Disclosure: This is a sponsored post written on behalf of Quitter’s Circle, a collaboration between the American Lung Association and Pfizer. All thoughts and opinions presented in this post are purely my own.
When it comes to making a personal change, I’ve written a lot recently about the notion of setting ourselves up for success.
Creating a village. Shifting our mindset. Tapping into who we used to be and creating a path forward.
There remains, however, one final piece that I’ve found isn’t always what it seems on the surface.
It’s time to talk about triggers.
A trigger is an event which sparks the automatic urge to return to an old routine. A smoker, for example, can have myriad triggers: when experiencing stress, taking a work break, drinking alcohol, etc. he or she may feel the urge to smoke.
Triggers may feel unpredictable (only after I tried to break my diet soda habit did I realize I habitually reached for one while reading!), yet if we keep a few things in mind we can successfully navigate around them and make them work for us.
Before you put down cigarettes for good or decide you’re finished with fast food, it’s crucial to consider what triggers you to do that activity.
So important, in fact, I often encouraged clients to not change anything (challenging once our brain decides it’s time) and pay close attention to their actions for one week.
What’s happening immediately before the urge to smoke? What thoughts are occurring prior to choosing to hit the drive–thru?
With this information in mind (and in journal) we’re ready to plan.
Plan to face potentially challenging situations with confidence. What will this look like? How will you give others and yourself a confident “NO”?
Plan to avoid (short or long term) situations which trigger the routine we’re working to change. What will we do instead? How will we explain these choices to ourselves? To others?
Plan to remove yourself from autopilot and separate yourself from the trigger. We need to list every trigger we can think of. What new positive act could we link to the triggers?
Plan for failure (which may happen frequently at the start). What will we do? How will we feel? What immediate steps will we take to get back on track starting with our very next choice? If you slip-up, that’s ok.
You may have heard the phrase: change the environment, change the outcome.
This adage can hold true in most facets of healthy living and often, whether we’re prepared to admit it or not, our environment supports the very activity we desire to change.
It’s impossible to control all facets of our environment, but now that we’ve completed step #1 (identifying triggers) the task of manipulating our surroundings becomes easier.
Eliminate as many triggers as possible.
Do you smoke when consuming alcohol? Skip imbibing while you quit.
Do you wake up in the morning and immediately have the urge to smoke? Get your day started by adopting new daily rituals to avoid picking up a cigarette.
Do you eat bags of salty snacks while watching TV at night? Don’t bring your favs into the house.
No matter what you wish to change, I’d bet your environment facilitates it and may make change more challenging.
Trigger sparks action. (We won’t talk here about those of us who hit the snooze button, but that too is a routine that we can change!)
We can help ourselves create and remain on our “new path” by repeating the new positive action.
Brainstorm an action you will consciously choose to do instead of the old one you’re striving to shed.
This action, which can range from saying the word “Stop!” to chanting a private personal mantra in your head, can be a useful tool in halting the urge to smoke, eating sweets, hitting the snooze button, etc. as it can send your thoughts in a different direction.
But it’s also important to recognize that addictions, like smoking, don’t need to be tackled alone. Professional help can be invaluable to getting you on the right track.
Communities like Quitter’s Circle provide tools and resources to help smokers in their quit journey, including resources to connect with a healthcare provider.
The next step is crucial, easy (to explain), and an important piece in retraining your brain:
Every time you experience the trigger, go immediately to your positive replacement activity.
The key here is linking triggers to something not yet instinctual, something that’s an automated constant. (e.g., instead of smoking, when you get the urge to pick up a cigarette, pick up your knitting needles instead or a new veggie snack!)
More than anything, it’s important to remember: You’ve got this.
Triggers abound, but so does our awareness of them.
Bea saysMay 3, 2017 at 4:41 am
I once worked with a woman who wore rubber bands on her wrist and each time she wanted to go for the sweets she snapped them against herself.
I thought it was a little bit nuts back then, but now I see how it could work ??
Susie @ Suzlyfe saysMay 3, 2017 at 5:24 am
Right now I’m finding that I’m dealing with a compulsive behavior when it comes to eating. Still working out how to stop it…
Lila saysMay 3, 2017 at 5:31 am
When I first swapped my diet soda out with Lacroix it had to become a conscious link. Each time I craved something bubbly and sweet I needed to tell myself: you are drinking Lacroix. You love Lacroix.
I loved my diet Pepsi a lot more when I started. I think I’ve made the connection finally and broken the cycle.
Coco saysMay 3, 2017 at 5:58 am
I absolutely think this is key – identifying triggers and creating new habits to replace the one(s) you’re trying to break.
Valerie saysMay 3, 2017 at 5:59 am
This is probably the single best piece of advice when it comes to retraining the brain, in my experience. Especially the part about how triggers are sometimes unexpected. I knew I stress-eat, but I was shocked to discover that I also indulge when I’m extra-happy. It’s not always what you think it is that’s pushing your buttons.
My stress levels lately have been through the roof and I’ve definitely found reframing with a positive activity to be the key to avoiding old, bad habits. That, and having a great support network. 🙂
Carla saysMay 3, 2017 at 4:19 pm
Wow, thanks for all the great feedback!
Jessica @eatsleepbe saysMay 3, 2017 at 6:40 am
This is so true. A while ago I realized that a trigger for me was the scale – regardless of what the number said. If my clothes fit and I feel comfortable in my skin, there’s no need for the scale. I’m so much happier without it.
Deborah @ Confessions of a mother runner saysMay 3, 2017 at 7:08 am
When I first gave up diet soda a few years ago, I felt there were so many triggers. I have replaced it with sparkling water and now don’t miss it. It took a long time!
Carla saysMay 3, 2017 at 4:20 pm
Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home saysMay 3, 2017 at 7:27 am
This is what happens to me when I start cooking. The wine glass needs to be next to the stove. Such a bad, wonderful habit.
Marcie saysMay 3, 2017 at 7:51 am
So true! My “triggers” tend to be emotional triggers – people, situations, and topics of discussion. Being aware of what they are and planning how to handle them will set you up for success.
Carla saysMay 3, 2017 at 4:18 pm
I love all of this positive encouragement!
Leanne | www.crestingthehill.com.au saysMay 3, 2017 at 7:56 am
You are so right about triggers Carla – every time I eat too many unhealthy things it’s because I’m patting myself subjectively to compensate for a stressful day. I have Mothers Day coming up and will be missing my kids – will have to plan some healthy nibbles to help me resist pity party food 🙂
Leanne | cresting the hill
Pamela Lutrell saysMay 3, 2017 at 8:19 am
Excellent! Something I needed to read today…I am addicted to sweets. There I said it…now I need to get some rubber gloves to snap against my wrist (first comment)! Thanks for the encouragement, Carla.
Carla saysMay 3, 2017 at 4:19 pm
Stay strong. You can do it, Pamela!
Abbey Sharp saysMay 3, 2017 at 8:50 am
Really important post. It’s important we understand ourselves a bit better to make smart choices!
cherylann saysMay 3, 2017 at 9:43 am
I had no idea there are so many people addicted to unhealthy things in this day and age…wow.
Lindsay Cotter saysMay 3, 2017 at 10:12 am
I often plan for some failures because I just know I am human. I also love the plan ahead. I need that in order to feel confident. Confident that I can overcome whatever habit/thinking i just can’t break! I’ve been reading DEEP work (the book) and it talks about how to really focus on that. Love this friend. YOu are my go to for all the wisdom in life. SO NEEDED
Carla saysMay 3, 2017 at 4:17 pm
I am so happy that you like it!xo
Juan Pedro Moreno saysMay 3, 2017 at 10:28 am
Very interesting post Carla,
I’m also dealing with a eating compulsive behavior, I never feel satisfied. Is a very hard battle, I hope I can win..
Thanks for sharing !
Carla saysMay 3, 2017 at 4:17 pm
I’m sorry to hear that. I know it’s difficult.
Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table saysMay 3, 2017 at 10:43 am
My best friend’s mom growing up was a smoker. She quit using the gum… then was addicted to the gum. Then the dog got ahold of the gum and it was addicted. I can’t make this up…
Haralee saysMay 3, 2017 at 11:07 am
Excellent tips and like you say there is help. I like how you talk about healthful responses to triggers, not replacing one addiction with another!
Carla saysMay 3, 2017 at 4:16 pm
Keep following. There’s plenty more to come.
messymimi saysMay 3, 2017 at 12:55 pm
When trying to change a habit or start a new one or end an old one, i notice that at first i catch myself after i’ve already done the old or skipped the moment the new should have happened. As i catch myself and immediately make myself do the new thing (even if after the optimal moment), i find i catch it earlier and earlier in the process until it becomes automatic.
It’s not overnight, but if i give up, it never happens, so i keep trying.
Christina Bauer saysMay 3, 2017 at 1:15 pm
Fantastic post! It’s so hard to break a habit when the environment & conditions around us work to prevent that. If I am going to quit sugar, I need to remove all sugar additives from my house. I recently stopped eating dairy, and have found that I am being asked to explain myself to pretty much everyone under the sun (annoying)!!
Carla saysMay 3, 2017 at 4:15 pm
Thanks for sharing, Christina!
Jessica @Nutritioulicious saysMay 3, 2017 at 1:28 pm
Such great tips Carla! Going in prepared is half the battle!
Ange // Cowgirl Runs saysMay 3, 2017 at 1:40 pm
This is so key!
For me, I’ve gotten into the habit of always wanting dessert. I don’t need it, I’m not hungry, but I waaaaaant it, so I’m working to find replacements, like tea, instead of 6 cookies 🙂
Carla saysMay 3, 2017 at 4:14 pm
Keep up the good work, Ange!
Jody - Fit at 59 saysMay 3, 2017 at 2:52 pm
This is so true with anything like this – for example, weight loss…. so many triggers to overeating! We have to accept that & learn from it.
Great post Carla!
Carla saysMay 3, 2017 at 4:14 pm
I’m glad you enjoyed it, Jody.
Kerri Olkjer saysMay 3, 2017 at 4:05 pm
I remember way back when I quit smoking drinking, especially socially around smokers, was a huge trigger. So, I removed that for a while until I got past it.
Carla saysMay 3, 2017 at 4:13 pm
That’s a great idea.
Darlene saysMay 3, 2017 at 6:26 pm
What a great post. One of my biggest triggers for overworking is feeling bored. So when I should not be working, I try to keep my self busy with meaningful , relaxing activities such a gardening, blogging, playing games with the kids, reading etc. I’ve read a lot about coloring lately and I plan to invest in some coloring books.
dixya @food, pleasure, and health saysMay 3, 2017 at 6:27 pm
elimination triggers + having a plan in place really makes a huge difference.
Mikki saysMay 3, 2017 at 7:26 pm
What a great post. Love this. So many times if people stop and journal or take not of what triggers them, it could really make a difference. Great post!
Emily | EmPowered Nutrition saysMay 3, 2017 at 7:38 pm
So important to talk about triggers. This was a great post!
Tara @ A Daily Dose of Fit saysMay 3, 2017 at 8:16 pm
I love this. Old habits die hard, which can sometimes be really confusing if the habits aren’t necessarily centered around material things.
Taylor Kiser saysMay 3, 2017 at 9:16 pm
This is such helpful information! Thanks for sharing your tips! I loved the idea of writing triggers down in a journal along with an action step plan!
Carmy @ carmyy.com saysMay 3, 2017 at 9:16 pm
Stress definitely triggers all the bad eating! Now if only I could get rid of stress all together 😉
Marcia saysMay 4, 2017 at 6:30 am
Great information here! Just noticing what our triggers are is so enlightening. I tend to slip down the “rabbit hole” as soon as I know there are BBQ chips “for the kids” in the house. Ugh.
Kristina @ Love & Zest saysMay 4, 2017 at 11:05 am
Great post! Change has start within yourself but knowing your triggers and what to avoid is definitely the way to success!
Andie Thueson saysMay 4, 2017 at 12:21 pm
Knowing your triggers is so important!! Great tips for dealing with and working through them!!
Julie @ Running in a Skirt saysMay 4, 2017 at 2:02 pm
Such good information! I never thought of it that way before and I really liked the advice to watch your habits for a week before you actually quit. Seems really helpful!
brianne saysMay 5, 2017 at 8:02 am
Oh I know my triggers! This is such a great post!