Understanding Habit Triggers (Cues)
If you are interested in habits and behavior change, you may have heard the term trigger or cue.
So you might already have a basic idea of what a habit trigger is. Or you you could be learning about them for the first time.
Whatever your case may be, let’s take a closer look at understanding habit triggers. What they are, the different types, and why knowing about them is important.
What’s a Habit Trigger?
A habit trigger, also commonly referred to as a cue, is an event that initiates a behavior or routine.
Personally, I prefer the term trigger because it’s more descriptive in terms of the cause and effect nature that it relates to.
The trigger is also the first part of a habit loop, which breaks down a habit into 3 basic parts. It was also made popular by Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit.
The habit loop consists of 3 basic parts:
- The Trigger (or cue)
- The Behavior/Routine
- The Reward
This can easily be demonstrated with a typical morning routine.
When you get up in the morning you probably brush your teeth. In this scenario waking up is the trigger and brushing your teeth is the behavior. The reward is knowing that you have clean teeth and the feeling that comes with it.
Are There Different Types of Triggers?
Triggers can be anything that causes a behavior.
So any event or stimulus from the environment – or even the thoughts, feelings, and emotions from our brain – can be a trigger. Which provides a dizzying array of ways that behavior can be initiated.
This is why it’s sometimes difficult to identify the trigger that causes a particular behavior. And step one of changing any kind of bad habit, is identifying what initiates it. When you think about the hundreds of different ways that behavior can be triggered, you can quickly see how it’s easier said than done.
Don’t freak out, though. Psychologists have broken down the different triggers into 5 main categories. Here they are:
1. Time – One of the most common triggers, time is used to regulate our daily schedules. We wake up at a certain time, eat around midday, and go to bed at regular times.
2. Location – This can be a big one. Being in a certain area or environment can cause certain behaviors to kick in. When you enter a certain room, you may automatically turn on the light. When you leave a room you might shut the door.
3. A preceding Event – Another area of triggers that comes naturally to us. What do you do right after you brush your teeth in the morning? Do you automatically check your phone when it dings or vibrates? These are great triggers when trying to form new habits or change old ones.
4. Emotional State – Some obvious examples of this in action would be stress related behaviors. Some people eat or sleep when they stress. Some people will eat when they’re bored or check their phone or email. However, they can also be tied to more productive behaviors like exercise.
5. Other People – Here is one many people don’t realize. Being around others can cue up certain situational behaviors. When you’re with you friends you may feel like grabbing a glass of wine or heading outside with a group to smoke.
The list makes it look simple, which is good. It can give you a starting point to figure out what’s driving your own behavior and diagnose problems you may want to change.
Why Habit Triggers Are Important
Knowing about triggers, and habits in general, are important for a couple of different reasons.
- It can help you form new habits.
- It can help you break (or, more specifically, replace) bad habits.
Knowledge is power in this case. Making changes is still tough, but it does simplify the process. Knowing the anatomy of a habit and how behavior is formed, can help you identify the solution to change it.
In essence, you become more aware of what you are doing and why. The triggers from your environment are a key part in helping you make a change.