The next step in your habit creation is to consciously designate an anchor or trigger for your habit: something that is the same every time you want your habitual routine to be enacted. My afternoon hike with the dog, for example, is triggered by me leaving my office in the evening and walking into the kitchen to think about dinner, and then ultimately feeding the dog. (So the time of day is an anchor, as is feeding the dog. After I feed the dog I always habitually walk him.)
An anchor can be time of day, a different habitual behavior that comes right before your habit (those make good triggers)—even an emotion. For example, when you feel anxious, you may habitually pick at your nails. Or if you feel happy, you may habitually reach for your phone to take a picture. (I’m not suggesting these as good anchors or habits, mind you. Just showing how emotions are often triggers.)
With gratitude, a general time of day is usually the best trigger, like first thing in the morning, after school, during lunchtime, or before dinner— but that can’t be the only thing that anchors your gratitude practice. Once you know generally the time of day when you’d like to practice gratitude, try to link your activity to an existing behavior or routine.
For example, I recently added a new gratitude practice into my existing lunchtime routine. Originally, I started off trying to add it into my morning routine, but this proved to be too tricky for me because I use Gratitude app on my phone, and I found that I was derailing my morning routine by looking at my phone — I have to leave it in the charging station until I’m ready for work or I am too tempted to read messages, etc.
At any rate, because I make my own lunch most days, I decided to practice gratitude at lunchtime. My anchor is preparing lunch. After I prepare lunch (or while I wait for it to heat up) I will text someone something that I appreciate about them. If I don’t heat up my lunch, I still stop for a second before I eat and practice gratitude. If I don’t prepare my own lunch, I don’t usually do my gratitude habit — and that’s okay. Most days is better than no days. The habit is: After I prepare my lunch, then I will practice gratitude. It’s a habit that takes only a few seconds.
I’ve used Stanford habit researcher BJ Fogg’s format for establishing an anchor: something you do without fail on autopilot anyway:
“After I pour my morning coffee, I will tell my husband what I appreciate about him.”
“After I start the dishwasher, I will write in my gratitude journal.”
“After I walk in my front door from work, I will open my gratitude app.”
If you’ve got a habit that you don’t want to do every day, choose a trigger that occurs only when you want to do the habit. (There is evidence, for example, that writing in a gratitude journal three times a week is better than writing every day.) For example, “Write a monthly gratitude letter” isn’t a habit. It’s a to-do item for your task list because there’s no clear trigger and therefore no clear automaticity. But if you go to work only three days a week, for example, you can use work as your trigger: “After I leave work and board the train home, practice gratitude” could become a very automatic, habitual gratitude practice.
You’ll be more likely to stick with your new habit if you use an existing anchor, so try to anchor your gratitude practice to an existing routine.
What To Do Today
Designate a trigger (or anchor) for your habit, something that is the same every time you want to do it. Please be sure that you will be able to do your gratitude practice every single time you are exposed to your anchor. Every time I prepare lunch for myself, I practice gratitude.