The Role of Your Habit Triggers

Smoking silhouette

Last week we discussed the the importance of defining ‘your powerful why,’ which is the deeper meaning and a higher mission to your life. This provides a strong incentive to quit any bad habits that will prevent you from fulfilling your greater reason for being here on the planet. However, this is only the beginning. You need to identify your habit triggers.

What do I mean by habit triggers? Most negative habits that we acquire, occur as a response to dealing with stress in our lives. If you think about it, nobody’s life is free of stress, however everyone deals with stress in their own way. In the midst of overwhelm we often need an immediate release of the pleasure neurotransmitter dopamine in order to deal with the crushing feelings that come with overwhelm.

This is how negative habits often develop, as an immediate relief of the difficult feelings that accompany stress and overwhelm. Eventually the habit becomes an automatic response to such situations as it becomes an unconscious behaviour which originates in the subconscious mind. 

Now in order to eliminate a negative habit you need to be able to recognize what triggers this habit. This requires your conscious effort and awareness of the moments before you engage in the habit. For example, if you have a smoking habit, pay close attention to what triggers you to smoke. It could be an interaction with a difficult work colleague, a challenging project that you have to complete or a tough conversation with your significant other that you’ve been avoiding.

You see, when we are faced with challenges and stressful situations, most people will not confront these head on. They will continuously mull over the issue in their minds to imagine all the possible scenarios that could play out. This aggravates the stress that was already there which leads to the negative habit to temporarily alleviate the tension that results.

I used smoking as an example but it could be anything including overeating, drinking alcohol, indulging in social media, surfing the internet or pornography to name a few. These habits initially start out as ways to help us deal with the stress in our lives and then eventually become ingrained in our subconscious mind. Nevertheless, it is crucial to identify the triggers of the negative habit even if you now engage in it randomly.

Once you are able to identify your triggers you then need to embody an alternate behaviour in place of the negative habit in response to the trigger. I call this your empowering behaviour.

For example, one of my patients, who is trying to quit smoking, cuts carrots into the shape of a cigarette. When she has the desire to light up she, instead, puts a cigarette shaped carrot in her mouth and pretends to smoke it for a few minutes and then eats it. This is just one example but your empowering behaviour could be anything including conscious breathing, meditation, stretching, going for a walk, journaling, listening to uplifting music or reading a passage from an inspiring book. 

Once you have identified what empowering action your want to reinforce you must start doing it immediately as often as possible as your time allows. For example, if you decide that your empowering behaviour is going to be meditation then meditate at various intervals throughout the day, even if it is only for a few minutes. This will start to ingrain the behaviour into your daily routine take it from your conscious mind to your subconscious mind. 

Now the next time you face the situation that usually triggers your negative habit, instead you engage in your empowering action immediately so that your subconscious mind does not automatically default to your negative habit. In order for this to happen you must have been engaged in the empowering action on a regular basis when you are not under stress. This is because your empowering action has to become automatic which can only happen when it is embedded in your subconscious mind.

I’m sure you all know at least one negative habits you want to eliminate from your life. Right now, identify what empowering action you will use to replace your negative habit and start engaging in it in a regular basis. Then try to recall what are your negative habit triggers and when you encounter those triggers engage in your empowering action immediately. 

Once you start on this journey you will be well on your way to eliminating your negative habits and you life will positively transform in the process.

Nauman Naeem MD

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