The story behind a habit: Meet the behavior chain

by | Apr 25, 2022 | Last updated Jun 8, 2022

What do you think of when you hear the word “habit”? Is it brushing your teeth? Biting your nails? Midnight snacking? 

Habits can seem fairly obvious, but they’re not always so clear-cut. For example, showering is a habit. So is toweling off afterward. Driving home on a certain route is a habit, and so is eating popcorn at the movies.

Habits can feel like such an ingrained and automatic part of us, it’s as if we were born with them. But the truth is, all habits are learned. 

And the best way to begin unlearning a habit is by understanding the subconscious process behind it.

Note: This article is based on our Noom Weight curriculum. Learn more below.

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A healthier you, wherever you are.

The Behavior Chain

Psychologists call the subconscious process behind a habit the behavior chain—which is a foray into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Every habit is born out of a specific context. (I’m going to shower, better grab a towel.) In the behavior chain, it’s called a trigger.

There are infinite triggers, but they all fall under the categories of: environmental, mental, emotional, or social.

Let’s say you walk into a party and spot a beautiful cheese plate. That’s an environmental trigger. 

You look around, and all the guests are downing Brie like there’s no tomorrow. That’s your social trigger.

You’re overwhelmed by the number of people in the room and stressed about all the small talk you’re about to make. Meet your mental and emotional triggers. 

After the trigger comes a (subconscious) thought. 

Thoughts can be great, but can also say things like, “You’re at a party, have a good time!” or “All your friends are eating, why aren’t you?” or “Today was the worst, you deserve a mouthful of cheese just for making it through.”

These thoughts lead to actions. Actions like reaching out your hand, snatching the last piece of Gouda, and tossing it into your mouth before your brain has a chance to think: Wait! I meant to eat the Brie.

In turn, actions lead to consequences. There are four distinct types: physical, physiological, psychological, and emotional.

In our Gouda example, the consequences might be:

  • A not-so-happy stomach (physical).
  • Salivating for more Gouda (physiological).
  • Wondering, Why did I do that? (psychological).
  • Feeling confused or underwhelmed (emotional).  

The first step needed to break a habit is understanding it, and now you know what to look for. 

Ready to make a lasting change?

A healthier you, wherever you are.