Everyone has goals they want to achieve. You may want to start exercising more or you may want to spend more time in the great outdoors. No matter how big or small your goals may be, we tend to look at them as an impossible feat. Or, we may start on the right path and give up halfway through because it’s too difficult or other responsibilities get in the way.
You may have tried to force yourself to continue your way to reaching your goals by not buying junk food if you are on a diet, or laying your workout clothes out at night so that you will put them on in the morning and get to work. These examples may seem simple, but they are spotlights, or activation triggers, that allow you to develop habits that will help you reach your goals.
Many different activation triggers can help us all get from point A to point B. You may use them regularly without even realizing it by placing your running shoes by the front door each day or going to bed earlier so that you won’t be as tired at work. These implementation intentions, are vital anytime you have a goal that seems out of your reach.
What are Activation Triggers?
An activation trigger is, “A simple statement or action that streamlines the process of reaching our goals.” It works by anticipating the obstacles or contingencies standing in our way. Instead of depending on ourselves to make the right decision, at a time when we may have very little willpower, activation triggers decide for us in advance.
Since contingencies process neurologically, we are good at coming up with scenarios where, “If X happens then Y will occur.” We use these formulas to guide our actions and behavior. Any time we decide when, where and how we will achieve our goals, we create a link in our brains between a situation or cue—the formula—and the behavior that will follow. Doing this will help us establish powerful triggers for the course of action.
5 Simple Steps Toward Reaching Your Goals with Help from Activation Triggers
People who plan to use ‘If x then y’ are more likely to achieve their goals than others. So how can you use this advantage for yourself? Follow these five simple steps for using activation triggers to reach your goal.
Step 1: Start with Your Stated Goal
When you have a goal in mind, you must fully understand why it is so important to you and what benefits you will receive. The SMART system, created by GE in the 1980’s, can help you get started on the right path.
According to the SMART system, the best goals are:
- Specific enough to focus your energy on.
- Measurable, allowing you to keep track of progress.
- Actionable, it prompts a particular activity.
- Risky enough to cause us to rise to the challenge.
- Time-keyed, it inspires you to act at the right time.
Step 2: Brainstorm to Find the Best Triggers
When you have a goal that meets all the SMART standards, you need to look at the triggers that work best for reaching that goal. Always be sure that your activation triggers are much easier to meet than your actual goal. That way you are leveraging the easy parts to get to the harder actions.
You will need to create a list of triggers and choose which will set you up for success. Here are a few examples of good activation triggers to use for various goals.
- Use a programmable light switch to turn off the lights in your office precisely at 6 p.m. so you will stop working at that time and have more time to rest.
- Ask your assistant to make dinner reservations for you at 6 p.m. each Friday so that you can follow through with your goal of a weekly date night.
- Throw out junk food in the refrigerator or pantry to follow through on your goal of eating healthier.
- Set up an automatic deposit to your savings account each month or week to reach your goal of saving money.
- Hire a fitness trainer to work with you and pay for sessions up front so that you will reach your fitness goals and not waste your money.
Step 3: Optimize Activation Triggers
One key element to using activation triggers is thinking when you are at your strongest, instead of relying on willpower alone. Doing so allows you to optimize triggers to increase your level of success. You can do this by using elimination, automation, and delegation.
- By eliminating temptations from your life, you have more control over your cravings or the need to constantly be on your smartphone.
- You can automate your triggers using technology such as the light timer at the office or the automatic weekly deposit into your savings account.
- You can delegate activation triggers using an assistant or an app on your phone to set up dinner reservations or pay your bills on time automatically.
Optimizing your triggers transfers the control away from them and back to you. It gives you a feeling of accomplishment even before you have reached your goal which can encourage you to keep moving forward.
Step 4: Be Aware of Obstacles and Configure Your Response
Even if you feel that you have more control over your plans to conquer your goals, you can still become distracted by obstacles that stand in your way. But, if you identify these barriers before they arrive, you will have a better chance of overcoming them.
- If you have set a goal to leave the office at exactly 6 p.m. and get a phone call as you are heading out the door, it will be tempting to answer it. What if it’s something important? If you decide in advance how you are going to handle this type of situation, you will have no trouble dismissing the call and letting it go to voicemail.
- If a chatty colleague wants to talk as you are on your way out, let them know that you’ll be happy to continue talking to them in the morning.
- Answer your last email of the day at 5:30 p.m. and don’t’ recheck it after 5:45 p.m. Set up an automated message to let senders know that you are unavailable to respond until the next business day.
Step 5: Experiment Until You Get It Right
Your goals may be very different from those described here. However, the tips and advice should still work for any goal. Remember that you are going to experience setbacks and obstacles. However, you can come up with ways to conquer them beforehand so that you will be ready to face them head on.
You may need to experiment with your triggers based on your lifestyle and desires. Regardless of how you handle your situation, don’t give up on your goal. If you hit a wall along the way, it’s time to go in a different direction.
Instead of giving up on your goals, change your approach using activation triggers.
You can modify your activation triggers over and over until they work right for you. Sometimes you only need to make a slight change for the triggers to work. Other times you may have to do damage control and become stricter using your willpower. If you are constantly on your computer for work, and for socializing with others, it can be hard to put down your laptop at the end of the workday. You may try to place it in a different part of your home so that it’s less distracting, but it’s still very easy to cheat since the laptop is still accessible to you. And that could cause you to give up on your goals.
If you want to cut down on your screen time, you can choose to leave your laptop at the office so you won’t face the temptation to check out social media every few minutes. Some people may have a tough time with leaving behind such a vital resource. But, over time, it will become less of a struggle and more of a benefit to you.
Setting goals for yourself, no matter how big or small, can be a healthy, growing experience. You learn just how strong you are against life’s temptations and get to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment as you get closer to your goal. If you reach an obstacle that you just can’t get over, find a new path to your goal. If you give up, try again. The only rules involved with setting goals are that you set a reasonable goal for yourself and you do everything you can to reach it.
Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.