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Triggers Are Essential for Changing Habits
Because old habits are comfortable and resist change, people have a hard time establishing a new habit without killing the old one first.
The idea that we need to replace old habits with new ones is well supported. The process involved with doing so depends heavily on learning to identify the trigger points that signal that the swap should be made.
The trigger point will either move us toward the old habit or the new one. That’s why learning to identify triggers is so important. Once we determine a trigger exists, the ability to substitute the new habit becomes a much easier choice. Over time, whenever we observe the trigger, we become primed to select the preferred habit, thereby erasing the old one.
Triggers come in five varieties:
Location, setting, or place (when I’m at the gym)
Time (when I first wake up)
Emotional state (when I feel frustrated)
People (when my colleague Jackie is present)
Preceding action (when anyone offers a complaint)
By looking for the trigger most affecting our old habit, we begin to visualize the opportunity to engage the new habit. The trigger lets us know the opportunity for making a change exists, but we have to be ready to make the switch.
Say, for example, a leader would like to eliminate the habit of responding too quickly when asked a question and replace it with a new habit of seeking clarity before answering. The trigger in question (a preceding action) is when anyone, especially a team member, poses a question directly to the leader and is expecting a response or answer.
By becoming attuned to direct questions as triggers, the leader can rehearse and prepare themselves to offer a different response. Initially, leaders may miss the opportunity even when they observe the trigger quickly and accurately.
But by focusing on the trigger and keeping it top of mind, they soon become more skilled at substituting the new behavior. With repetition, the new response becomes a habit, occurring without much thought.
Anytime a leader wants to create a new habit, identifying the trigger and becoming more aware of it will help. In the case of establishing a new habit, identifying the trigger and seeing it quickly is the critical skill. Pivoting from one behavior to another depends on it.