Triggers are Barriers to Change

I have often heard people who are trying to quit smoking say something like “I really miss a cigarette when I am having my morning coffee.” Perhaps you know an occasional smoker who says “I only smoke when I am having a drink.”


coffee and cigarettes as triggersThese are triggers to a behaviour. In these cases, the cup of coffee or drink with friends triggers a desire for a cigarette (https://www If you are looking to change your habits, it is important to identify triggers that might be working against you.

For instance, I know that I often crave a snack when I am writing, especially when writing reports or proposals. Alas, as a consultant, I do a lot of writing. So, if I want to curb my weight, which I do, I must recognize my trigger and try to foil it. I could:

  • Avoid the trigger by not writing (not practical);
  • Just ignore the craving (very hard);
  • Manage the trigger (easier).

I  manage the situation in three ways. First, I try not to write when I am susceptible to hunger, so I often schedule my meals and writing accordingly. Second, I have water on hand to drink, as I find sipping water satisfies the trigger almost as much as a snack would. Third, in case the first two don’t work I have healthy snacks available, usually cheese or canned smoked oysters, both of which readily satisfy my hunger in small amounts.

Change What is Triggered

Changing what is triggered can also be effective. For example, if you crave a snack when you feel stressed, decide that when stress is building you will instead do something else. Maybe it is meditate, take 10 deep breaths, do some yoga or do a bit of exercise. If you can change what gets triggered to something positive, you will be harnessing the power of the trigger to your benefit.

Identifying triggers and managing them is crucial to success in changing behaviours.

So take a piece of paper and make three columns with these headings: Triggers, Old Habit, Better. Below the first, write down the triggers, and under Old Habit enter what you are trying to avoid. Then, under Better, write down what you want to do instead. If practical, post it where it will be a reminder (mine is on my fridge door).

If you want to learn more about triggers and behaviours, this article goes into more depth. (https://jamesclear

Next we will look at identifying and removing other barriers to personal behaviour change.