This next semester (I'm in university, so that's how I measure time) I'm working on developing my ability to better integrate arbitrary habits into my behavior. Trigger-action-planning (a more detailed explanation as well) is LW's most concrete strategy for doing such a thing, so I've decided to just try it. Starting 3 weeks ago and proceeding for the next 6 months I'm working on my personal approach to Trigger-action-planning (TAP for short).

My basic structure for this:

  • Each week (Sunday morning) design a new TAP, or redesign an old one.
  • Aim to follow through on the TAP in all applicable situations throughout the week.
  • At the end of each day (as part of an already existing review process) note if I did or did not follow through.
  • At the end of each week, look back and think on if the TAP was useful, what worked well, what was hard, and all that jazz.

The biggest things that's jumped out at me so far has been that not all TAPs are created equal. I think conceptual similarity does not imply actionable similarity applies very heavily to TAPs. In light of this, I'm approaching each week's TAP from a very implementation specific perspective, and then afterwards I'm going to think about what connections and universal principles might apply.

Here are some things I've noticed so far:

  • It's seems like there's a "mindfulness bootstrapping" problem, in that it often feels like my TAPs are only activated because of preexisting mindfulness triggers.
  • I've been putting the handle for each week's TAP on my phone lock screen. This was a very effective reminder originally, though it's already lost most of its power three weeks in. Mayhaps having a randomly generated background image would help prevent my mind from filtering out expected reminders. One google search and perusing the first page of results did not produce an app to do this.
  • I notice that sometimes there's a glimmer of noticing I'm in a context to activate the TAP, yet I don't. Part of this might be friction related to stopping whatever train of thought/awareness I'm currently on. Giving myself explicit permission to derail thoughts to execute a TAP could help.

I'll be posting updates on this project every so often. If you have had trouble with attempting TAPs or similar situational habit practices in the past, I'd love to hear about the specifics how what you've tried and what hasn't worked.

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14 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 7:58 PM

Also relevant (people undergoing similar processes to Hazard in the past who wrote up their journey)

Yeah, a lot of Brienne's posts about cognitive TAPs and noticing are relevant.

Things I've noticed:

Habit-a-week-thingies tend to fail. I've seen a few people attempt a "gain a new habit a week" thing. It seemed like the default outcome was "not much progress." Malcolm's post was the greatest success story, and I think it succeeded by focusing on triggers that happen multiple times per day so you can learn faster. (I wasn't sure if the thing you were going for was more like routines, or reflexes - routines seem to take 3 months to learn, Malcolm seemed to prove you could go faster with more-frequently-trigger-habits)

Nightly checkins - The biggest shift for me was when myself and a few friends all read Superhuman by Habit together and then adopted a nightly check in about our habits (we used to mostly live in the same house, now we skype in together, which I don't think would have worked if we tried it initially). However, social habit-practices are fragile, so if you can find a way to succeed without them that seems better.

Morning Routine. For routine-style habits, a huge win for me was actually getting a morning routine. It used to be that I'd get up, go to work immediately, and at work there was too much going on to accomplish any habits, and then I'd get home and random times and often be tired. Nowadays, I've set aside enough time in the morning for a habit chain that goes:

  1. Shower
  2. Brush teeth
  3. Floss
  4. 12 reps of some kind of exercise
  5. one minute of meditation
  6. Another 12 reps of same exercise
  7. Check my habit spreadsheet to verify what I did the previous day
  8. Reflect on my goals for day, and goals for previous day
I wasn't sure if the thing you were going for was more like routines, or reflexes

I aiming for reflexes, as I feel I've got a morning and pre-bed routine solidly ingrained.

Thanks for the link to Malcom's experiment, there's good stuff there. What got me started was trying a similar "Hands of Face" habit for a week.

Habit-a-week-thingies tend to fail.

Yeah, I'm not going into this expecting to make a permenant reflex change each week. My intentions are more in the vein of "get in the practice of trying TAPs for an extended period, and pay close attention to the mechanisms at work". I hope to collaterally pick up some better reflexes, but for now that main objective is to better understand the problem.

Also, I remember from Sunset at Noon you said that "never skip twice" was a game changer for you. Do you/would you use that attitude on reflexes, or just routines?

Trigger-Action Plans did essentially nothing for me the first two serious attempts I made to use them. I found this confusing, since structurally they seemed very similair to drills which do work well for me. The second time I leaned on that similairity, deliberatly setting up multiple instances of the trigger to happen close together the first few days in order to get the idea in my head while I was paying attention to it, which helped a little but ultimately they didn't stick.

What worked for me the third time was adding a step. The last part of any plan needs to be some kind of reward for myself that I otherwise wouldn't get. When I go to sit down at my desk, I do twenty push-ups, and then eat a chocolate chip. When I get home from work, I go for a run, and then immediately make myself a smoothie. Importantly, these things are off limits except through the TAP. Apparently I can't reliably enforce a rule of "when I get to my desk I do push-ups" but I can reliably enforce a rule of "I don't get chocolate chips unless I did push-ups."


This sounds like a Good Thing to do, and I would guess that you'd learn more about how your body responds to mindful habit-planning as a result. I second Raemon's concern that, from other people trying this habit-a-week thing, it seems pretty hard to keep up. Seeing your response to him, though, it looks like you've got a helpful attitude going into this, aimed at seeing what you'll learn.

General +1 for explicitly acting on instrumental rationality!

Trigger-Action plans/patterns (see Unnamed's linked post).

(This is probably a useful reminder to include links to core ideas at the top of a post. Also, I think the benefit of the shortness of the phrase "TAP" is outweighed by the clarity of saying trigger-action, at least in writing, since it's a bit easily to gather the definition from context)

Agreed . Links + clarity added

randomly generated background image

There are similar options, on androids at least: without installing any new apps, there is the option to change the background and lock screen every day automatically.

There are a few good CFAR videos on youtube about TAPs as well, e.g.

Do you remember what time marker TAPs is at?

Found it: Sorry, didn't realise it was so far into the video or I would have looked when I first linked it.