Triggering: One Way to Beat Back Laziness, Distraction, and Doubt.

You told yourself (again) that you were going to get to the gym this morning, or meditate, or maybe clean up your office, yet there you sit reading email and this article. Don’t blame it on laziness, distractions, or doubt. You just went into autopilot and did what you always do instead of making a decision to do the more important thing. The good news is that next time you make that promise, you’ll have a better chance of actually doing it. Here’s how:

Trigger the Action

Triggering is the ‘T’ of Pilot Fire’s SMART & SEXY goal checklist, and it’s a great way to avoid making the wrong decision if “the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy.”†

The key: Don’t make the decision; instead, trigger the action so you don’t have to make a decision.

Taking the example of getting to the gym first thing in the morning, you could trigger the action this way. Before you go to bed, when tomorrow’s decisions are easy, lay your gym clothes out next to your bed, along with your running shoes and car keys. In the morning when your feet hit the floor, all you need to do is slip into your gear and go.

To take triggering to the next level you might also:

  • Put your alarm clock in the hallway with your gym clothes so you have to get up to turn it off.
  • Unplug and put away your computer before you go to bed so it’s not so easy to check email.
  • Tell your boss you’ll meet her at the gym first thing in the morning, and strategically place her photo next to the coffee grinder.

As the Heath Brothers put it in their book Switch, “Action triggers simply have to be specific and visible enough to interrupt [your] normal stream of consciousness.” Besides setting up the environment, another way to develop triggers is to devise a visual or audible cue that reminds you to do what you said you want to do. Triggers help build new habits.

Here are other triggers people have used:

“With my morning cup of coffee I call a friend. When I finish the cup, the call ends. That’s a crisp ingredient of a great day.”

“Because it’s hard to make my Day’s Plan in the morning, I put 3×5 cards next to my bed so I can do it before I go to sleep.”

“Before lunch I cleared my desk of everything but the notebook I needed to write the next chapter of my book in the afternoon.”

“Just saying the words ‘new customer’ triggers me to create the new account and set up the files so that everything is ready before the orders come in.”

Take the next 5 minutes and consider a goal you have this week that could use a trigger. It turns out that, the harder the goal, the more a trigger will help you succeed. Weird, huh? So ask:

What can I do to trigger
my hardest goal this week?

And let us know what that is…

†Albus Dumbledore

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Leave a comment8 comments on "Triggering: One Way to Beat Back Laziness, Distraction, and Doubt."

  1. I’m pretty sure triggering works because it lets you associate performing an act with a more minor, less difficult task. And I love that. I will definitely be putting it into use.

  2. It seems like the trigger comes from thinking through what the very next action is toward some goal. In your example, the very next step is to get on your gym clothes (or perhaps wake up). One way I determine the very next action is to create a mental picture of what it looks like when I am doing the target action and then move backward through time until I can visualize that very next step being done that takes me down the path toward my goal.

    As a small correction, I may be mistaken but I don’t think meeting your boss or hiring an Olympic coach is actually a trigger, I think those are examples of using relationships or peer pressure to encourage us toward our goals. Obviously, this is another way that we motivate ourselves to move in the right direction so I hope you expand on those in a future post.

    • Matthew, you make a great point, and while I think making an appointment, especially with someone in a power role, can provide a trigger, those two examples don’t fit the description as well as the others. I think I’ll make an edit.

  3. Kinda wierd, but I find I need to trigger down time! I have this feeling that I must keep doing things, keep working, keeping making that next step happen that I fail to allow myself good ol’ nothin time. And that is just as important as “going to the gym.”

    • I agree Karen. So what’s your trigger?

  4. I need one of those too Karen. Sometimes it is my kids that provide the trigger and perhaps with a sprinkling of guilt thrown on top:) I do like downtime when I get there. Self employment and home office can make it tough sometimes.

  5. My draft of The History of ISPP has been waiting for months for me to make my final edits. It’s in my computer files and as a folder on the back of my desktop, behind piles of TO DO papers. My trigger is to move the folder onto the front of a cleared-off desk top. It will trigger me as I arrive at my desk to get at the edits BEFORE e-mail or any other TO DO item. Thanks! I really need to get back to that job and finish it…. NOW.

  6. Mat hits the nail on the head. When you stop to make a decision, that takes time and energy. The chain of action and reaction is broken. Often starting is the biggest obstacle to finishing. People get so caught up on the big picture. They get lost, uncertain and fail to launch. SMA is a larger scale way of asking “whats next?”.

    So I like to think of triggers as a pilots checklist; questions that act as an ignition for my goals–the things that get me going. Just like what Matt said, it is usually thinking about the key to achieving a goal, the very next step, that kickstarts me towards getting things done.

    In short, every plane needs an engine. Every engine needs an Ignition.

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