By Leo Babauta

One of the key adjustments you can make to any habit that you’re having trouble with is to figure out what the habit’s feedback loops are, and tweak them to work in your favor.

What are feedback loops? Imagine that every time you did the habit, you got a treat (like Pavlov’s dog). You’d be more likely to do the habit. But what if every time you did the habit, you got a shock? You’d probably not stick with the habit for long.

There are two types of feedback:

  1. Positive or negative feedback when you do the habit.
  2. Positive or negative feedback when you don’t do the habit.

Consider the case of junk food: you get positive feedback (flavor!) when you do the activity (eat the food), and negative feedback when you refrain from doing it, because you feel like you’re suffering when you don’t get to eat the tasty food in front of you.

The feedback loops, then, are set up so that you’re much more likely to eat the food than to avoid it. Every time you do it, you get a reward, and every time you refrain, it feels like you’re sacrificing something, craving something you can’t have (and maybe you’re hungry too). You’re probably going to eat the food.

The same goes for other addicting habits, like Internet distractions: you get pleasure from doing the habit, and when you don’t do the habit (and try to focus on work, for example), you get discomfort.

Now consider the case of exercise: if you don’t like doing it, then you feel discomfort when you exericise, and comfort when you skip the exercise. The feedback is the opposite of what you want to create the habit!

So what are we to do? We’re going to adjust the feedback. We’re going to re-engineer those loops.

Re-engineer the Feedback Loops

If you’re not sticking to the habit, it’s probably because your feedback loops are set up so that you’re not likely to stick with it for long. You’re getting negative feedback for doing the habit, and positive feedback when you don’t.

What we want to do is make adjustments to reverse those loops.

Some ways to add positive feedback for doing your habit:

In short, make the habit social, savor the habit mindfully, feel good about yourself as you do the habit, and make it a treat.

I’ve found that positive feedback is the most important aspect of habit creation, but it’s good to give yourself some boundaries with negative feedback so that you’re more likely to stay on the path you’ve chosen.

Some ways to add negative feedback for not doing your habit:

With a combination of adjusting the positive and negative feedback loops, you can greatly increase your odds of sticking to the habit.

So if you’re struggling with a habit, try different ways of adjusting your habit’s feedback loops until you find a combination that works for you.

Action Steps

Today, I’d like you to take a couple steps:

  1. Consider what your habit’s feedback loops are. What makes it enjoyable or difficult? What makes not doing it enjoyable or difficult?
  2. If you’ve missed some days, implement two or more of the adjustments above, or others you can think of. Add them to your plan, and implement them immediately.