The Habit Trigger

The concept of a habit ‘trigger’ is not a new one. It is mentioned in the Wikipedia definition, as “the cue [...] that causes your habit to come about”, and discussed in articles about how to break or change habits. By identifying those situations that “trigger” our bad habits, the theory goes, we can consciously avoid them.

When it comes to engendering new habits, triggers can also be incredibly useful ways to alter behaviour. I’ve found that making sure to  identify or place a clear trigger right in your own path is the best way to trick your brain into remembering to perform the new actions you want to eventually become habit.

In my own attempts to introduce two new regular parts of my day — exercise and writing — I am making use of both physical and locational triggers. To remind myself to exercise every morning, I’ve placed a calendar next to my desk, so that it is one of the first things I see in the morning. Combining this with the Seinfeld “Don’t Break The Chain” method provides a visual trigger that prompts me to do my morning exercise.

To encourage a daily writing habit, I rely more on a location-based trigger. I get into work early and write over that first cup of coffee while the office is empty, or if I’m away in a hotel room I will setup my laptop so that Scrivener is ready and waiting when I wake up. Of course, this method has its drawbacks — at weekends or if working from home, it’s easy to get swept up in work or play and forget to find time to write. At times like those, a trusted to-do list that supports recurring tasks is invaluable.

Ultimately forming a new habit relies mostly on self-discipline, but anything you can do to hack your brain to make it a little easier to keep going can only be a good thing.

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