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Triggers for Automated Habits

I've had a few friends who've gone through quitting smoking. The hard part, they say, is that certain things trigger wanting to smoke. Stressful situation? Time to smoke. Driving a car? Time to smoke. Drinking at a bar? Time to smoke. The reason that bad habits are so hard to quit is that we have these many triggers that start us down that path almost automatically. A compulsive eater might get into a stressful situation and have a hamburger halfway into their face before they even consciously think about whether or not they should be eating.

The silver lining of this nuance of human nature is that we can also harness triggers to create positive habits. Just as bad habits are so hard to break because of our triggers, good habits can be made resilient using the same mechanism. And just as bad habits are built slowly and incrementally, so are good habits.

I meditate for five minutes every day. As soon as I wake up, I grab my phone and press the start button on a five minute meditation timer. Waking up is my trigger. At first I had to remind myself to do the meditation every morning, but now I do it almost automatically. It would feel strange not to meditate. Just as a veteran smoker is likely to have a harder time quitting than a new smoker, the longer I keep my meditation habit, the easier it becomes to maintain.

There are two main types of triggers: contextual triggers and constant triggers. Waking up is a constant trigger, since I do it every single day and want to meditate every day. A contextual trigger is something that happens at an inconsistent frequency. For me, feeling tired during the day is a contextual trigger. Whenever that happens, I drink a glass of water, because I've found that sometimes I'm just dehydrated and not actually tired.

Breaking habits

On The Thoughtful Young Djedi from Bermuda

Life boils down to habits. We have good habits and we have bad habits.

I’ve learned that the process comes in three stages with three different levels. First is starting a habit. I rank beginning a new habit on the medium scale. It’s usually something you haven’t been doing before so there’s some initial difficulty in getting things going. Take for an example someone just starting out at the gym. There’s friction because she’s never done it before. But once she gets past the initial hurdle she can find a little groove.

The next stage is breaking a habit. This part is very easy to do. One little slip-up and you could be back to square one. Miss a gym day, eat a bowl of icecream and sleep 12 hours one night that’s it. Over and done with. I’m reminded of the Warren Buffet quote:

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