Cues kick off our habit routines, so figuring them out is very important. 

When it comes to narrowing down our cues, we have to watch out for too much information. Distorting factors can make everything much more difficult.

According to Charles Durhigg, most habitual cues fit into 1 of 5 categories: location, time, emotional state, other people and the immediately preceding action.

Essentially, you want to ask yourself 5 questions:

Where are you?

What time is it?

What is your emotional state?

Who else is around?

What action preceded the urge?

Quitting smoking was one of the harder things I had to do, and I can see where applying these questions retroactively would have made it easier. They wouldn’t have had simple, one-word answers, but it would have helped me see some places of vulnerability.

Places like bars, my backyard and my car were triggers. First thing in the morning, the evening and after meals were almost guaranteed to lead to me smoking. Stress, anxiety, sadness or excitement were problematic emotional states, as was being around other people who smoked. As mentioned, things like meals preceded smoking, but so did alcohol and any sort of transition.

Without fully recognizing it, being aware of the answers to these questions allowed me to take a change brought about by mindfulness and make it permanent by being conscious of my weak spots and the cues that would make it harder to stay cigarette-free.

Cues are everything.

By being intentional with them, you can break bad habits as well as build new ones.

What would happen if a commercial break was your cue to do a bunch of jumping jacks or drink some water?

What if a pause in the conversation or your lunch mate going to the bathroom was a cue to be silent and mindful for a few minutes instead of grabbing your phone?

Investigate the cues that lead to the habits you’d like to break, see how they instigate your routine.

Set up cues for healthy habits you would like to have.

Then, take over the world.