Action triggers are a mental plan you set up to help motivate you to take a particular action. In the book Switch (2010), authors Chip and Dan Heath discuss the value of action triggers and how to set them up. Since the release of the book, many people have had the chance to set up action triggers that have increased their motivation and made change possible.
How might you use an action trigger?
At the beginning of a new year, we think about what we want this year to be like. This might mean you choose some words that will set a theme for the year, or you may make some New Year's resolutions. So, this is an ideal time to try putting some action triggers into place. However, they are useful at any time you want to change something, including a habit.
Whenever you set up something that is part of your routine to remind you to do something different or new that is important, you are using an action trigger. It is as if you are "reloading" a decision.
Doing one action, drinking your first cup of coffee triggers the next action, writing the 3 most important things you need to do that day. These can be set up for things at work or at home. They just need to be specific and visible enough to interrupt your normal thoughts.
Another way to think about setting up an action trigger is to use a formula: When X happens, I will do Y. For Y, it can be as simple as imagining or writing down where and when you will do something.
Here are some examples of action triggers:
- When I get in the car to go home from work, I will head to the gym.
- I'll walk the dog after I make the coffee.
- I'll publicly recognize employees when they successfully complete assignments before the due date.
An interesting thing about action triggers is that they are more effective when they are set up for hard goals. In some instances, they almost triple the chance for success. With easy goals, the use of action triggers seems to cause only a slight increase in success.
Action triggers can set up an "instant habit" that locks in. It also can be helpful in breaking bad habits. However, they may not work for long-time smokers with a strong nicotine habit.
If you haven't tried action triggers, I encourage you to use the formula and make up a sequence that will work for you. You may well be surprised by your success. Let me know how this works for you. I think you might be pleasantly surprised.
Until next time,