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Changing Habits: Make Triggers Work for You

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"Aim for success not perfection... Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make you a far happier and more productive person."
- Dr. David Burns


One of the hardest things that I've ever had to do is to stop doing something. Have you ever wanted to lose weight but you found yourself stuffing cookies into your big, fat face? I have. What was I thinking? Oh, here's another one, have you ever wanted to improve your relationship with your spouse only to find yourself yelling at them? Why did I lose my temper?

Now, think back right before you did the thing that you didn't want to do. What were you doing right before that moment of decision? That thing is called the trigger.

Identify Your Triggers
Like playing a CD, much of our life has been pre-programmed by our past behavior. Every time play is pressed, we react in the exact same way. So, how do you know which song is going to play? You look at the cover of the CD. If you don't like a song, you can skip it. That's the same way it is with our habits. If we know what triggers a bad habit, we can choose to skip the behavior. So the key question is, "what's setting you off"?

Triggers generally come to us through our senses. For example, when I smell coffee, I want a cup. This is a pretty common trigger. If I wanted to stop drinking coffee, I would either need to replace the desire for a cup of coffee with something else when I smelled coffee brewing OR stop going to where they brew coffee. Here are some strategies to disrupt the negative patterns in your life by making the triggers work for you.

Strategy 1 - Don't Pull the Trigger
Once you know what triggers your bad habit, avoid those situations. If you tend to gossip over lunch, and you want to stop gossipping. Then, stop going to lunch with people who gossip. If you usually eat a bag of chips with your favorite show every Thursday night, and you're trying to lose weight. Then, either stop watching your favorite show, watch your show standing up, or record the show and watch it at a different time. They key to avoiding the trigger is to disrupt the pattern.

Strategy 2 - Pull the Trigger on Purpose
Another way to use triggers to your advantage is to intentionally pull the trigger, then consciously change how you react. If you pull the trigger repeatedly, and react in a new, more positive way, then, a new more, productive habit will develop. Don't fall into the mental trap that it takes 21 days to change a habit. It's not the time that passes that makes a habit, it's the repetition. If it doesn't take you 21 days to memorize a new phone number, why do you think it takes 21 days to learn to take the trash out on Tuesdays?

Now that you know about triggers, don't go around pulling someone else's.

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." - Aristotle

A Little Background
Wiktionary defines habit as "an action done on a regular basis". There are many reasons that we consistently repeat certain behaviors. Generally, we think of habits as something negative; however, there are many positive habits. For example, most of us brush our teeth at least daily. In fact, most of our daily behaviors could be defined as habits. This both good news and bad news. The good news is that your mind is much freer without the clutter of re-making every single decision each time we encounter similar circumstances. The bad news is that we can get in a rut that is difficult to change. Changing negative patterns is critical to changing our circumstances.
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