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"Triggers, Triggers Everywhere"
By Carla Birnberg
May 03, 2017

"Triggers, Triggers Everywhere"

The following post was sponsored by Quitter's Circle as part of a guest blogger series. All thoughts, opinions and stories expressed in this post are purely those of Carla Birnberg.
This post also appears on 
Unapologetically Myself.

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.

Plan Ahead.

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.

Examine Environment.

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.