Action triggers: how to set them, and how to use them

I’m not, in general, a big fan of “triggers”. As in, no “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” automatic tax reductions when revenues go up. No automatic cuts if the supercommittee can’t reach an agreement.

I don’t even let my online exams grade themselves.

I think that there are activities–including most of self-governance–that still require human consideration.

But we know that automatic works, right? People save more if their savings are deducted automatically. We pay bills on time if a computer does it for us. I use alarms to remind me when my kids need to be where, and what to get at the grocery store, and even when it’s my mom’s birthday.

The less of a ‘lift’ some activity is, the more likely we’ll do it. You know, the whole ‘set your exercise clothes out the night before’?

Except, seriously? Doesn’t everyone just stumble over them in desperate search for their kids’ waffles and, please, a little caffeine?

There’s a part in Switch about how setting action triggers makes change more likely, though, that really appeals to me as an advocate. This is the idea that getting people to imagine how they’ll take action increases the likelihood that they will, and it makes a lot of sense. Now that I’m familiar with the concept, I see it all over; just the other day, the home visitor who comes to visit with the baby and me had me write out how and when and where I could put these ‘new skills’ (maintaining your baby’s interest in a toy) to use, in very specific detail.

So, what about it, advocates and organizers? What if we helped people not just to practice how they, hypothetically, would call an elected official, for example, but also when they’d do it, and from which phone? What if we got people to think of 5 specific people that they are going to see within the next week, and to plan out exactly when and how they could approach those people to recruit them for a campaign? What if, instead of spending most of our energy convincing people that they should take action (and then begging them to please do it) (and then following up to remind them to do it), we instead invested considerable attention in helping them lay the mental groundwork to do it, in the belief that that’s a big part of the journey?

That way, when we’re, for example, sitting down to our computer right after putting the kids to bed, something reminds us that that is, indeed, when we said that we’d call 5 of our kids’ classmates’ parents to talk about the new proposed school finance formula, so it’s more likely to happen then if we only vaguely said that, yeah, we’ll try to get to that when we can.

Hypothetically, of course.

When and how do you use action triggers? How does going through the motions mentally help you to actualize in reality? How can you weave this concept into your organizing, and into your own personal advocacy?

And, then, when and how and where, specifically, are you going to try this out?

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2 responses to “Action triggers: how to set them, and how to use them

  1. I’m a huge fan of Switch, and it’s hard not to notice that you are as well!
    To your point, I have been working with a coalition of youth organizations using social media to advocate for local legislation. While the focus of my work with them has been training and skill-building for social media channels, I did use some of the ideas you are suggesting: I asked them to envision where they’d find voters, write down five blog post topics, and draft a brief blog post within the training session itself. Those that took the training have followed through with their advocacy work; the one group where I did not offer that training has not followed through.

    • I’m sorry that the commenting process was frustrating–not sure what happened!

      I am so interested in the different outcomes you’re observing; I’d love to see that approach replicated, to give us better ideas about the kinds of inputs that can make a demonstrable and sustained difference in sparking activism. I have certainly seen some of the same–I just did a training on immigrant rights work with a group of potential advocates and had them craft letters to the editor during the session, among some other takeaways, and one of them has already been printed. But, without some sort of ‘control’, it’s hard to isolate the factors that make the difference (since there are so many human variables in play). I think this priming really does matter, though, and I’m so very grateful that you shared your own experience of it. It’s always great to hear from you!

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