8 Different Triggers that Start the Habit Loop

Anything and everything can start the habit loop. Seriously. Whatever your brain can process can be your habit trigger.

Emotional State

Quite often, an emotional state can be a trigger for your habit. Compulsive obsessive eaters? Alcoholics?

They don’t eat because they are hungry or drink because they are thirsty. They escape from some emotional states into those unhealthy habits.

Before my transformation, a mix of boredom and existential void always triggered escapism habits in me. I read fiction in excess, watched TV, or played computer games. The specific habit was different, depending on the context. If I had a fiction book handy, I read. If I was at home and my wife or kids watched something, it was easy to join them.

Time

Morning. Evening. Lunchtime. 3 pm. Each of those points can be a trigger for a specific habit.

Place

At home. At the office. On the commute. You may have different sets of habits depending on where you are.

Time & Place

Usually, the specific hour is not a trigger (unless you set an alarm for that specific hour). But in the context of place, it becomes such.

For example, if I’m waiting for a train to work on a train platform, it’s my trigger to meditate. But when I’m waiting for a train back home, it’s not.

So my meditation trigger is: morning + a train platform.

You may get a snack on a way to the office, but not on a way back. You may drink tea at your home in the afternoon, but if you are at work at that time, you don’t.

Other People

For example, your wife says something that will always have you erupting in anger.

Visual Cues

This one is huge. Visual cues can remind you about the habit. You brush your teeth in the morning, but if you misplaced your toothbrush and it’s not visible in the cup on the bathroom shelf, you simply forgot about brushing.

Visual cues can be subconscious, you don’t even register something in your view, but it activates your habit (the example above describes it aptly). But they are very handy when you try to develop a habit.

Do you want to read more? Put a book on the bedside cabinet.

Do you want to drink a glass of water first thing in the morning? Put an empty mug on a bathroom shelf.

Do you want to write thank-you notes? Put a pen on your desk.

Sensual Cues

Every sense can serve as a trigger. A sound, a smell, a taste…

I created a “work playlist” for myself. I always plug earphones and start this playlist when I write and very often, when I work, just to separate myself from the external world.

It really works for me as a focusing tool. I cannot get distracted when I listen to it. Funny enough, I can relax and catch a nap, but distraction seems impossible when I’m listening to it.

Other Habits

This is another excellent tool for habit development. When one habit ends, it can be a trigger for another habit.

This is why morning rituals are so popular and so absurdly easy to develop. The whole ritual is based on the most reliable habit in our life – waking up in the morning. Usually, we already have some kind of morning ritual anyway, we go to a toilet or to the kitchen to start a coffee machine, or we take off pajamas and put clothes on.

Any of the above can be your trigger for other triggers. I used the waking up moment to start repeating my personal mission statement.

My lifelong morning habit was to go to the bathroom right away. I used this habit, to build my workout habit. Later, I used the end of my morning workout as a trigger to gulp a glass of water. Next, I used the habit of drinking a glass of water as a trigger to weigh myself.

It’s super easy to develop a new habit when its trigger is an existing established habit.


Everything can be a trigger for your habits. Time & place, visual cues, and other habits are the best triggers to pick if you want to consciously work on new good habits.

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