How to Form Great Habits Using Triggers

Forming habits is hard. But attaching a trigger to your habit can make it stick much more easily.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #414

 If you set up habits, all the self-control energy is freed up to devote to the actual work.

As long as you connect the trigger to the habit, you can do whatever aspect of the habit makes sense. Intern MG decided to learn three or four basic juggling strokes, but each time his lunch break comes around, he practices a different one. He’s practicing the same skill at the same time, and he’s varying what type of practice he does, which is ok! If your habit is working out, the trigger is about getting out to the gym. Once you’re there, you can do any workout you like.

Once you’ve rehearsed the trigger, use good old-fashioned carrots and sticks to reinforce the habit.

Help Reinforce with Rewards

Grinding through your new routine is OK. But doing it with style is super fun. After you’re done with the new skill, reward yourself! When MG finishes a full 15-minute practice session, he rewards himself with a stroll to a nearby cafe and a cup of espresso. Because apparently what 21-year-old hyperactive hipster overachievers need is more caffeine.

Choose the reward to reinforce the good habit. Trying to go to the gym every day? Reward yourself afterwards with a sauna followed by a nutritious avocado, egg, and salmon crepe. Trying to floss more? Reward yourself with a refreshing gargle of mouthwash. And then lollipops! (No, no. Just kidding!)

After a whole month of intense juggling, Intern MG rewarded himself with a set of new chrome juggling pins with yellow stars on the tips. He rewarded himself and contributed to the habit, all at once.

Go Easy But Remind Yourself

If you forget your habit some day, simply realizing you’ve forgotten it is progress! Of course, don’t reward yourself. But when you realize you’ve forgotten, it’s the perfect time to remind yourself.

Mentally make an image of yourself in the future, doing the habit next time the trigger comes around. See yourself doing the habit successfully as soon as the future you encounters the trigger. Make sure you know it’s in the future in the visualization.

Once you’ve done that, go on with your day with no second thoughts.

Ignore Your thinking

Indeed, sometimes it’s good not to think about something. Procrastination comes from thinking. Always. Our thinking is what makes us procrastinate before vacuuming the living room, dealing with that stack of unopened bills, or base jumping. But once a habit is established, there’s no thinking! When we brush our teeth, we just do it! Indeed, at least for me, once a habit is established, skipping the habit is what requires thinking and effort!

When it’s time for your new habit, remember the lessons of the juggling pins. Choose a trigger: time, place, or person. Rehearse the trigger consciously, several times, to start building muscle memory. Then use rewards to help reinforce the habit, as well as repeated trigger rehearsal if there are times you don’t remember the habit. And pretty soon, you’ll be auditioning for Cirque de Soleil. And if you get in, I’d love it if you could swing me house seats. And maybe an underwear party with the cast.

This is Stever Robbins. Follow Get-It-Done Guy on Twitter and Facebook. I run webinars and other programs to help people be Extraordinarily Productive, and build extraordinary careers. If you want to know more, visit http://SteverRobbins.com/

Work Less, Do More, and Have a Great Life!


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT. 

You May Also Like...

The Quick and Dirty Tips Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To exercise your choices about cookies, please see Cookies and Online Tracking.