In this interview we’re speaking with New York Times best selling author of The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg, about the habit loop and how you can use it to build better habits.

Charles talks about how to figure out your habit loop, what drives your behavior, making a routine out of it, and how understanding that loop can help you build better habits. 

Listen in as we break down the three parts of the habit loop, give you some real life examples of the habit loop in action, and help you understand the impact of rewards!

Here’s a glance at this episode

  • [04:05] Learn the three parts of the habit loop – cues, routines and rewards
  • [06:26] Understand the importance of the reward in the habit loop
  • [7:49] Learn why we continue to do something we know isn’t “good” for us
  • [09:48] Explore what a reward might look like in your own habit loop and examples
    • Example 1: Craving a snack or something sweet after dinner
    • Example 2: Scrolling social media or being on your phone
  • [15:41] Regaining habits that you’ve fallen out of
  • [16:47] Understand what a cue in the habit loop is
  • [20:13] Can you have too many habits so that your life is too routine and too boring?
  • [22:24] How about habit building for people with ADHD? And how do you create a habit if you’re a person who struggles with consistency?
  • [25:34] Tips for those who want to build better habits but feel tired or burned out

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business

Ten Percent Happier podcast

Connect on Twitter @cduhigg

More Episodes on Building Habits

How to Create Tiny Habits: Why Small Changes Matter with Dr. BJ Fogg

How to Turn Healthy Behaviors Into Habits

Want to Make Good Habits Stick? Here’s How with Gretchen Rubin

3 Surprisingly Simple Things to Create Good Habits with Dr. Wendy Wood

headshot of charles duhigg on a navy background with pink text

Read the Transcript

Robyn Conley Downs: (00:01)

You’re listening to the feel-good effect. We are talking about the habit loop with The Power of Habit author Charles Duhigg let’s make it happen

Robyn Conley Downs: (00:12)

Radically simple and ridiculously doable. The feel-good effect will help you redefine wellness on your terms. Hi, I’m your host, Robyn Conley Downs. And I believe that wellness isn’t about achieving another set of impossible standards, but instead finding what works for you, drawing from cutting-edge science on mindfulness habit and behavior change. This podcast offers a collection of small mindset shifts that allow for more calm, clarity, and joy in everyday life and allows you to embrace the idea that gentle is the new perfect. I invite you to listen in. As we cut through the clutter and find the small shifts that create huge changes in your life. Less striving, more ease. It’s time to feel good.

Robyn Conley Downs: (01:01)

Well, Hey, feel good fam. I am so glad you’re here today. We’re talking about the habit loop and interview with Charles Duhigg, who is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. The book has been out for almost 10 years. So Charles is joining us to really talk about the habit loop, how to figure out your habit loop when you’ve identified the reward that drives your behavior, the cue that triggers it, and the routine itself, and how understanding that loop can help you build better habits. In this conversation, we’re breaking down the three parts of the habit loop the importance of the reward in the habit loop and how you might not even be thinking about rewards, and how that can be such a game changer. Some habit loop examples, what a cue is in the habit loop, and how cravings impact the habit loop.

Robyn Conley Downs: (01:52)

And then we also get to some of the questions that you asked. I pulled my real food, whole life audience on Instagram for some questions. So we answer questions like why do I keep doing something that I know isn’t good or healthy? For me, it feels so hard to resume a habit after life derails you the question of whether you can have too many habits, habit building for people with ADHD and the best tips for just tired people trying to do better as always, if you want more on happy habits, you can go to real food, whole or grab my book, the feel-good effect, which is all about doable, real life habits that will help you be happier and healthier. Okay, here we go with Charles Duhigg talking about the habit loop, an author of The Power of Habit, Charles. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Charles Duhigg: (02:42)

Thanks for having me.

Robyn Conley Downs: (02:43)

And so we were just chatting before I hit record that the book, The Power of Habit is coming up. Did you say on the 10 year anniversary of it coming out

Charles Duhigg: (02:52)

Next year, it’ll be 10 years since it was published.

Robyn Conley Downs: (02:54)

Does it feel like it’s 10 years old?

Charles Duhigg: (02:57)

It kind of does. I mean, it’s more that like, you know, I look back and like, uh, my older kid is 13 now, so, so they were three when it was published. And so I think that, um, that’s, that’s kind of probably the, the, the way that we measure time is in our kids, but it’s, it’s nice that, you know, they I’ve gotten a lot of emails from readers since then. So that’s a lot of fun.

Robyn Conley Downs: (03:21)

Yeah. So I don’t get too often to talk about a book that’s been out for so long, you know, usually we’re on the press tour talking about a new book. So I was first offline to ask you, I always want to think about which way I want to take things, but I’d love to know if you were to rewrite the book now or do a second edition with, on the heels. I mean, are we mid pandemic? Are we at the end of the pandemic? No one could say for sure, but particularly like you said, your kids are older. So as a dad, you’ve had an, you know, you had young kids now they’re, they’re sort of more teen age and then you just lived through a pandemic, you know, if you were to rewrite the book or do a second edition, is there anything you would change about it?

Charles Duhigg: (04:05)

I mean, I don’t think so. I think that, you know, there’s sort of two things that we’ve, that I think have been really driven home. The first is just how powerful it is when our cues change. Right? So, for folks who haven’t read the book, one of the core ideas is that there’s really three parts to every habit in our life and habits make up about 40 to 45% of what we do every day. And there’s cues, which are triggers for automatic behaviors and then routines, which are the behaviors themselves. And finally rewards. Every habit in our life has a reward, whether we’re aware of what it is or not. And, we tend to focus on the behaviors on the routines when we talk about habits, but, but, one of the things that we’ve learned over the last 20 years is that by focusing on the cues and rewards, you really gain a lot of power in changing those behaviors.

Charles Duhigg: (04:54)

And, and I think that one of the things that’s happened during the pandemic is everyone started staying from home is that we’ve learned, you know, just how delicate some of these habits are that, that when you stop going to work, all of a sudden you stop eating donuts in the morning, right? Because you don’t pass the donut store anymore, or you suddenly work all the time. And so your mental health declines, because you’re not bumping into your friends and therefore having just that small amount of social interaction that allows you to kind of remain sane. And so I think that’s one of the big things is that we’ve learned that when our environment changes, it can really drastically affect our habits in ways that are good or bad. And that the solution to that obviously is to be more deliberate, right, to choose what kinds of habits we’re developing, what kinds of cues and rewards are encouraging the behaviors that we want.

Charles Duhigg: (05:45)

And then the second part of it is just, you know, the last third of the book is about social habits, habits that occur within organizations, within companies, but also within society. And I think one of the things that’s happened with sort of the racial reckoning is that we’ve, we’ve seen how much of our behaviors, our social habits and our organizational habits and how much power we have over changing those and, and trying to create, uh, a more just companies and more just workplaces and a more just world by learning how much power we have over changing the habits that surround us.

Robyn Conley Downs: (06:20)

Did you find that your habits, what happened to your habits in the last year and a half?

Charles Duhigg: (06:26)

Well, so I moved from Brooklyn where I lived for the previous 16 years to California with my family, because my wife got a new job. And so one of the things that happened is that because we were in California and because we, you know, sort of everything was up for grabs in terms of our cues and our rewards is that I ended up exercising a lot more in part because, you know, also because I wasn’t leaving the house quite as much to go to places and particularly not to travel, but I, I definitely started exercising more, which was great. I really, really liked, in fact, I just ran a half marathon a couple of weeks ago, but then in addition, I think one of the things that happened is that oftentimes what happens is that we know intellectually that a reward is rewarding, but until we actually really experience it on a consistent basis, sometimes our, our mind and our body does not believe that it is rewarding. And so I think one of the things that happened is because I stopped traveling, I began to realize how much stress travel was really causing in my life and how much I enjoy just spending time with my kids. And so the ability to spend less time doing all of that and spend more time with my kids really helped me both recognize and feel how much I appreciated some of the real rewards in my life. And as a result, we’ll hopefully make different choices, you know, going forward.

Robyn Conley Downs: (07:49)

Well, it’s interesting, you mentioned sort of the intellectual knowing versus the body kind of having to have enough consistency with a reward, right. To connect that loop. So what, I have a bunch of questions from my fabulous audience, and someone wanted to know, I asked them before this interview what they would ask you and one person asked, why do I keep doing something that I know isn’t good or healthy for me? Well, she knows in her mind the good things. So why is that happening?

Charles Duhigg: (08:19)

Yeah, it’s definitely because it delivers some reward, some reward that you want, and it might be that you’re not aware of that reward, right? That you, you, um, it’s, it’s a reward that you’re not fully conscious of, or it might be a reward that you wish that you didn’t enjoy, but that you do. Right. And the key is that oftentimes we say things like, oh, well, look, I’m just going to use, you know, my amazing willpower to extinguish this habit in my life. But the truth of the matter is you’re still going to want that reward. You’re still going to crave it. And so there’s this thing known as the golden rule of habit change. It is much, much better instead of saying, I’m going to break a habit or I’m going to extinguish a habit. It’s much, much better to say I’m going to change a habit because when you focus on changing habit, what you’re doing is you’re really, you know, focusing on identifying with the cue and the reward is and finding out, can I find a new behavior that kind of corresponds to that old cue and the deliver something similar to that old reward, because I’m going to have a craving for that reward.

Charles Duhigg: (09:25)

That reward is something that I want. It’s something that I need. It’s something that I enjoy. And so just saying like, well, now I’m going to pretend like I don’t, I don’t want it anymore. That’s going to be much less effective than being honest with yourself and saying, okay. So, instead of saying that I’m going to actually just focus on how I find something that’s healthier, that’s delivering something similar to that old reward.

Robyn Conley Downs: (09:48)

So let’s unpack reward a little bit. Cause I know after teaching this for so many years, myself, sometimes people get stuck on that word. They don’t know what it means, or they don’t like the idea of the fact that maybe they are, that they’re not just intrinsically motivated all the time. So when you say reward, let’s talk about something like an example related to, I want a snack after dinner, a sweet snack. What’s the reward that I’m getting there?

Charles Duhigg: (10:15)

Well, I think it differs from person to person, right? So I think that oftentimes for many people, the reward is that they get to eat something sweet so that they enjoy having something sweet and they’ve grown to sort of be accustomed to expecting something that’s sweet and savory, um, after having dinner. But it also could be that, you know, it gives people a sense of, um, of luxury, right. That, or a sense of that. They did something good that day. They sort of accomplished what they were hoping to accomplish. And so, so the only way that you really figure out what the reward is for yourself is to kind of do experiments, to spend some time where you say like, okay, like, you know, I’m gonna, I’m gonna, if I think that the reward is that I want something sweet, can I, if I’m going to have fruit instead of, um, instead of the, uh, you know, the, the ice cream that I usually have, and if that fruit does a good job of satisfying that craving, then I know that it was for something sweet. That’s the reward that I was craving. Now it might be that, you know, the fruit doesn’t work, you eat the fruit. You still want the ice cream. So then you got to figure out, okay, so what else can the ice cream represent as a reward that I can, that I can, you know, try and replicate with something else. And you just do these experiments until you figure out what it is that I’m actually craving. That’s driving this behavior.

Robyn Conley Downs: (11:39)

Let’s give it another example. Since I think that’s really helpful for people to think about, you know, the fact there is a reward. If you keep repeating a behavior, you might not know what it is, but you can kind of experiment and look at it and it might not be the same for every person. Like you just mentioned. Maybe it’s like, it feels really good to do that as a luxury or maybe it is the actual sugar hit. So let’s talk about picking up your phone multiple times a day, or looking at social media in particular, what might the reward be from continuing to look at a social media app when you actually say that you don’t want to be doing it so much.

Charles Duhigg: (12:15)

Well, let me ask you, how, how frequently do you look at social media?

Robyn Conley Downs: (12:18)

I’m actually pretty, I’ve come up with a lot of good systems for myself. I would say for my job, I do it about four times a day.

Charles Duhigg: (12:28)

Okay. And so what, what, what is the reward that you think it provides for you? And you have an urge to look at social media and, and it’s something where you can say to yourself, well, I could go like, you know, work on that thing that I need to work on, or it could look at social media and you find yourself navigating over to like, you know, Instagram. What do you think? What’s the reward that you think is providing to you?

Robyn Conley Downs: (12:47)

Yeah. So for work, it’s a separate conversation, but if I’m doing it for personal, for my personal self, I would say mostly it’s a boredom thing. And it’s the, like, I worked all day and I made dinner and I need a break by myself. So I’m getting like, kind of a brain break. Cause it’s not that it’s not making me think that much. And it’s giving me like that little dopamine hit a stimulation of just something to look at. That’s not making me think too hard.

Charles Duhigg: (13:18)

Yeah. So it sounds like it’s giving you a little burst of novelty, right. Without you having to, to do much work for it so that it just kind of happens. Um, okay. So let’s say, you know, let’s say it’s six o’clock at night. This is when you usually, like, you could either like talk to your kids and do something that you enjoy, or you could like, you know, check Instagram and you find yourself checking, checking, social media, like what’s, what’s now let’s say, you said, okay, I’m going to talk to my kids instead. Is that going to give you the same reward? You think as looking at social media,

Robyn Conley Downs: (13:51)

My child’s doesn’t really want to talk after dinner

Charles Duhigg: (13:58)

So that’s not going to work. So what is something else that you think would give you that sense of novelty and sort of correcting boredom with high ease?

Robyn Conley Downs: (14:11)

Yeah, I bet so great. Such a great way of looking at it. So my solution has been mag, like old school magazines, the kind that’s actually printed on paper because I was trying to read. And the reading was always a little bit too. There was no that the ease that you mentioned, wasn’t there, um, a little too much work. So I went to kind of the old school magazine and that, and the articles are short and I can kind of look at it and relax and get a little bit of entertainment without a lot of work. So that’s been a really good, um, kind of substitute for me. Yeah.

Charles Duhigg: (14:44)

And I think that, that, I think that makes sense, right? Because there’s, again, this, this real sense of novelty that would be associated with that, right. It’s kind of the, you can flip the page really, really easily, and there’s different things on each page and it doesn’t take much like a newspaper article. It doesn’t take much to read it. You know, I think for a lot of people, podcasts are very similar. It’s, it’s interesting, as long as it’s a good podcast and it draws you in that, that, that oftentimes provides like those little bursts and it’s very easy. Because instead of reading, you can just listen. But I think that’s kind of the point is that if you spend a little bit of time trying to figure out what is, what are these potential things that might offer a different reward to me or the same reward, but in a different form then, and doing these experiments, you start learning things about yourself and figuring out what it is that actually makes it easier for you to change those behaviors.

Robyn Conley Downs: (15:41)

Yeah. So great. So I got a lot of other questions about things like resuming habits after life derails, whether you or I had good habits in the past, and I’ve slipped into old habits. Lots of variations on that question. So what is your perspective on that? If we, if we actually had good habits, but now we’ve gotten derailed for whatever reason.

Charles Duhigg: (16:04)

Well, so I think the thing to figure out is kind of, you know, so let’s say, you know, I, before this half marathon, I was running, you know, three or four times a week. And since then I’ve probably run like three or four times total. So, you know, once or twice a week. And, and so part of that is fine, right? Like the, the first thing to ask yourself is like, why is it so important to you to try and, and, um, regain this, this habit that’s fallen away. Like, is it actually something that you want or is it like, you know, you, you know, habit is inherently good or bad. It’s just habits we choose versus those that kind of happen without us thinking about them. And so the first question to ask yourself is like, I actually, you know, running three or four times a week takes a lot of time.

Charles Duhigg: (16:47)

So I’m not certain I need to go back to running three or four times a week, but let’s say I wanted to, let’s say I have another race coming up. Then the question becomes, how do I create these cues and these rewards to make that behavior easier and easier and easier. And, and obviously the first thing to do is to start saying like, you know, if you think about how most people start running, for instance, and this is something that I fall into, you know, they’ll, they’ll wake up and they’ll, they’ll go for a jog for the first time and, you know, a month or a year and they get home and they’re running late. So then they like to jump in the shower and the shower as fast as they can. And other kids are a little bit late for school. So they like, you know, yell at their kids to get in the car and everyone jumps in the car and then they, they drive to, to the school and then they drive to the office and you get your desk and a little bit sweaty and kind of anxious.

Charles Duhigg: (17:31)

And in other words, you’re punishing yourself for exercising and, and your brain pays attention to that, right? And your brain pays attention to whether you’ve punished yourself or, or, or have rewarded yourself. And so, if you want to start a new habit, if you want to regain habits, maybe it has fallen out of your life. You have to think about how I create space in my life in order to reward myself for these behaviors that I want to encourage. So, you know, for me in running, that means like, if I’m going to go running, I need to, like, I need to sort of arrange my schedule so that when I get home from the run, I can take a nice shower and have a smoothie and make running easy. And, and so, so that’s an important part is to give yourself a reward and then let yourself actually enjoy that reward. And, and really say like, look like I’m going to, I’m going to enjoy this smoothie because I just earned it. And that’s how we create those habits. As we design, we diagnose, we design the cues and the rewards in our life that allow us to, to make the behaviors that we want easier and easier and easier.

Robyn Conley Downs: (18:34)

That’s kind of a fundamental shift. I mean, I often think that it’s a little bit out of the American spirit. I knew I, of course I was born and raised in the U.S. so I have a very like U.S. perspective. And I think that we very much follow the, like, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, no pain, no gain willpower your way through discipline on your way through. And I think for some people it’s actually really a huge shift to do what you’re saying, right. Just to think like punishing, like having everything be a punishment and just gritting my way through it is not the, not only, not the only option, it’s not a very effective option.

Charles Duhigg: (19:15)

Yeah. I think that’s right. I think that’s right. I think that, you know, there is sometimes in America, that’s kind of like Protestant work ethic, that we believe that, um, we should be Stoics, but, but you’re exactly right. Like one of the things that we know is that the people who are most productive or oftentimes the people who are also happiest, right, because they know what they need. They know what makes them themselves more and less happy and how to, how to make themselves do their best work. And they listened to that and they paid attention to it. And they say, look, if I haven’t slept eight hours a night, I’m not going to get the work done that I really want to get done. Or if I don’t go for a run and give myself, you know, an hour and a half in the morning where I get to go for a run and then have a nice shower and really like, like enjoy this exercise, then the rest of the day, isn’t going to be as, as productive as I want it to be. And instead of just pretending, like they can kind of like, you know, grit their teeth and push through. They allow themselves to be who they actually are.

Robyn Conley Downs: (20:13)

Wouldn’t that be amazing if we could start to link productivity with happiness, then happiness and productivity would be a pretty big shift. Um, I also have a question about having too many habits. This is such an interesting question because I would never think to ask this. So that’s why it’s so valuable to get all the community input. Can you have too many habits so that your life is too routine and too boring?

Charles Duhigg: (20:38)

No. I mean, if somebody feels like their life is too routine and too boring, then they could just add some more novelty to their life.

Robyn Conley Downs: (20:48)

Charles, I think it does. Cause I would, I wouldn’t think to ask that because I don’t even see the connection between habits and boredom, but that I think maybe that’s a misconception about habits, right. That if you have too many habits, then all of a sudden you’re locked into this life where you’re like doing the same thing every day and there’s no novelty and you’re like a robot.

Charles Duhigg: (21:06)

I mean, most people who are particularly creative. So, everyone has about 40 to 45% of their life habits, right? That’s not like, and most of the habits we have are like mental habits. So, so I, I would say that the way to think about it is that most creative people try and habituate a lot of their life because it creates space for creativity, right? Like, like if you, like, you know, there’s been a bunch of studies for instance, of the fashion industry. What they found is that the thing that determines whether you succeed or fail in the fashion industry is not how creative or innovative you are. That, obviously, helps. Right. But the number one determinant is how much you can habituate the things that have nothing to do with creativity. Because if you’re spending all your time trying to figure out who’s going to, so your next dress, then you don’t have time to be creative.

Charles Duhigg: (21:55)

Or if you’re spending all of your time trying to figure out, you know, like how you’re going to ship stuff instead of automating, rather instead of habitualizing that then, or, or even just like where you’re going to get meals, right? What you want to, what you want to wear in the morning, what, what you want to eat for breakfast. People who are, are really creative. They like to habitualize as much as they can so that they have the brain space in order to really focus on the things that take thinking and allowing their creativity to flourish there.

Robyn Conley Downs: (22:24)

Yeah, it is. It’s, I think it’s like, um, habits almost need a rebrand and popular culture to kind of understand that, that they are like the foundation of your life, right? They allow things to run so that you have this space, whether it’s to be creative or happy, have fun, that they’re not ever restrictive things. And they’re not like robot thing. And that actually, so I also got some questions from people who have ADHD, who are wondering about consistency in the habit loop, right? So we know that in order to create a habit, there needs to be some level of consistency. And so if you’re a person that really struggles with consistency, is there a way to create a habit?

Charles Duhigg: (23:10)

What do you mean if you’re someone who struggles with consistency? Like that’s an example.

Robyn Conley Downs: (23:13)

Yeah. I know I’ve been hearing this a lot from the ADHD community of people who are saying, I constantly do things in the same way. Over time it is really hard for me. I can do something for a short amount of time with consistency, but over time I can, I can do something in a short burst. I can put my attention towards something in a short burst. I think that’s where it’s coming from.

Charles Duhigg: (23:35)

I mean, I think as long as people think about cues and rewards, there’s been a bunch of studies about people with ADHD. And what they’ve found is that those people have just as many habits as everyone else, right? Like, like, let’s say that your cue is that you meet a friend at the gym in order to exercise, and you give yourself a smoothie afterwards that doesn’t have to be the same friend and it doesn’t have to happen on the same day. And it doesn’t have to happen the same way or the same gym every single time. Right? Like, like there can be lots of changes and consistency there. You can, you can change the cues and the rewards by changing the surroundings around them, by changing how you’re delivering them to yourself. There’s lots of optionality. But the point is that for your brain, there’s a part of your brain known as the basal ganglia, that’s going to glom onto those cues and rewards, and it’s going to make the behavior easier because you, when you see the cue, you’re going to feel the urge to do the behavior in part, because you know that the behavior is going to deliver this reward that you’re looking forward to.

Charles Duhigg: (24:35)

And that’s true for people with ADHD as it is for anyone else. So it doesn’t have to be something that is absolutely consistent. It does have to be something that’s deliberate.

Robyn Conley Downs: (24:50)

Thanks for making that distinction. I love that you said optionality, which I’m going to start saying no to, but I think that was this previous question too. I think people are worried about losing options. And that is what you’re saying is that is not going, that is not required in order to form habits. When you’re looking at cues and rewards.

Charles Duhigg: (25:11)

I mean, what I would say is that you actually get more options when you start thinking about your habits, because the truth of the matter is that you’re going to have habits. Everyone’s going to have habits, whether you, you think of it or whether you want them or not. And so the question therefore becomes, are you going to choose those habits? Are they just going to happen to you?

Robyn Conley Downs: (25:34)

That’s powerful. Okay. So one more question in this kind of group of questions from our listeners, basically, I got a lot of questions that were, what is your best tip for just tired people trying to do better? I definitely am hearing a lot from people that are just, you know, they’re fatigued from the last year and a half. They’re kind of struggling. Maybe they didn’t use the time to exercise or run a half marathon. Maybe it was the opposite. And just a little bit feeling like I don’t even know where to start. I know I want to have better habits. I know I want to feel better in my life, but I am just tired. I’m exhausted. I’m burned out and I don’t know where to start,

Charles Duhigg: (26:15)

So, okay. So let’s create a distinction here. If you’re tired, then you should sleep more like, like there’s no, there’s no magic, right? It’s not like if you can get an author on and you ask them like some questions, they’re like, oh, here’s the way that you get tired as you like, you know, deep bone broth or something like that. No, like if you’re tired, you should sleep. And you build, you build the habits that allow you to go to bed at a reasonable time so that you can get enough sleep. But if you’re talking about something bigger than being tired,

Robyn Conley Downs: (26:42)

Wait a minute. Really though, I know that we’re laughing about this, but it’s like, I think that sometimes people forget that part, that if you’re tired, then the habit, they focus on the habit of creating some rest in your life. And that there isn’t some magic life where you can,

Robyn Conley Downs: (27:01)

You know, eat the right pill and do the right productivity planner where you have energy, but you’re not sleeping. So literally inherent in that question is I’m tired, but where do I start? Start with finding a rest habit. Whether it’s getting to bed earlier, getting more quality of sleep.

Charles Duhigg: (27:18)

Yeah. Or like turning off your phone, like not taking your phone into bed with you. If you find yourself spending 45 minutes, like, you know, scrolling through social media, then leave the phone downstairs so that when you lie down, you fall asleep. But I think what you’re asking is with whoever wrote that in is probably asking about something bigger, which is beyond just physical exhaustion. What they’re asking is how do I avoid burnout and how do I avoid kind of, uh, a sense of greater fatigue rather than just being tired. And I think what would be the answer there is that unless you have aspects of your life that are fun, that you enjoy, unless you have rewards that are actually rewarding, it’s going to be very hard, no matter how much you sleep, you get not to feel fatigued.

Charles Duhigg: (28:07)

And so part of this is that, you know, you have to give yourself time to have rewards in your life. And then you have to let yourself enjoy the rewards. Like if you eat a bowl of ice cream and you feel guilty about eating the ice cream the entire time, and then afterwards you beat up on yourself because you had a bowl of ice cream, it’s not really a reward. All you’re doing is setting yourself up for a different way of punishing yourself. So like, you know, I, so, like I said, I was, I was training for this half marathon and I haven’t run very much since I did the race a couple of weeks ago. And that’s fine. Like I was, I was tired of running. I needed a break. It’s okay. It doesn’t mean that I’m never going to run again. It doesn’t mean that I’m not going to get back into the swing of things.

Charles Duhigg: (28:50)

I wanted to take some time off. And so I’m taking some time off from running similarly. Like I like everyone on this planet could probably be like, you know, 20 pounds lighter. And that would be great if there was a pill, I would take that pill. But otherwise I don’t actually care that much about it because I enjoy eating. It’s a nice part of my day. And I like to eat things that I like to eat as opposed to eating things that I don’t like, just because it’s healthier. I think the number one thing is to like, there is no magic one, there’s no magic one that makes your life better just because you do this one magic thing. Like if you feel exhausted, you should sleep. If you feel like you’re soul fatigued, like you’re on the bridge of burnout, you should do more things you enjoy. And there’s no secret to doing that, except just literally to do it to yourself, have the time to do the things you want to do.

Robyn Conley Downs: (29:44)

Well, maybe that’s the magic wand. And if it’s, you know, if you’re a working parent and you’ve got small kids, like, you know, your options are a lot fewer, like, let’s be honest, but you can start with really small things. Like even just enjoying your food, instead of feeling bad about eating or sitting down to eat, instead of shoving food in your face, off your kid’s plate, you know, like going on a walk and enjoying your body moving, like there are so many ways that we can enjoy those small things that I think honestly, I mean, that’s, we do not have time for this conversation about why we deprive ourselves of enjoyment, but it’s something I talked to my audience about a lot, but I do think that might be the magic one, honestly, Charles.

Charles Duhigg: (30:25)

Yeah. But there’s nothing magic about it, right? Like it’s, it’s not like I’m going to tell you how to get like an extra two hours a day into your life. I’m just going to tell you like the extra two hours doesn’t exist. Right. So like, like, you know, I mean, here’s a good example. I have two kids. As I mentioned, what’s really important to me is that, like, when we have dinner together, that’s a really nice 45 minutes to an hour in their day. In my day, we like to talk to each other, we’re in a positive mood or we’re having a good time when they go to bed. I cuddle with both of them. And like, I read one of them if they want to. And we talk about their day, like the rest of the day, it’s not a priority that I’m having quality time with them. Like the, you know, if they want to go watch their screen and I have work to do, like, I’m not going to beat myself up for like, letting them watch their screens rather than sitting down and coming up with some, you know, fun and educational task for us to do together. Because like, there’s just not enough hours in the day for me to be a great parent all the time and to do all the other things that I want to do. And so at some point you just have to sit down and like, decide, like, what do I actually care about? And then plan your life accordingly and not beat up on yourself for not being able to do the things you don’t care about.

Robyn Conley Downs: (31:44)

Yeah. That’s really good. So as we come to an end here, I’m trying to, I’ll give you an option. I could ask you what you’re working on and most excited about right now, or if there’s anything we missed in this conversation that you’re really fired up to like, make sure we cover,

Charles Duhigg: (32:03)

No, I guess, what am I working on that said, I’m fired up about,

Robyn Conley Downs: (32:06)

I’m just like, what’s firing you up. It doesn’t even have to be work related, but it’s just, what are you kind of excited about right now?

Charles Duhigg: (32:12)

Yeah. I mean, I’m excited that like someday the world might reopen, right? Like that, like we might actually sort of get like a pre pandemic life back. I don’t know when that’s going to happen. And I’m also spending a lot of time reading, like a bunch of research on basically like, um, there’s this whole strain of research and scholarship about how you change prejudice, prejudicial attitudes. And I think that’s kind of interesting because it turns out that like a lot of the things that we do to try and reduce prejudice, like, um, diversity training, and what’s known as, um, perspective sharing where we like read books about people who have had, you know, other experiences. Um, those are less effective than we would hope that they are, but what’s, what’s very effective is oftentimes talking to other people and asking them questions about their experiences. Because when we talk to people, we tend to learn things that we’re surprised to learn. And so that’s been really interesting. And then just thinking about the implications of that has been, um, spending a lot of time doing that.

Robyn Conley Downs: (33:15)

Well, I’m excited to follow along then. Do you ever listen to the Ten Percent Happier podcast?

Charles Duhigg: (33:22)

Not really no

Robyn Conley Downs: (33:22)

There was an interview Dan Harris did on this exact topic with some of the researchers who are looking at it. This question, maybe interesting. Do you get up? It was maybe sometime last summer, like after June. And it was pretty fascinating. And he was talking to some researchers who probably whose work you are reading, but if I can find the episode number, I’ll say,

Charles Duhigg: (33:46)

Yeah, no, I’d love to, it sounds really interesting

Robyn Conley Downs: (33:48)

And, and just from that, with your knowledge of like habits and reinforcement reward, super fascinating. Well, that’s exciting. Come back on anytime.

Charles Duhigg: (33:59)

I absolutely will.

Robyn Conley Downs: (34:00)

Well, thank you so much. This was so, so valuable. Is there a way people can, um, I mean the book is The Power of Habit. You can find it actually. You know what? This is, you probably won’t care about this at all, but my last name is downs. And so I often see my book right next to yours. So you can find this book next to mine in all the bookstores everywhere, literally everywhere. Is there other ways people can connect or follow along with what you’re asking?

Charles Duhigg: (34:28)

Yeah. Yeah. If they want, they can follow me on Twitter. I’m @cduhigg on Twitter. If you want to come to my website, it’s Um, if you send me, uh, an email, I will absolutely read it and get back to you. I think I’ve responded to like something like 17,000 reader emails since the book came out. But, but absolutely if people want to find me and get in touch, I can promise I can promise it. Won’t be for nothing.

Robyn Conley Downs: (34:52)

Awesome. Well, thank you so much for the work that you are doing and for coming on the show today.

Charles Duhigg: (34:56)

Thank you.

Robyn Conley Downs: (34:59)

That was Charles. Duhigg talking about the habit loop. I’d love to hear what you thought about this episode. You can find me @realfoodwholelife on Instagram and, where you can find happy habits and healthy recipes. Thank you so much for being part of this conversation and this movement, this feel good movement. Thank you so much for listening until next time here’s to feeling good.

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