Identify My Relapse Triggers

The majority of slips are preceded by a trigger, a high-risk situation that increases the chances that you’ll return to your old ways.  Triggers can be practically anything that has been associated with the problem—from moods and behaviors to places, people, and physical cravings. As you learned reading Changeology, the most common triggers are stress, negative moods, lack of control, positive emotions, and physical cravings.

In this exercise, we will identify what triggers your slips back into the old problems. In this way, you can anticipate and usually avoid the triggers with a bit of planning.

Observe your cravings and behaviors for a few days. Look for the 4 W’s of newspaper writing: Where (in what locations and circumstances), what (activities, feelings, thoughts), when (time of day or before or after a particular event), and who (people supporting or accompanying the old behavior or those that trigger stress).

Then complete the following worksheet to identify your high-risk situations. The examples below are mere suggestions to get you started and will not appear on the final printed page.

Beware: Danger Lurks Here

Where (in what locations and circumstances, easy access to the old problem behavior):

Add +

Examples: Bar, bakery, smoke shop, shopping mall
Inactive, sedentary or bored
After a fine dinner

What (activities, feelings, thoughts):

Add +

Examples: Feeling stressed or sad
Happy and celebrating
Struggling with you own cravings and temptations
Thinking “I can’t do this,” “It’s beyond my control.”

When (time of day or before or after a particular event):

Add +

Examples: Alone and feeling tired
After a long day and “needing” to unwind

Who (people supporting or accompanying the old behavior or those folks triggering stress):

Add +

Examples: Conflicts with other people
Social influences (friends who invite you to smoke, drink, spend, overeat, etc.)

The results of this exercise will inform an internal, red-alert emergency system that will set off when you are in these danger zones.

After completing the worksheet, print it and post it in a visible place where you can regularly consult it. Consider sharing it with your loved ones and perhaps your change team.

Reorient yourself to avoid these triggers. Minimize exposure to your chief triggers until you’ve built strong confidence that you can resist the temptations. Then, and only then, slowly make your way back to the people, places, and things that precipitated your problem in the past.