Action triggers: what they are and how they influence behavior.
A psychological concept that describes how the environment influences us in various ways.
In today's society, everyone wants to acquire good habits. The slogan of the 21st century is that we have to eat healthy, exercise often, be very happy, avoid being lazy, and many more.
It is very easy to think that someday we will do it, but it is not so easy when we want to get down to work. We need something that activates us, that directs us to it. We need action triggers.
Next we are going to 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 action triggers?
Action triggers are an exact mental representation of a chain of events, which are located in a certain place, at a certain time or moment of the day, and can occur with or without the company of other people.and can occur with or without the company of other people. That is to say, it is to imagine everything that influences the performance of a certain action and, therefore, in case it is repeated on more than one occasion, it contributes to this action becoming established as a habit, whether it is positive or negative.
The exact description of the steps to be followed and the context in which the action will take place contribute significantly to its occurrence. In fact, there is research that has tried to see how the simple fact of having participants imagine themselves performing a future action increases the chances of it occurring, and we will now look at one particular case.
The Gollwitzer and Brandstätter Experiment
Psychologists Peter Gollwitzer and Veronika Brandstätter discovered in 1999 what they called the implementation intentions techniquewhich is synonymous with action triggers.
Using college students, they were able to observe how the power of describing a future action contributed to the action occurring. Their experiment consisted of taking students of a subject and proposing them to perform an activity to raise a grade. This exercise was to hand in a paper on how they would spend Christmas Eve..
So far so normal, but Gollwitzer and Brandstätter asked something different of those in the control group and those in the experimental group. Those in the control group were asked to hand in their work on December 26, that is, after the action had theoretically occurred, while those in the experimental group were asked to define, in as much detail as possible, where they would do the work, and to hand in this description before they left for the vacations.
To make it clear: the control group was asked to deliver the work once they had already done the activity, while the experimental group was asked to describe, before Christmas Eve, where they would end up doing it (e.g., I will get up early on the 25th to write the work in the library of my city...) and then deliver the work of what they had done that day.
While in the control group, of all those who said they were going to hand in the final paper only 33% ended up doing it, in the experimental group this percentage was higher, of about 75%, demonstrating that accurately describing an action in advance contributes to the action happening..
Action triggers work because they anticipate the decision. By anticipating the action to be performed, being very clear about the what, the how, the where, the when and with whom, it helps us to mentalize and motivate us to do it. They contribute to create an instant habit.
Five types of action triggers.
As we have already seen, wanting to acquire a good habit and getting down to work implies knowing exactly what is the action we want to carry out.. In order to contribute to its occurrence, it is necessary to know how to describe it as accurately as possible, allowing us to mentalize ourselves properly and to have a greater tendency to perform it, as in the case of Gollwitzer and Brandstätter's students above.
Below we will look in more depth at the five main types of action triggers, which can contribute, for better or worse, to the acquisition of all kinds of habits.
Time of day
The time of day is probably the most important trigger for the implementation of a habit. For example, let's think about the habits we have established in the morning: we get up, have our coffee or cup of tea, eat a croissant, shower, get dressed and go to work or class. The simple fact of getting out of bed successfully already implies the performance of this whole series of actions unconsciously..
But morning is not the only time of day that influences the way we behave. It may be that, when we come home from class or work, we associate the time of arrival with having to turn on the TV and laze around, or have a snack. We are used to the fact that, at a certain time, we have to behave in a certain way. The time of day induces these habits.
The time of day can be a perfect action trigger for us to perform actions that bring us some kind of benefit. For example, if we are interested in acquiring more English vocabulary, we can try to associate breakfast time with picking up a dictionary and trying to learn ten new words. It will be difficult at first, of course, but as the days go by, there will be a moment when eating breakfast will make us unconsciously open the book..
Let's imagine we are in the kitchen and we see a plate of freshly baked cookies in front of the table. We eat them, why? They were there. Did we plan to eat them before entering the kitchen? No, we didn't even know they had been made. Why did we go to the kitchen then? We were going to get a glass of water, the plate was the reason we decided to eat the cookies.
With this example we can understand the importance that the simple fact that something is there can induce us to do a certain behavior, in this case to eat the plate of cookies. Being in the right place at the right time influences our behavior.We can make a good or bad decision without even thinking about it for a few seconds. The environment or place is one of the most powerful action triggers, although it is not given due importance.
In every room of our house, whether it is our bedroom or our desk, there may be stimuli that prevent us from studying, for example. Also, in each place in our home we have associated ways of behaving, such as spending hours playing video games in our bedroom, eating cookies in the kitchen or watching TV in the living room. They are "contaminated" with our previous behaviors..
That is why it has been 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 concentrate at home, let's go to the library or a coffee shop where we have never been with our friends. Since they are new places for us, we do not have the precedent of having performed actions that hinder our study. They are places that foster a more productive environment..
3. Predecessor event
Many habits are conditioned by something that has happened before, or by a stimulus that may seem harmless to our behavior as a whole but that influences us in such a way that it can lead to the failure of our purposes.
For example, and a classic example, we pick up our cell phone when it vibrates and, immediately afterwards, we look at who has sent us the last message. We do not only look at the message, since we take the opportunity to look at Instagram, Twitter and curiosities of the last page we have visited. And that wastes our time, especially if we were doing something important where we shouldn't let any distractions interrupt us. Vibration works on us like Pavlov's famous bell with his dogs.
We can use this conditioning of our behavior before a certain stimulus to our benefit. For example, we want to walk more, and a good way to do this is to go up and down stairs. We can propose to ourselves that, if the elevator is not on our floor, we do not call it, and we go down the stairs. This way we do a little bit of leg.
You don't need to be a psychologist to know how being in a bad mood makes us 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 look for something ultra-sweet, like a chocolate bar, a flan or a cupcake. Others choose to smoke like wheelwrights or spend hours watching Netflix or videos of presses crushing things on YouTube.
It's clear that being sad, angry, stressed or generally grumpy makes us do unproductive things. That's why the state of mind, as a trigger for a (bad) action, is a rather complicated thing to use to our own advantage.. Normally we like to do productive things when we are in a good mood, while if we are a bit down or angry the last thing we think about is studying, doing sports or taking a good diet.
This is a difficult thing to control. Although we can make a great effort to smile at life in the face of adversity, we are human beings, not emotional organisms devoid of emotions. We feel, and every feeling influences our behavior, for better or worse. That's the way it is.
However, it's not all bad news. We can try to think coolly when we are angry and, instead of taking it out on the world, channel the tension by doing sports, especially one that involves lifting weights.especially one that involves lifting weights (e.g., machines at the gym), punching (e.g., a gymnasium), punching (e.g., a gymnasium) or punching (e.g., a gymnasium). e.g., boxing) or, if preferred, that makes one tired (e.g., spinning).
5. Other people
It is not surprising that our company influences our behavior and, in the worst cases and, in the worst cases, the saying "better to be alone than in bad company" holds true. It has happened to all of us that we don't usually drink but, when we are with a friend, we can't help but ask for a drink. In other cases, when we are watching what we eat, being with other friends does not 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 not everything is bad. On the contrary, setting out to do things with friends or family can be a factor that triggers the realization of what, over time, will become a good habit. For example, let's imagine that we have joined the gym with our roommate and, every time he goes, we feel like joining him. Then in the gym, if he or she is also good at exercise, he or she can motivate us to try new machines and to surpass ourselves. This is a case in which another person influences us positively.
Before finishing and deciding on a habit to start
Either by choosing one of the previously explained action triggers, or by being aware of how they influence our behavior, it is very important to specify what is the desired habit, or the specific action, that we want to acquire. It is of little use to propose to be very healthy, to study or to meditate without first specifying what exactly these actions mean. It is also very important to specify the trigger or triggers that we believe contribute to our doing the action in question..
For example, let's say we want to eat healthier. That's good. Let's ask ourselves the following question: what is healthy? Of course, here we already have a question to answer. It is not the same to eat a sad lettuce and starve all day than to eat a delicious and varied salad made of lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, a can of tuna, a splash of balsamic oil and nuts, and then accompany it with a portion of grilled chicken breast accompanied by some rice and carrots, topping it off with a rich fruit salad.
In the case of the miserable lettuce, we have a very vague and general idea of what healthy eating is, and we have not imagined ourselves doing the action or even thinking about all the necessary steps to start being healthy. In the second case, on the other hand, we have done an exercise of imagination, we have thought of everything necessary and that we consider essential to do the action, and this is, in essence, as if we had already done the action before. It is like a mental simulation of the habit to be acquired.
- Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Reino Unido. ISBN: 9780735211292
- Gollwitzer, Peter & Brandstätter, Veronika. (1997). Implementation Intentions and Effective Goal Pursuit. First publ. in: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 73 (1997), 1, pp. 186-199. 73. 10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.52.