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Trigger a New Habit

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April 28, 2017
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Changing our behavior is tough. How many times have we set out full of determination to develop a new habit, only to give up soon after? The start of the new year is when we are most willing to change, yet 80% of New Year's Resolutions don't even make it past mid-February. Our problem usually isn't that we don't want to change (though if it is, that is a whole other beast). Our problem is usually that we aren't approaching change in the right way.We buy into myths about habit forming. We think we can accomplish lasting change out of sheer will, underplaying the role our environment plays on us. We think we are too strong to give into temptation, underplaying the importance of removing things that entice us to fall back into our old ways. We allow ourselves to bend the rules "just this once", not realizing how far this truly sets us back.Taking a new approach to habit forming can make all the difference between lasting change and another failed attempt. You can condition yourself to create lasting habits with the use of triggers.

trigger pavlov dog

What A Trigger is

In a famous psychology experiment, Ivan Pavlov trained his dogs to salivate when they heard the sound of a bell. Anytime he fed the dogs, he rang a bell. Over time, the dogs began associating the sound of the bell with getting food (and, in turn, salivating to prepare for the food). Eventually, Pavlov could ring the bell without any food present and still cause the dogs to salivate. With conditioning, he created an entirely new behavior pattern in the dogs. The learned behavior (to salivate) was prompted by the trigger (the ringing of the bell). Before the training, the trigger had nothing to do with the behavior. Over time through conditioning, though, the trigger and the behavior became tightly connected.

A trigger is anything that creates in us an urge to do something else. Much of our daily behavior is prompted by triggers. Eating breakfast is a trigger to brush our teeth after. 7:30 am is the trigger to leave our home for work. Monday is the trigger for leg day at the gym. Triggers tie our habits to our other behaviors (like eating breakfast) or situational factors (like the day of the week) that would otherwise be unconnected.

trigger smoking

Using a Trigger to Your Advantage

When making new habits, you can focus on making new healthy triggers or replacing old unhealthy ones.Smokers, for example, may find that they are triggered to smoke after enjoying an alcoholic beverage. They can choose to remove the trigger altogether (by stopping drinking altogether) or use the trigger to prompt a new behavior (after they finish the drink, they pop in a piece of Nicotine gum). Replacing old triggers can be a great tool in breaking the bad habit.When creating a new trigger, use something that is already a part of your routine. If you want to learn a language, use your morning commute as a trigger to listen to a podcast or read a textbook. If you want to kick your screens before bed habit, make 9:30 pm your trigger. Once 9:30 occurs, you cease all electronics, putting your phone on silent and turning off the TV before reaching for a book.To create a lasting trigger, you need to repeat the behavior often enough and consistently enough for your brain to associate the trigger with the new habit. If you want to get in the habit of exercising every day after work, you need to do it every day. Aim for consistently acting on the trigger for at least a month. If you make exceptions and skip days, the bond between the trigger and the behavior gets weakened and it's harder to make the new habit.With enough time, you will find you go on autopilot with your new habit because of the trigger. No one needs to tell shower daily, brush your teeth, or put on deodorant. These are just things you do automatically because various triggers. You can use the power of triggers to incorporate new habits into your life, making them also something you do not need to think about but rather you just do.

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