How robotic is your behavior? How much of your day is on automatic pilot? For most people, the answer is, “more than you think.” Invisible triggers activate much of our behavior. Without realizing it, we become slaves to those triggers. This is dangerous. These automatic behaviors can have huge negative impact on our lives.
As a young boy, I often visited my grandmother. Granny was what you imagine when you hear the word “grandmother.” She adored my brothers and me. She was more permissive than our Mom & Dad. She let us stay up late. She spoiled us. And she filled us with ice cream, cake, cobbler, and homemade banana pudding.
I didn't know it at the time, but my brain was building an associative trigger. I equated love and affection with sweets. This trigger led to a lifelong struggle with obesity. When I felt stressed (fearful) and wanted to experience love and comfort (safety), I ate. At least, that was true until I learned to rewire the trigger.
Perhaps you can't get yourself to do the things you want to do. Maybe you can’t seem to stop doing things you don’t want to do. Even the Apostle Paul struggled with this problem.
I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”
– The Apostle Paul
Sound familiar? Chances are you have become an unwitting slave to behavioral triggers. These triggers are powerful. They can prevent us from following through with our conscious desires. They can replace those conscious desires with unconscious behaviors. And these unconscious behaviors are often counterproductive and even damaging.
We know them as habits. Automatic behavior patterns that we often feel powerless to resist.
This may explain why you feel blocked from your destiny. It may seem you are somehow unable to muster the discipline to achieve your goals. Take heart. The doors of destiny are not locked, but are often held shut by the chains of habit.
The key that frees us from those chains: rewire your brain for success.
The latest findings in psychiatry and neuroscience show it's possible to do just that. You can create healthy, productive habits – and you can set up triggers to “launch” those habits. Here are 7 steps for building good habit triggers for greater success:
1. Identify the habits that block your success, and those that support it. These could be anything from not getting enough sleep, to getting angry behind the wheel of your car, to unkind words with your spouse or loved ones. Once you have identified your bad habits, decide what good habits you want to install in their place.
2. Determine what triggers prompt those bad habits. For instance, what sets off an angry episode when you’re driving? What causes you to dig into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, or eat an entire bag of Oreos?
3. Select a preemptive trigger that will prompt good behavior. For instance, what if you viewed all those other drivers out there as potential clients? Or what if you picture Jesus sitting in the seat next to you? What would you want him to see and hear from you in that moment?
4. Remove temptation. If you climb into the car with too little time to get you where you need to go, chances are you’ll be anxious and self-focused. You’re more likely to get angry when the driver ahead of you is going slower than you'd prefer. Give yourself plenty of time instead and arrive a bit early. If you have a habit of eating too many Oreos, or too much ice cream – just don’t keep those items in the house. You can’t eat what’s not available.
5. Set up “environmental triggers”. I use “doorway triggers,” (a tactic I learned from Brendon Burchard). For example, I put a card on the doorway to my office that says “Presence, People, Profit.” This card reminds me that in my business, our values rank in that exact order. God’s presence comes first, then come people, and only then, profits. I have another card on the door as I enter my home. This one says “Present, Powerful, Positive”. Present means I leave the workday behind and give my full attention to my family. Powerful is not about power over others. To the contrary, it reminds me I only have power over my own behavior. Thus, the powerful reminder means I alone have the power to decide whether I'm going to be grumpy or loving. Positive means I choose to behave in a way that is cheerful and life-giving. I won’t always need the cards. At some point, just crossing the threshold will trigger the thought “Present, Powerful, Positive.”
6. Use your smartphone to remind yourself new habitual thought patterns. I set alarms on my iPhone that pop up reminders several times a day. They remind me of the self-talk and thought patterns I choose to practice. One message pops up that says, “Present, Powerful, Positive.” Another reminds me of other habits I am cultivating, like “Routine, Pause, Action.”
7. Compete with yourself. Why not make this a game? Keep track of your habits and see how long you can maintain a winning “streak” for each positive, empowering habit. I do this with an app called Habit List. You don’t need an app – you could track these just as well in your day planner or in a small pocket notebook. How you keep track isn't important. The fact that you do keep track is vital.
Don't let negative programming run your life. The 7 steps just outlined will help you rewire your brain for better habits. Automatic habits that bring success.
What bad habits are undermining your success, and what triggers those habits? What new good habits will you replace them with? And what triggers will you establish to prompt those new habits?