One of the main reasons that habits fail is because the person trying to implement them never really understands the three parts that make up a habit: the trigger, the action, and the reward. So I want to focus today on the trigger because it's one of the most important parts of the habit. If the trigger never happens, then you'll never accomplish the next two steps.
So what is a trigger? A trigger is simply something that gets you to start the habit. A good trigger is one that happens regularly and is something you can count on. So when we're talking about triggers, there are very common habits that people are trying to implement, so let’s see if we can find triggers for each one of those.
One of the most common habits people want to form is exercise. Everybody seems to want to exercise more or make New Year's resolutions to run five miles every day or do a hundred push-ups every morning. Sadly, many of those ambitions completely fail. So, with that in mind, one of the best triggers for exercise is simply waking up. Exercise is a great thing to do in the morning to really get your morning jump started. But some of you might not be able to or want to exercise in the morning. Fine. Exercising in the afternoon or night is great too. The easy trigger is to set an alarm, but there might be a more natural way to do it. Maybe when you get off work or school, immediately go to the gym. These natural triggers can be a lot more effective than something like an alarm because an alarm is easy to snooze. Also, by creating this trigger, you form a behavior pattern over time. Working out when you wake up or after school or work just becomes...wait for it...a habit.
Another common habit that lots of people want to implement is eating healthy. Here's an idea for you people. Say I'm driving along and I see my favorite fast food restaurant. Now, I'm thinking to myself, Maybe just this once. But instead, I use the trigger of seeing a fast food restaurant and I simply look away from it. Now I know that might sound silly, but these places are designed so that when you look at them you immediately start craving them. It activates those pleasure centers in your brain by calling back previous memories of eating fast food and remembering how good it tasted. This leads the craving. Not looking at the sign can stop that vicious cycle from starting. If you doubt me, try it yourself and see if it works.
An important habit that I feel not enough people try hard to implement is forming a sleep cycle. This simply means going to bed at a certain time and waking up at a certain time. And, honestly, the best way to do this is to just set an alarm (unless you want to rise with the sun). Once your body really gets used to that rhythm, it should become easier for you to fall asleep and wake up and the same time.
Another important habit that I feel not many people try to implement is positive thinking. Now, I know that sounds so cliché and so wishy-washy, but again and again studies have proven (and I've seen this in my own life) that positivity improves your mental health. So when a negative thought enters your mind, that should be the trigger to immediately turn that thought around. You can bring the thought in a different light, think of something you love, or just do something like exercising to clear the thoughts out of your head. Eventually, it will become a habit to do it as soon as negative thoughts appear. I know that sounds cliché, but it can actually be a really great help to you, especially if you're suffering from depression or you’re starting to experience it. I naturally have an extremely positive mindset, and that's what helps me not be brought down by the bad stuff that happens in life.
So this brings us to my personal habit that I've been trying to implement if for the last four years. This is probably one of my most difficult challenges I face: biting and picking at my nails. I know, it's not pretty. I had this bad habit for fourteen years now, and a fourteen-year habit isn't exactly going to just end after a few days of trying. I'm proud to say that I've been doing a lot better than I was in the past, and the triggers that I've set for myself are if my fingers touch each other or my fingers touch my mouth. If that happens, I try to immediately separate them from each other, and that saves me from falling into that bad habit again. I know this may sound a bit silly or a bit weird, but this has really helped me and is the reason why I'm doing so well now. So sometimes is something just kind of weird, sometimes something more “normal” like a setting an alarm, or something a bit more natural such as waking up or ending school.
And as a final warning, don't be discouraged when you fail. There’s always tomorrow to fight back and try again. The reason I wrote this because I don't want you to choose enslavement to these bad habits, I want you to choose freedom to the good ones.