What’s a Trigger & Why is It So Important?

Triggers are a little-known key to forming a new habit (or breaking an old one).

A trigger is an event that will kick off that automatic urge to do a habit. For example, smokers have a number of triggers — when they drink alcohol or coffee, many smokers will automatically want to smoke.

But this works for positive habits as well. Waking up can trigger habits such as drinking coffee, brushing your teeth, going running, or anything you want.

Habits become automatic after we’ve created a bond between the trigger and the habit — the stronger the bond, the more ingrained the habit.

Triggers and automatic habits are how we’re able to drive home sometimes without even thinking about what we’re doing — the drive home has a series of triggers (a stoplight, a turn after a store, etc.) that cause us to do certain actions out of habit — turning, slowing down, etc. We want to put our new habits on autopilot, right after a trigger.

And if we have bad habits, we want to take them off autopilot and disassociate them with their triggers. We need to list every trigger for the bad habit, and then come up with a new positive habit for each trigger.

For example, when I quit smoking, one of my triggers was to smoke after meetings — instead, I went to my computer and typed up my notes for the meeting and sent out any necessary emails. Another trigger was stress — so instead of smoking when I got stressed, I did deep breathing and exercise. These are just examples, but you can think of your own positive habits to go with each trigger for your bad habit.

What you want to do is create a strong bond between the trigger and the new habit. So each time the trigger happens, you need to consciously do the new habit. It has to be very conscious and deliberate at first, but over time this gets easier and the new habit becomes almost automatic. Do it as consistently as possible, every time the trigger happens. The less consistent you are, the weaker the bond between trigger and habit. The more consistent, the stronger the bond.

‘It does not matter how slow you go so long as you do not stop.’

Confucius