Use Triggers to Develop Productive Habits
“Good habits, which bring our lower passions and appetites under automatic control, leave our natures free to explore the larger experiences of life. Too many of us divide and dissipate our energies in debating actions which should be taken for granted.” ~ Ralph W. Sockman
A great deal of things we do on a daily basis are habits, things such as brushing our teeth after eating, going to the gym after work or reviewing our tasks first thing in the morning.
Our brain, in its particular struggle to be more efficient, transforms as many tasks as possible into habits so that we can carry them out nearly unconsciously and with hardly any effort—I mean the effort needed to move our will to do something—and we therefore have the vast majority of our self-control available to face new challenges.
But creating new habits is not easy. According to psychologists, action triggers are the most important part in the creation of new habits. A trigger is just an event or action that automatically sets off a reaction. If we establish the correct trigger, we are bound to execute the new habit every time such trigger is produced.
For example, the trigger to review your daily agenda could be the first time in the day you sit down on your office chair. If every time that you arrive to your office and you sit down, you oblige yourself to review what you have to do that day, it comes a point in which the association of sitting down and getting on with your work becomes so strong that you don’t need to force the situation anymore. In fact, once the habit is settled it would be really hard to start navigating the internet without previously having reviewed your agenda.
Obviously, this requires a great initial effort of self-control and discipline. Every time the trigger occurs, you have to be conscious of it and carry out the action which is meant to be the new habit.
A trigger can be any other habit that you already have embedded in your life (washing your teeth “after eating”), a time of the day (quick project catch up with your team “at 9am”), the location in which you’re (visiting your parents when you go to “the city in which they live”), or the people with whom you are (having an alcoholic drink when you hang out with “your friends”).
Triggers are also used to break bad habits. In such cases, the trigger already exists and it’s normally associated to an emotional state or a situation. What’s important here is to be conscious of the trigger and execute a different action when this occurs (“every time I get bored, instead of going to the kitchen to eat something, I will sit down and read a book”).
The action trigger’s value lies on the fact that they anticipate the decision. But in order for them to work, these triggers have to be visible and specific. Only like this someone’s normal conscious flow can be interrupted.
The simplest way of choosing a proper trigger is taking into account the habits that you already have assimilated in your life and anchor a new trigger before or after any of these habits. For example, if you want to go running every day and you think that 20 minutes after having breakfast would be a good time, then start to get ready as soon as you finish your breakfast: put your sports clothes on, put your shoes on, do the warm up, get your phone and select the music that you are going to listen while you run. It will be hard at first, but when the habit is assimilated you will do it automatically, without thinking about it.