Trigger Happiness

Hello, Community! You haven’t had a newsletter from me in over a month! I had the most amazing sabbatical/vacation of my life, which I will tell you about as soon as I close the loop on this series. In this final installment on Behavior Change, we talk about the ignition spark, or change trigger. Triggers are critical to help initiate and reinforce new behaviors. So, without further ado…

When I hear the word “trigger”, it brings to mind the concept of being influenced to do or say something involuntarily. Or a gun. So my mental model of the word is mostly negative.

However, triggers can be a good thing when they are intentional and you are trying to wisely change or influence a behavior. You can actually design your environment and your day to include positive triggers to keep you on the path you desire.

First of all, there are obvious triggers like alarms and announcements. In this modern digital age, all the reminders, pop-ups, and banner ads can be really obnoxious. They are also ineffective most of the time.  For a trigger to work, it needs to have three key characteristics:

  1. Noticeable – Keeping your workout clothes in your passenger seat is a good trigger to get to the gym, but putting them in the trunk won’t work as well. Noticeable means it needs to be in front of your face.
  2. Associative – When something is associative, it always reminds you of the same thing. A broccoli sticker on your fridge will remind you to eat five servings of vegetables, but a picture of a puppy doesn’t, no matter how cute.
  3. Timely – Timeliness is the holy grail of the marketing industry. Activate the right trigger precisely when you are ready and able to respond, and you probably will. A note on the front door to remind you to grab the kids’ permission slip is helpful, but a note in the same spot reminding you to pay bills, not so much.

Without becoming Pavlov’s Dog, you can use triggers in your life to serve you and make your life easier.

BJ Fogg Behavior Model, Stanford University

BJ Fogg Behavior Model, Stanford University

Let’s say you want to remember to take stretch breaks at work. We know our posture gets worse as the day wears on, and how healthy it is to give our eyes a break and move our bodies, if even for 10 seconds. But who remembers? Well, if you set your phone or computer timer to play your favorite dance tune every half hour, it might motivate you to stand up and move!

Along the same lines, if you want to stop a behavior, you can remove a trigger. When my mom wanted to quit smoking, she had to remove her biggest trigger – her morning coffee and cigarette. Not able to give up her coffee at the same time, she made it in a travel mug to take with her so she couldn’t sit down next to the ashtray. Later, she removed the ashtray.

Use technology to your advantage, and trigger yourself for change!

This is the last installment in our series on the causal factors of behavior change, based on the Fogg Behavior Model (FBM). The FBM shows that three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: Motivation, Ability, and a Trigger. When a behavior does not occur, at least one of these three elements is missing.

I hope this series has given you a good basis for looking at behaviors that you want to stop, change, or adopt, and to begin designing your environment in support of that goal. Make it easier for you to do the right thing, and you can make change happen in your own life.

And hey, here’s a trigger right now! Click in the comment section below to share your ideas for positive triggers and to let me know what you think of this series. I’d love to hear from you!

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