been highly recommended for years and is on my list to complete right after “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.
In an article, Charles writes:
“To identify a cue amid the noise, identify categories of behaviors ahead of time to scrutinize in order to see patterns. Luckily, science offers some help in this regard. Experiments have shown that almost all habitual cues fit into one of five categories.
Take a moment and reflect on your behavior/habits when you find a cue as described below:
Location - sitting at your desk first thing in the morning, driving down a certain street, at the temple/church
Time - breakfast, 2pm, lunch break
Emotional State - bored, tired, happy, sad
Other People - with X, with Y
Immediately preceding action - after shower, before leaving the house
I am guessing each cue triggers a unique reaction from you which may or may not be positive. But you are running on auto-pilot in most cases. This is the very essence of understanding habits. They are so automatic that it requires reflection and careful planning if you want to improve them.
To add to the above list, I think there are a few more ways to categorize cues: (along with the associated personal habits of mine)
Visual: Photo of a family member - feeling happy and grabbing phone to text them to say hello
Time of the day: 8:30am daily - sitting down to write a blog post
Location: on the MARTA train -immediately pulling my phone to meditate at least 5 min
Feelings: Bored - scrolling through Product Habit and Twitter
Context: First thing after shower - cleaning my glasses
What else? What are some other cues that trigger behaviors in you?
In further posts, I will come back and expand upon this topic to discuss how we can alter cues to hack into our habits. Thanks for reading!