Change Your Life By Creating Mental Triggers

There have been many times in my life when I’ve wanted to implement change but lacked the secret sauce to create the change. But now, I think I’ve found the secret to making lasting change in my life.

Image by Laszlo Ilyes

Image by Laszlo Ilyes

Every day we do simple things that could remind us to take the step towards change. I like to call these actions a mental trigger.

What Is A Mental Trigger?

Mental triggers are anything you use to signal your brain to take action. Anything you do on a frequent enough basis that could help you form a habit.

Personally, I have a couple of mental triggers I’ve used to create focused change in my life. Anything from walking through a doorway to going to the bathroom.

The mental trigger goes off and I know I have a task to do.

Using A Mental Trigger

Let me share with you a couple of mental triggers I’ve created in my life.

  • Walking through my kitchen doorway: This may sound silly but it’s helped me improve my upper body strength. We installed an Iron Gym Total Upper Body Workout Bar in the walkway. Now, every time I walk through the doorway, I see the Iron Gym and do 5-10 pull-ups. Throughout a day this can add up to quite a few pull-ups.
  • Going to the bathroom: This will probably sound even sillier but going to the bathroom helped me develop the habit of push-ups. Thanks to the wonderful article at Art Of Manliness, I’ve made the decision to do push-ups every time I have to use the restroom. The act of getting up and heading towards the bathroom tells me it’s time to do a bit of physical exercise so I drop and give myself 10 push-ups.
  • Leaving for lunch: While I’ve always loved to read, it was difficult finding time to open a book and devote time to reading. I’ve used leaving for my lunch break as a mental trigger to open up a book and read. The trigger is leaving my workplace and getting in the truck. My mind begins to process and knows that it’s time to grab a good book and put down a few pages.

As you can see, there’s many different activities you can use as a mental trigger. Some are silly, some are benign. But once you’ve associated as a trigger it is effective.

Create a list of goals you’d like to accomplish this year. If there’s physical fitness goals, search for triggers like my bathroom break or doorway to spur you to take a few minutes to creep towards the goal. If it’s reading more, find something that will excite your mind to read. If it’s loving your spouse more, find a trigger to make you think on the things you love about her.

Question: Do you have any mental triggers in your life? What do they trigger? If not, what could a mental trigger help you take action on? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Thanks for this timely post. I was just thinking about this topic this morning. I read similar thoughts in a book called “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg and am going to initiate a trigger for changing eating habits.

    • My pleasure Charles. The Power of Habit sounds like a book I’d enjoy reading then. Is it an easy read?

      Do you care sharing what you’re going to do to begin changing your eating habits? We could be your accountability for this change if you’d like.

      • Joe – After giving your offer some thought, I am happy to share what I’m going to do. It has to do with drinking water. Working from home, I’ve developed a “snacking” habit. I also love bottled water. So, the plan is… every time I head to the fridge or pantry to grab a quick (you name it), I’m going to use it as a trigger to grab a bottle of water instead, which is next to the fridge. I used water to loose 25 pounds about 10 years ago and I’m going to loose 40 this time!

        Not sure how the accountability thing can work but, I start this (along with a 2,000 cal/day diet) on Tuesday. – Thanks

        • Charles, that’s an awesome trigger to begin to develop. It’ll definitely be a step in getting healthy.

          As for the accountability thing, I could shoot you an email once or twice a week seeing how you’re doing. Or maybe just leave a quick message here.

      • I was thinking the same thing as Charles regarding The Power of Habit. I am not sure I’d call it an easy read – but it is fascinating. You won’t think of habits the same way after you read it.

  • I don’t have any mental triggers. But I like the walking through the kitchen and going to the bathroom and do pull-ups and pushups. I might just have to try that.

    • Give it a shot Juan. I think you’ll come to like it. Let us know after you’ve implemented the technique!

  • Carol Peterson

    I almost hate watching TV or movies on TV because we’ve developed a mental trigger that says, ‘watch TV, eat junk food.’

    Obviously we need a new mental trigger here and elsewhere too. Will work on that, thanks to your nifty nag! Love it.

    • Carol, that’s a struggle a lot of people wrestle with. It’s easy to plop on the couch and flip through the channels while munching away. What could you do to change the trigger into something healthy?

  • Joe,

    I have never thought of mental triggers in this manner. I thought of them more distractions. Very good article.

    • There are some mental triggers that can be negative, for sure. I know the blinking green light on my phone is a trigger to check it. Whether it’s positive or negative depends on the situation. Here’s hoping you can find a couple of positive triggers to implement in your life TJ.

  • I don’t think that I have any but I’m intrigued by the idea….

    • Kimanzi, take a look around and see what you could use as a mental trigger. You might be surprised to find a trigger you could easily implement into your life.

  • lorraine reguly

    I just wanted to add that, in order to create a mental trigger, you might first need to use a post-it note or a home-made “reminder” of some sort. I used one when I wanted to create a daily reminder for myself to type for 10 minutes a day(minimum) when I was doing the 30-Day Writing Challenge.

    To get a “trigger” to stick in your mind, repeating the action is necessary. Reminders help to do just that!!!

    • That’s a great way to kick start the trigger Lorraine. Anything that you can see can be used to get started.

      • lorraine reguly

        Ahem. I just wanted to let you know that I figured out this Disqus situation. Notice that it only took me a day to reply… Not a month, like last time! LOL

        • Awesome Lorraine! Glad you got it figured out.

  • Ok this comment is about to go into the category of TMI. But I have a mental trigger to read the Bible when I, ahem, use the lavatory for an extended period of time. Please don’t judge. 🙂

    • Haha, that made me laugh Adam. For me, it triggers reading Success Magazine or Entrepreneur.

  • DS

    Joe – what a fun way to encourage conversation. In a way it reminds me of athletes training their muscles and mind to react together in specific situations. Good stuff!

    I’m assuming there’s a trigger that says, do the push-ups prior to arriving at the location?

    • Yes, the push-ups should be done prior to arriving in the rest room. Unless you have a private restroom that is clean or do them off of the sink. Now you’ve given me such a bad mental image!

      • DS

        On a more serious note – are you applying this to in the office, or office and home, or every where? Since the study came out this past week that sitting is as bad as smoking, I’m digging the potty push-up (did I mention I have a 2 and 4 yr old?).

        • A mix of both. The push-ups happen mostly at work, the pull-ups at home (There’s not really a place to put my Iron Gym at the office). I’d be scared to apply the push-ups anywhere else.

          I’ve seen some of those studies. It’s scary how bad inactivity can be for our bodies. Another solution is a standup desk.

          I’m not sure you’ve ever mentioned you had two kids. I can see their potty breaks being a way to mental trigger some type of mental activity.

  • Building rituals! Soon those triggers will become engraved habits. Great post!

    • And that’s the goal of it all Josue. Let the simple everyday trigger become the key to lifelong habits.

  • I am impressed i think it depend upon us how we want to carry on with our life. Either we can generate some mental triggers and create something productive for ourselves and make our life a bit exciting and productive else we can carry on the way that we are going right now.

    • Exactly. What are you doing to have mental triggers in your life?

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  • These are some great ideas. When I get up from my desk, it’s a trigger to refill my water bottle. I have definitely found that drinking lots of water throughout the day is so helpful to my overall health.

    • That’s a good trigger to for a healthy habit.

  • Amar

    Hi Joe,

    It is good to be here, i am using this trigger (push ups) before going rest area while at home for last one week, and its really good with 95% till now.

    Along with many others, my current top issues, might be anyone of you can help:

    1). Watching porn (since 15 yrs – not married yet 35 now) and masturbation and now sometime without watching porn. tress is also an issue

    2). Using some chewable tobacco same time. when i am stressed

    These both started when i had one of my main disastrous event in life, and can’t skip that, that disaster totally changed my life, now i am doing/thinking/acting/working/etc anything, may be i don’t like, but doing, don’t know why.

    I lost my courage, ambitions, aims, life, love. and today, i am with all most all bad habits in my life, not in a sense of criminals, but i might be hurting myself/etc, can you suggest my some triggers?


    • Amar,

      These might be bigger issues than I can deal with. It sounds like a lot of the issues you’re experiencing happen around stress. That sounds like a trigger right there.

      When you notice yourself becoming stressed, look for different outlets. Don’t go for your normal stress relievers. Maybe when you’re feeling stressed:

      Go for a run
      Call a close friend
      Read the Bible or another good book
      Go for a calming run

      Find something that can break you away from the bad habits.

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