Trigger Action Planning

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Also known as implementation intentions, trigger-action plans are a good way to deliberately create a new habit one atomic part at a time.

Instructional Material

How to Make a TAP

1. Identify a problem [1-5 minutes]

For your first TAP, pick something relatively minor. Find an annoyance or irritation that you would like to fix.

Example problem. I forget to take my medicine in the morning, resulting in unstable mood swings later in the day.

2. Find a trigger and action [5-10 minutes]

By the time your problem becomes a problem, it's probably too late. Work backwards through time — what caused the problem? What caused the cause? Eventually, you should be able to find a weak link in the chain that reliably occurs and would only take a small nudge to avert the problem.

Triggers should be a concrete thing that happens, such as sitting down at your computer, unlocking your phone, or opening the fridge. Avoid compound triggers where the trigger only counts if a condition is true (such as unlocking your phone while on transit).

Actions should be as small as possible. Good actions are picking up something next to you, looking in a direction, or adding a note to your notes app. Avoid complex actions like cleaning the kitchen, exercising, or writing an email. If you find yourself wanting to take a complex action, that's a good sign you haven't moved far enough up the causal chain.

Example trigger/action. Trigger: walking to the shelf where I put my glasses overnight. Action: grab the medicine container off the shelf.

Note that my trigger is something that happens every day as part of an existing habit, and that it only happens when I want to also take my action.

Likewise, my action is very small, taking a few seconds at most. Also notice how the action doesn't directly solve the problem — it just makes it more likely that I'll take the pills later when I'm getting my morning drink of water.

Chaining triggers off existing habits is the best way to create new TAPs.

3 Practice the TAP [90s]

Spend 90 seconds practicing the trigger and action. Put yourself in the situation where the trigger occurs, then take the action immediately. Try to make the simulated trigger and action as close to the real thing as possible.

Example practice. I took my glasses off and put them on the shelf. Then I went and lay down in bed and for 90 seconds, I went through a loop of:

  1. Get up
  2. Approach the shelf
  3. Grab the medicine tin for the day
  4. Wait a few seconds, then put the tin back and restart

The next day I did the same thing by habit when I woke up and was still half asleep.

Cohort Activity

Take five minutes per person to identify an annoyance that would take <90s to fix every time it comes up. Work with your cohort to identify a trigger and an action that would avert or fix the problem.

After you have your trigger and action, practice them in the cohort session. If you have to get up to do this, that's okay.

If you absolutely can't practice (say, because your trigger involves a physical location that you aren't in), then work with your cohort to design and practice a trigger that will remind you to practice the desired TAP. This is a modified version of the Sapience Spell.

Sapience Spell (Optional)

Do this exercise if you finish everyone's TAPs during the cohort session.

Find an object and bind a sapience thought to it as a TAP. The idea of this is to make it easier for you to take a step to the side and look at your current behavior and decide whether you actually endorse it.

  1. Choose an object that you frequently see or touch, such as a ring or bracelet.
  2. Choose a sapience thought or mantra. You can make one up yourself, or select one of the options below.
  3. Spend 90 seconds practicing the following loop:
    1. Touch the object
    2. Think the thought or say the mantra
    3. Wait a few seconds
    4. Repeat

List of thoughts

  • stop and say what am I feeling in my body
  • will I regret these actions?
  • what do I want?
  • will I regret inaction?
  • how much do I trust myself at this moment?
  • if I had to make this decision every day for the rest of my life where would it lead?
  • pay attention
  • breath, reflect on my goal
  • be present in the moment
  • collect myself

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