Habits and Rewards
James Clear’s Atomic Habits discusses the science of how habits work:
The process of building a habit can be divided into four simple steps: cue, craving, response, and reward.
First, there is the cue. The cue triggers your brain to initiate a behavior. It is a bit of information that predicts a reward…Your mind is continuously analyzing your internal and external environment for hints of where rewards are located. Because the cue is the first indication that we’re close to a reward, it naturally leads to a craving.
Cravings are the second step, and they are the motivational force behind every habit. Without some level of motivation or desire—without craving a change—we have no reason to act. What you crave is not the habit itself but the change in state it delivers…Cues are meaningless until they are interpreted. The thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the observer are what transform a cue into a craving.
The third step is the response. The response is the actual habit you perform, which can take the form of a thought or an action. Whether a response occurs depends on how motivated you are and how much friction is associated with the behavior.
Finally, the response delivers a reward. Rewards are the end goal of every habit. The cue is about noticing the reward. The craving is about wanting the reward. The response is about obtaining the reward. We chase rewards because they serve two purposes: (1) they satisfy us and (2) they teach us.
In summary, the cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response, which provides a reward, which satisfies the craving and, ultimately, becomes associated with the cue. Together, these four steps form a neurological feedback loop—cue, craving, response, reward; cue, craving, response, reward—that ultimately allows you to create automatic habits. This cycle is known as the habit loop.
Atomic Rewards help with the habit loop. The µ symbol in the Subject of an email or adjacent to a QR code is the cue. The craving is the quantum of Mu that can be earned and what the additional Mu does – maintain a streak, bring one closer to the free item in the shop or the next level rise, and so on. The response is the action in the form of an open or click – the attention and engagement desired by the brand. The reward is the earning of Mu and a step towards a desired goal. Over time, µ becomes associated with a reward, and that is what can drive behaviour change.