Use Triggers to Form Habits to Make Your Resolutions Stick

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New Years Resolutions

As the New Year sneaks in, we welcome it quietly, softly, without wishing to voice our thoughts too loudly in case it becomes another flaming nightmare of a year. Let’s hope this one is kinder to us. Whilst we hope that 2022 will be one to bring normality back to our world, some things never change – New Year’s resolutions. Every year we make them and break them. Exercise more, eat more healthily, save money, stop smoking, and so we try and we fail. There is some good news – You are not alone, and there is another way. Let’s learn about habits

BJ Fogg is a Professor at Stanford University, California, author and founder of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. He is widely considered to be the father of habit formation. His work on ‘tiny habits’ is well worth Googling. Fogg says that habits are formed when the ability to do the habit meets the motivation to do the habit. In our language, it means that the reason we don’t save money is that we’re not sure how to do it whilst paying all the other bills – ability. 

And the reason we don’t go to the gym is that we cannot be bothered – motivation. Forming habits is hard and takes around 21 times of doing that thing before it becomes habitual. The professor recommends ‘triggers’ to help you to form habits. For each habit, he suggests that we need to identify where we are on the ability & motivation graph, and then put one of 3 triggers in play. You have probably tried a form of a trigger previously, like leaving your gym bag in the hall or putting a fat version of you on the fridge.

Signal, Spark & Facilitator

The 3 triggers are Signal, Spark, and Facilitator and they are used like this in the example of wanting to lose weight:

  • High motivation and high ability. Use a Signal trigger. A picture of a thinner you that you see every day.
  • High ability but low motivation. Use a Spark trigger. You know how, but cannot be bothered. Make it easier for yourself by using the piggyback method. Go for a 20-minute run every week before the team meeting so you can tell people you did. You do the thing just before or after something you already do.
  • High motivation but low ability. Use a Facilitator trigger. Download a calorie counter app that ‘nags’ at you to count your calories.
A father and son brushing their teeth in the mirror shows father helping his son to form the habit of brushing his teeth
Create habit triggers to help you form healthy habits for the new year


Ability will trump motivation every time. So, if you want to form a habit make it as easy as you can for yourself to achieve it. For example, I can be highly motivated to eat healthily but if there is no healthy food in the fridge, the cheesecake wins.

Good luck with your New Year’s resolutions and know that forming a habit is like tuning in an old radio. You’ll hear the music and then it will go. Keep at it, the music will come again. It just takes practice.

This article on the use of triggers to form habits was written by Darren A. Smith for The Grocer.

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