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The Trigger Technique

photoDo you ever find yourself procrastinating? Well, if you’re like most people, you tend to procrastinate the things that feel like chores, duties, or just seem too overwhelming. Starting new habits is also a very common time when procrastination rears its ugly head.

So how do we get around this procrastination problem? I certainly don’t have the answer for all instances, but I do know a simple brain training technique that can help much of the time, if not most of the time and it’s called, “The Trigger Technique.”

The picture here is of my washing machine. As you can see, it’s a front loader and as you probably know, that style can grow mold and mildew in the front seal area, which if not cleaned out with bleach, can make the clothes stink as well as the washing machine. It can also create an unhealthy situation because mold and mildew aren’t exactly good for us.

I really hate the chore of cleaning out my washing machine seal. Why? I don’t really know. Maybe it’s because I have to use bleach to do it right, and I hate bleach because it’s toxic. It could be something else too, because even if I found a non-toxic cleaner that worked well, I’d still hate the chore.

It doesn’t really take much time, because I can get it done in five minutes or less, but it’s still one of the last things I want to do and if I don’t use the trigger technique, I will certainly procrastinate. So when I first start to smell a hint of stink, I’m usually in the middle of something else, and certainly don’t have the time to address it right away, so instead of doing the whole chore right then, I simply do the first part. This involves putting the towel down to protect the floor from the bleach in case I spill or splash some, then getting a glove out to protect my hand from the bleach, and then finding a white rag I don’t mind using with bleach. What you see in this picture is the first half of the chore. This took me about 30 seconds, so it’s really not much of an interruption even if I’m in the middle of something. Then I walk away.

When I walk back by my laundry closet later, I see my own reminder about the chore and low and behold, I’ve given myself a head start! In fact, it looks like I’m half done! Now all I have to do is “finish” the “easy” part and it doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore. Separating it into two chunks made it something that wasn’t necessary to put off or procrastinate.

Brain scientists discovered this when they ran a research study which involved giving coffee shop customers a customer loyalty punch card. To some people they gave a punch card with 10 boxes to check off, so when they reached their 10th box they received a free coffee. To others, they gave the same punchcard, but two of the boxes were already checked off. Those who received the punch cards with two boxes checked off were 80% more likely to use their loyalty card than those who had no boxes checked off. In essence, those who received the punch cards with two boxes already checked off felt like they had a “head start” which encouraged them to finish out the card.

The same concept applies to tasks, jobs and chores that we tend to procrastinate. If we give ourselves a “head start,” it reminds us to do it and makes it somehow manageable, when it wasn’t previously. This works for starting new habits as well. If you want to start exercising, putting out your exercise clothes by the front door the night before will make you more likely to work out that day. You won’t be able to forget about your new commitment and rush off with your normal daily routine and it will feel like you have a “head start” on this new habit.

This works with the “big things” too. Sometimes just getting started with a big task or project is that hardest part. If we think of the project as a whole, it’s too overwhelming and we keep putting off that start. If we just do the first step though, then all of a sudden our brain thinks it’s manageable and we can move forward.

The funny thing is, even though I know how and why this technique works, it still makes it easier for me to do stuff I would normally procrastinate (like this easy washer cleaning chore). The brain is a funny thing, and understanding how it works and how to work with it is absolutely crucial when it comes to getting stuff done and starting new habits!

Check out my video below for another perspective and alternate explanation. It was cut and segmented from a longer lecture I gave: