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Understanding Behavior

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."
- Dr. Albert Einstein

The Chocolate Chip Cookie Saga

I just got home from work. I haven't eaten since noon. I look into the pantry for something to eat. There is a box of chocolate chip cookies - my favorite. My mouth starts to water. "I'll just have one," I tell myself. The first cookie leads to the second. The second leads to the third, ETC. until there are no more cookies. Now I feel sugared out, I feel bloated, and I am annoyed with myself that I ate every last cookie. What could I have done differently?

The above story is all too common. Much of our weight is related to our behaviors - our out of control behaviors. Some of these behaviors date back to our childhood and some are recently developed. To lose weight, we need to understand our behaviors. We need to know how they work. We need to know their major components. We need to know how to make changes when it comes to our behaviors.

Below is a diagram of a behavior. It is call the Behavior Loop Diagram because once a behavior is started, it can continue by triggering itself.

The behavior is triggered. The arrow pointing to the Cue starts the behavior. The Cue is recognized and starts the behavior process called the Do. The Do leads to the Yahoo! reward. The reward in many cases retriggers the behavior signified by the arrow pointing back to the Cue. A repetative behavior may continue until the loop is broken.

The story above has all the elements of a detrimental out of control behavior. It also has clues as to how to change the outcome. What could have prevented it? Take a look at the diagram.

The individual's good appetite was in full swing when arriving home because nothing was eaten since lunch. There was nothing to divert the individual to a healthier choice such as an apple or the like. Right at eye level in the pantry was the box of the favorite cookies. Now the bad appetite pushes the good appetite aside and takes over. The deep seated behavior, now a craving, takes over. The mouth already tastes the first cookie. The reward mechanism fires off the loop again. The only thing that breaks the loop is the fact there are no more cookies. The box is empty. Now another behavior is triggered. The individuals thought behavior of remorse sets in. The rummination process can take over and the evening is ruined. From there several other established thought behaviors start to work and the overwhelming feeling of discouragement settles in.

What could have prevented this saga from playing out?

Remove the Cue

Behaviors are fragile in the sence that they have no power until they are triggered. If the Cue is removed, then the behavior never fires. Behaviors lay dormant. If the pantry had not been opened the visual Cue would not have started the process. If the cookies had not been brought home and stored in the pantry, the process would not have started.

Alter the Do

If a cue is unavoidable, then an alternate Do can fix the problem. Let's say in this scenerio the individual had not purchased the cookies and stored them in the panrty but someone else did. That is an unavoidable Cue. When this happens, an alternative action needs to take place; such as, closing the pantry and going for a walk. Drink a glass of water instead. The trick to altering the Do is preparation. The individual needs to have plan B ready to put to work.


Distraction, by altering the Cue, is a means for leaving the determental behavior dormant while cueing a nonexistant behavior. In this case, if the individual snapped their fingers or clapped their hands, the distrcting cue with no follow on Do and Yahoo! stops the process.

Limit the Loop

This also takes preparation. In this scenario, the individual could have packaged up before hand one or two cokies so on seeing the cookies, the behavior would stop one or two cookies.