I ran across a powerful idea some years ago which has really helped me to get control of certain parts of my life.

The concept is called a “habit trigger”, and is used when you want to develop a new habit but have trouble remembering to do it. It might be exercise, or unloading the dishwasher, or a skin care routine.

Quite simply, the trick is to attach your new habit to something else which is already habitual for you.

For instance, I have a morning routine I’ve done for decades, about a dozen step, which includes getting out of bed, taking a bath, eating breakfast, and hygiene activities. In there I also turn on the lights in my office and start the computer. There’s no reason for me to change it, and it’s a very comfortable way to start the day.

I wanted to start weighing myself every day at the same time, so I decided that it would be easiest to do it in the morning. It takes no time at all, the problem is remembering.

So my solution is simple: Right after I turn on the lights in my office, I weigh. The scale is sitting there right next to the light switch, so it’s easy to do both actions at the same time. Internally, it feels like I haven’t completed turning on the lights until I’ve also weighed.

Now this is a pretty trivial example, but also highly effective. I created a new habit and have stuck with it for many years.

The concept also works with things that are more complex. Imagine that you’re trying to track where you spend your time during the workday. After trying it for a week, you discover:

  • At 5:00 I can’t really remember what I was doing in the morning.
  • This is kind of annoying to do, so I find myself “forgetting” at the end of the day because my mind is on other things.

There might be two ways to solve these problems. First, find a tool where it’s very easy to track the time WHILE you are doing the activity, or before you switch to the next thing. Some of this might even be automated, depending on how your work flows.

Another solution is to attach it to some things you’re already doing:

  1. Go to lunch
  2. Leave work at the end of the day
  3. The mental switch at the end of your day (like 9 PM) when you finally say “I’m not going to do any more work today” and start relaxing before bedtime

The trick is to create an attachment in your mind where you declare that “I won’t let myself go to lunch UNTIL I spend a minute jotting down what I did this morning.” It becomes much easier to do, and starts to become an automated habit in the manner of a few weeks.

Some people really like checklists, so that can also be a help. Just don’t let yourself leave the unfinished task on the list because you “forgot” to do it. Because our brains work like that. No, if you’re going to use a checklist, then USE it.

Or use an automated reminder system to help get the sequence started. I have a list of things that I do every Friday, which becomes simpler when I have my Outlook remind me. And I have another trigger for things I do on the first day of every month.

And because I like to get things done and check them off the list, I’ve gotten pretty good at doing those actions in a timely manner.

What is it that you’d like to develop as a habit?