We Win or Lose with our Habits

Habits dominate our daily actions. Habits are actions we take without thinking. Some say 75% of our daily actions are habits.

Mostly a Good Thing

Where life is easy or we consistently succeed, we have good habits.

Where we struggle or fail, we have bad habits.

If you want to deliberately create habits, it helps to understand how specific situations or actions lead to and eventually trigger habits.

Habits are Automatic — No thinking required

The trigger wins nearly every timeHow do we take action automatically?

Automatic / habitual actions are directed by a part of our brain called the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia isn’t controlled consciously. Nor does it “think.”

Our basal ganglia is designed to recognize behavior we repeat in certain situations and hardwire that behavior to that situation. We don’t really use our basal ganglia. It  uses us.

Triggers → Habits → Success

If you want to deliberately create habits, one way or another, you’ll want to repeat certain behaviors in the situations where you want to execute those behaviors. It’s easier to do if you understand triggers.

The “trigger” is the thing our basal ganglia recognizes comes before we repeatedly take some action. Your brain connects the trigger and the action and builds a habit. A trigger can be:

  1. Location
  2. Time
  3. Emotional State
  4. Other People
  5. An immediately preceding action

In his TEDx talk, Forget big change, start with a tiny habitStanford professor BJ Fogg shares how he created the habit of doing 50-70 pushups every day by turning one action into a trigger for a new habit.

The trigger he chose was peeing.

Fogg’s plan was to do a couple of pushups after using the restroom. For months, Fogg deliberately, consciously did two pushups each time he peed. With each repetition of the trigger (pee) action (pushups), Fogg’s basal ganglia got more involved. Somewhere along the way, Fogg stopped thinking about pushups. He just did them. His basal ganglia took over the pushup project.

Keep a Firm Grip on your Habits

A couple of years ago, I heard some strength building genius say that an important key to being physically stronger is to increase your grip strength.

I wanted to be stronger. So I bought a Captains of Crush gripper, put it in my car, and figured I’d exercise while driving. My trigger would be driving.

While considering this post, I realized my plan had failed. My trigger (exercise while driving) was not working. I didn’t intend to do grip exercise the whole time I was driving, so whenever I drove and didn’t exercise, my trigger got weaker.

In my new experiment, I still have the gripper in the car, but the trigger is new. The trigger is turning. When I turn my car left, I do reps with my left hand. When I turn right, I use my right.

Powerful habits...powerful gripIs it working? As you can see from the photo (right), this guy is super buff thanks to his exercise habits.

OK, that’s not me. But I am doing the wrist exercises.

Your Experiment

  1. What result would you like to produce?
  2. What habit could help you produce it?
  3. What situation or action could you create as the trigger for your new habit?
  4. Are you willing to spend 45 days connecting that trigger to the habit you want?
    If not, consider what result are you committed to producing and go back to question #2.

It’s a new day. Go for it.

Jim's signature




Bonus: The chart below came from this site.

Natural Trigger Actions

Wake UpSit down to workPick up your kids
Get out of BedCheck emailPark the Car
Brush TeethSnackWalk in the door
ShowerEat LunchChange Clothes
Make CoffeeAttend MeetingEat Dinner
Get DressedMake a CallBrush Teeth
Eat BreakfastFinish WorkPrep for Bed
Walk the DogLeave the OfficeGet into Bed
Drive to WorkDrive HomeTurn off the Light
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