Week 17 — Are You Triggered?

Adriel Fong
6 min readJan 9, 2021

Whether you like it or not, we’re all hooked.

Facebook, Instagram, Pizza and E-mails, the list goes on. If you haven’t already realised, our thirst to satisfy the most basal human emotions never seem to be quenched. We always seem to want more and more.

Just think about it, do you check your phone when you wake up in the morning? I know I do. I’m hooked, no different from anyone out there.

This week in my venture building journey, we were introduced to the book Hooked by Nir Eyal where he explores the reasons behind why we gravitate to certain habits, from nail-biting to consuming content on Instagram, to playing extremely sticky games such as candy crush.

The key theme here isn’t one about creating addiction but forming habits. The distinction between the two is that addiction insinuates a negative and destructive behaviour, which always starts off becoming a habit first before turning into an addiction.

On the other hand, a habit is more of an open-ended way to describe our human tendencies. A habit is defined by Nir as behaviours that are done with little or no concious effort. This definition broadens the range of actions that we may perform repetitively throughout a period of time.

After Nir’s extensive study across many different fields, he broke all of his research down into what he coins the “Hook Model”. Within the Hook Model nestles 4 specific steps that companies exploit in order to subconciously cause you (the user) to form a habit with their product(s).

Step 1: Trigger

Step 2: Action

Step 3: Variable Reward

Step 4: Investment

This week as we explore the trigger step, which is in my opinion one of the more important steps to understand and utilise as a business owner.

How do I trigger a prospect into taking action and then subsequently forming a connection with your product or service to create the result of them coming back to you time and time again?

External Triggers

In order to get your customers/prospects hooked on you, you have to throw out external triggers. Triggers are the foundation to which habits start forming on top of. Like the sand particle in an oysters shell that eventually forms a pearl.

External triggers are embedded with information, that tells us what to do next. To illustrate my point, just last week I was at a Japanese eatery with my colleague after a hard gym session. We walked over and found this Japanese donburi place that specialising in Salmon Bowls. It looked pretty average with bright neon lights illuminating the pathway. But what triggered the both of us was the smell.

The moment we opened the door, the strong smell of truffle greeted us in the form of a tidal wave, smacking our noses with deliciousness. Unbeknownst to us, traditional donburi places usually serve plain white rice in their bowls, but this place served a truffle flavoured rice with the raw fish that they placed on it. The strong smell of truffles triggered a response in our head, one that said, you gotta eat here. So we did.

That’s just one example of external triggers out there. There are many other types of trigger businesses can use, another example comes in the form of paid triggers which essentially refers to advertising, either online or offline. I would not recommend solely relying on advertising to trigger your customers into action because most businesses aren’t capable enough to trigger their prospects into action and this process of feeling out the advertisements often results in a huge waste of money.

In my own fitness journey, I’ve had to shed old habits and form new habit during the corona age.

My usual routine BC (before covid) was to head to my local martial arts gym to practice wrestling twice a week and to meet my friends from my national service to train together once a week. So that amounts to roughly 3 times a week that I would partake in physical activities.

So, when the Prime Minister’s address came out announcing that the government would be enforcing movement restrictions, it basically took my fitness routine and tossed it into the trash. Oh joy.

That was a very real external trigger that got me to think: “Hey what am I going to do?”

“Am I just going to stop my regular exercise and just get fat?”

The answer was a resounding no for me.

I was not going to let my body go just like that, I was going to use this opportunity to maintain and maybe even increase my physical capacity. The trigger was so strong that I did not let anything get in the way of me exercising. I turned to bodyweight exercises, and went hardcore into skipping as a form of cardiovascular maintenance. It made me to set goals for myself, in this case it was to increase my workout frequency from 3 times a week to 5 times a week and sometimes even 6 times a week.

Over the course of around a month, this new regime had replaced my old regime!

No longer did I require our Prime Minister to make any more public announcements (although he did unfortunately have to relay some lousy news), but this habit elicited a brand new trigger in me.

Internal Triggers

Internal triggers are defined by Nir as triggers that automatically manifest itself in your mind.

Throughout my covid fitness journey, this internal trigger came in the form of this itch that I unfortunately can’t eloquently describe to you. But, I would liken this to a smoker’s itch.

Smoker’s tend to have this internal itch that causes them to say, hey I need to smoke. And they carry out the action.

Likewise, as I was working on my own projects and deliverables throughout the day, I would have this niggling itch that would poke at me. It’s like a restlessness that I feel in my body, one that’s telling me to start moving

These internal triggers are often based on a very deep-seeded emotion that people feel. Feelings of boredom, loneliness, frustration and even confusion. Think about the times you whipped out your phone to scroll all over Instagram. Most probably it was driven by feelings of boredom.

Personally, the key reason I stuck to my workout regime can be traced to a time when I was sparring with a training partner and ended up depleting my gas tank way too quickly during the match and I ended up getting manhandled and rag-dolled for a full 3 minutes. Not fun.

That experience left me embarrassed, inadequate and gasping for air. It was not a pleasant lesson, but an important one nonetheless.

My Triggers Are Not Your Triggers

Although this whole covid situation drove me to adopting a new workout regime and turning it into a habit, some people have taken it in the complete opposite direction.

A colleague told me that the lockdown period caused him to give up exercising completely and take up binge eating instead, resulting in a 7kg increase in weight within a span of 3–4 months.

So, what may be your trigger to perform a desirable action, might not be someone else’s trigger to perform that same action that you did!

Within the VB18 family, there’s a certain individual that we enjoy teasing. He’s currently spending tons of money on YouTube ads probably because it works for his business, but his ads always start with these few words: “Hi, I’m Imran.” and goes on to promise great fortune if you would buy his info-products on how to get rich.

His face has basically turned into a meme in our circle. Although his ads are meant to exude authority and demonstrate a level of expertise, they have now turned into a trigger for comedy gags amongst my colleagues which I am sure is not his original intent.

The key here is to make sure that you understand your customers so well that you know exactly what triggers them to action and what does not.

These principles here are meant to help you with whatever you might be doing, be it in your business, to working on a project with new people or just dealing with family.

Till next week!