Action triggers: what they are and how they influence behavior

In today’s society, everyone wants to acquire good habits. The slogan of the 21st century is that we should eat a healthy diet, exercise frequently, be very happy, avoid being lazy and many more.

It is very easy to think that one day we will realize it, but it is not so much that we want to get down to business. We need something that activates us, that directs us towards that. We need the triggers to act.

Then we will understand exactly what these triggers are, and we will see what types there are and how we can use them to our advantage.

    What are the triggers for action?

    The triggers for action are an accurate mental representation of a chain of events, which take place at a certain place, time or time of day, And can occur with or without the company of other people. That is to say, he imagines everything that influences the accomplishment of a certain action and, therefore, in the event that it is repeated on more than one occasion, this contributes to this action being consented to. like a habit, or this positive or negative.

    Describing exactly the steps to be followed and the context in which the action will take place significantly contributes to the action itself. In fact, there is research that has tried to see how just having participants imagine a future action increases the chances of that happening, and then we will look at a specific case.

    The Gollwitzer and Brandstätter experience

    Psychologists Peter Gollwitzer and Veronika Brandstätter discovered in 1999 what they called the technique of implantation intentions., Which stands for action triggers.

    With the help of students, they were able to observe the power to describe a future action that contributes to it. His experience consisted of taking the students to a topic and offering them to do a note-taking activity. This exercise was to deliver an article on how they would spend Christmas Eve.

    So far everything is very normal, but Gollwitzer and Brandstätter have asked for something different from those in the control group and those in the experiment. The members of the control group were asked to submit the work on December 26, i.e. after, in theory, that the action had taken place, while those of the experimental group were asked to define, with the more details, where they would do the job. work and deliver this description before going on vacation.

    So that we understand each other: the control group was asked to hand in the work once they had done the activity, while the experimenters had to describe it, before it was Christmas Eve when they would end up doing it (for example, I’m going to get up soon on the 25th to write the book in the library in my city …) and then hand in the work of what they had done that day.

    While in the control group, of all those who said they were going to deliver the final work, only 33% ended up doing it, in the experiment this percentage was higher, of almost 75%, which shows that the description of an action in advance and accurately contributes to what eventually happens..

    Action triggers work because they anticipate the decision. By anticipating the action to be taken, by being very clear on what, how, where, when and with whom, helps us to mentalize and motivate us to do so. They help to create an instant habit.

      Five types of action triggers

      As we have seen, wanting to acquire a good habit and get to work is knowing exactly what action you want to take. To help make this happen, we need to know how to describe it as precisely as possible, which allows us to mentalize well and have a greater tendency to do so, as is the case with the students of Gollwitzer and Brandstätter. .

      Below, we’ll take a more in-depth look at the five main types of action triggers, which can help, for better or for worse, help with building all types of habits.

      1. Time of day

      Perhaps the most important trigger when it comes to building a habit is the time of day. For example, we think about the habits we have established in the morning: we get up, have our coffee or our cup of tea, eat a croissant, shower, get dressed and go to work or class. The simple act of getting out of bed already involves unconsciously performing this whole series of actions..

      But the morning is not the only time of the day that influences our behavior. Maybe when we got home from class or work, we tied the arrival time to having to turn on the TV and dropo, or have a bite to eat. We’re used to having to behave a certain way at some point. The time of day prompts us to adopt these habits.

      The time of day can be a trigger for the perfect action, as we perform actions that bring us some kind of benefit. For example, if we want to acquire more vocabulary in English, we can try to combine breakfast time with entering a dictionary and trying to learn ten new words. At first it will cost us, of course, however as the days go by, there will be a time when breakfast will make us open the book unconsciously.

      2. Location

      Imagine that we are in the kitchen and that we see in front of the table a plate of freshly baked cookies. We eat them. The reason? They were there. Do we plan to eat before entering the kitchen? No, we didn’t even know they made them. Why did we go to the kitchen then? we were going to have a glass of water, the dish was the culprit, we decided to eat the cookies.

      With this example, we can understand the importance that the mere fact that there is something here can make us do a certain behavior, in this case, eat our plate of cookies. Being in the right place at the right time influences our behaviorMake a good or bad decision without even thinking about it for a few seconds. The environment or place is one of the most powerful triggers for action, even if it is not given due importance.

      In every room of our house, whether it is our bedroom or the office, there may be stimuli that prevent us from starting to study, for example. Plus, in every location of our house, we’ve associated ways of behaving, like spending hours playing video games in our bedroom, eating cookies in the kitchen, or watching TV in the living room. They are “contaminated” by our previous behavior.

      This is why we have seen that the best way to try to establish a new habit is to do it in a new place. For example, if we want to study and there is no way to focus on our house, we go to the library or to a cafe where we have never been with our friends. Being new places to us, we have no precedent for taking actions that hinder our study. These are places that foster a more productive environment.

        3. Previous event

        Many habits are conditioned by something that has happened before, or by a stimulus which may seem harmless to all of our behavior but which influences us in such a way that it may lead to the failure of our designs.

        For example, and a classic, is to pick up the phone when it vibrates, then look at who sent us the last message. We’re not just looking at the post, as we took the opportunity to check out Instagram, Twitter, and the sights from the last page we visited. And it wastes our time, especially if we were doing something important that we shouldn’t let any distractions interrupt us. The vibration works in us like the famous Pavlov bell with its dogs.

        We can use this conditioning of our behavior in the face of a certain stimulus to our advantage. For example, we want to walk more, and a good way to do that is to go up and down the stairs. We can suggest what, if the elevator is not on our same floor, we do not call it, and we go down the stairs. So we do a little fieldwork.

        4. Emotions

        You don’t have to be a psychologist to know how a bad mood causes us to make bad decisions, which can eventually turn into bad habits. For example, there are people who, when stressed, tend to go to the fridge to buy something super-sweet, like a bar of chocolate, custard or a cake. Others choose to smoke like commuters or spend hours watching Netflix or squeezing videos crushing things on YouTube.

        It is clear that being sad, angry, stressed or in a bad mood in general makes us do unproductive things. that’s why mood, as a trigger for a (bad) action is something quite complicated to use for our own benefit. We generally like to do productive things when we’re in a good mood, while if we’re a little laid back or angry the last thing we think about is studying, playing sports, or eating well.

        It is a difficult thing to control. We can still make a great effort to smile at life in the face of adversity, we are human beings, not psychic and emotionless organisms. We feel, and every feeling influences our behavior, for better or for worse. This is what it is.

        However, all is not bad news. We can try to think coldly when we are angry and, instead of paying for it with the world, channel the tension by playing sports., Especially one that involves lifting weights (eg, gymnastic machines), hitting (eg, boxing) or, if you prefer, tiring one (eg, spinning).

        5. Other people

        It is not at all surprising that our companies influence our behavior and, in the worst cases, the saying of being better alone than in bad company comes true. It has happened to all of us that we usually don’t drink, but when we are with a friend, we can’t help but ask for a beer. In other cases, when we watch what we eat, being with other friends doesn’t invite us to order a salad for dinner. We could put many more cases, but the idea is already understood: others influence our decisions.

        But all is not bad. In turn, offering to do things with friends or family can be a trigger for awareness of what, over time, will be a good habit. For example, imagine that we signed up for the gym with our roommate, and every time he goes, we want to go with him. Then in the gym, if you work out well too, it can motivate us to try new machines and surpass ourselves. It is a case where another person influences us positively.

        Before finishing and deciding on the habit of starting

        Whether this is choosing one of the action triggers previously explained, or being aware of how these influence our behavior, it is very important to clarify what this desired habit, or specific action, is. that we want to acquire. There is no point in proposing to be in very good health, to study or to meditate without first specifying what exactly these actions mean. It is also very important to specify the trigger (s) that we believe contribute to the action in question..

        For example, let’s say we want to eat healthier. Very good. Let us ask ourselves the following question: what is healthy? Of course, here we already have a question to resolve. Eating sad lettuce and starving all day is not the same as eating a delicious and varied salad made with lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, a tin of tuna, a drizzle of oil. . Balsamic and walnuts, then serve it with a serving of grilled chicken breast accompanied by a little rice and carrots, topped with a rich fruit salad.

        In the case of Miserable Lettuce, we have a very vague and general idea of ​​what healthy eating is, and we haven’t imagined doing the action or thinking about all the steps it takes to start being healthy. . In the second case, on the other hand, we have done an exercise in the imagination, we have thought of everything that is necessary and that we consider essential to do the action, and it is, in essence, as if we already had done the action before. . It is like a mental simulation of the habit to be acquired.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Clar, J. (2018). Atomic Habits: A simple and proven way to develop and break good habits. UK. ISBN: 9780735211292
        • Gollwitzer, Peter and Brandstätter, Veronika. (1997). Implementation intentions and search for effective objectives. First published in: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 73 (1997), 1, pages 186-199. 73. 10.1037 / 0022-3514.73.1.186.

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