Regaining Control of Your Life – 4 Triggers That Set Habits in Motion


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Every habit begins with a trigger.

The basal ganglia is constantly vigilant in looking for environmental triggers in an effort to subconsciously initiate a habit.

Why does our brain go behind the back of our conscious mind (prefrontal cortex) to set habits in motion? Or, put another way, why does part of our brain have a hidden habit agenda that our conscious mind is unaware of?

The simple answer is that unconscious brain functions, like habits, are less taxing on the brain and, thus, use less brain fuel.

Part of the job of the basal ganglia is to create habits and engage in habits, in an effort to allow the brain to work less and, thus, consume less fuel. The basal ganglia is, in a real sense, the brain’s fuel efficiency manager, using habits as its main energy savings device.

Unless you’re aware of those triggers, you will unconsciously engage in the habit.

There are 4 environmental triggers that set most habits in motion:

  1. Visual Triggers – Visual Triggers are like unavoidable neon signs that grab the attention of the basal ganglia and stimulate you to engage in a habit. The McDonalds golden arches are an example of a powerful Visual Trigger. Once your see those golden arches, the next thing you know, you’re eating a hamburger with fries.
  2. Time of Day Triggers – We all have habits that we engage in during the morning, afternoon and evening. Waking up in the morning sets in motion all sorts of habits. You see the coffee pot and the next thing you know, you’re making coffee. While getting ready to shower, you see your toothbrush and that triggers you to brush your teeth. Brushing your teeth may itself be a trigger to shave or put on your makeup.
  3. Stress Triggers – Stress overwhelms the brain, consuming far too much fuel. To compensate, the basal ganglia changes it’s game plan, using stress as a trigger to get you to engage in a habit in order to conserve fuel.
  4. Association Triggers – People who you associate with are habit triggers. One friend can be a trigger for hitting the bars, another for exercising, another for gambling, another for reading and another for cheating on your spouse. Who you associate with can be a habit trigger, setting in motion all sorts of good or bad habits.

The key to breaking any bad habit is self-awareness of the habits you have, and also, self-awareness of the triggers that set those habits off. Being aware of the triggers to your habits is critical to understanding what is setting off your habits.

Once self-awareness enters the picture, habits lose their power over you. By identifying the external triggers that set a habit in motion, you are able to consciously stop that habit in its tracks.

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Thomas C. Corley About Thomas C. Corley

Tom Corley is a bestselling author, speaker, and media contributor for Business Insider, CNBC and a few other national media outlets.

His Rich Habits research has been read, viewed or heard by over 50 million people in 25 countries around the world.

Besides being an author, Tom is also a CPA, CFP, holds a master’s degree in taxation and is President of Cerefice and Company, a CPA firm in New Jersey.
Phone Number: 732-382-3800 Ext. 103.
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  1. AKSASSE Hamid says:

    Good idea. Once we are self-awareness of the habit’s trigger then it loses its power over us and we have the control. thank you for this article.

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