A tripwire is a passive triggering mechanism. It’s a cord, string, or wire that is attached to some device for detecting or reacting to physical movement – like the perimeter of an army camp. It’s an early warning system that some choices have to be made.
In the book Decisive , the authors use the concept of a tripwire as a tool to make better decisions.
A tripwire is something that triggers a call to action. It tells you to pay attention. It could be a weight trigger that sets off your mental alarm to watch what you eat. It might be a trigger that calls attention to the inattentiveness toward your loved ones. It could be a pre-established marker in your business that triggers the need for some important choices and actions.
It’s harder to make a decision if you don’t know one needs to be made.
That’s where tripwires come into play.
When on autopilot we say, “should I or should I not buy this product?” A tripwire says, “if x, y, or z happens I will (or won’t) buy this.” This is much more productive than impulse buying which leads to buyer’s remorse.
Autopilot behavior in any endeavor – when communicating, driving, showering, eating, working – goes unexamined. This is not all bad. These are routines that don’t take up a lot of thinking. It frees our minds to consider other things. But when more scrutiny is needed, autopilot behavior takes us down the Yellow Brick Road.
For instance, someone you know has always wanted to go on a particular trip. Yet year after year they keep putting it off, waiting for the right time. But putting it off becomes habitual. They need a tripwire –a trigger. It could be a financial number that’s put aside for their trip. When they hit that number, they are presented with a choice. The tripwire could be their health. How many years of great health do they have left? Pick a reasonable age, and when it comes – Go! The trap is to slowly drift into a stage of health that prohibits robust travel. A tripwire can help them pull the trigger.
Tripwires are also helpful when it comes to relationships. Autopilot becomes an ally of denial. A tripwire can break the spell and force a decision. We’ve all heard the statement, “My boyfriend is disrespectful. He’s not treating me right. But hopefully he will change with time.” The wait and see attitude is the same as autopilot. A tripwire would alert you to act at choice points if certain behaviors don’t change. Like —
- Being late
- Disrespectful tone
- Changing the subject
- Selfish behavior
— all become tripwires.
Here are 3 ways to set up tripwires in those important parts of your life.
1. Establish built in alarms at choice points. As stated earlier, it could be a weight on the scale. Maybe it’s a certain number in your checking account that sounds an alarm. Perhaps it’s a personal attitude. When you express it, there is an alarm that causes you to take note. When I feel anger over someone’s driving behavior, an alarm goes off in my head. At that moment I catch myself and (usually), choose to respond rationally. I’m reminded that it’s my choice.
2. Set deadlines for an activity, goal, or personal project. This will force you to act. We are all of aware of the date April 15th. It’s a forced tripwire by the I.R.S. Think through what you want to do and voluntarily set your own. A deadline, just like goals, increases the chance of something happening by 41%. A deadline is like a spotlight that focuses on the point of choice.
3. Use partitions to give perspective on activities. Many nutritional plans have prepackaged food, or you can sort it. This acts like a tripwire that reminds you of quantity, caloric intake, and nutritional value. This becomes difficult when on autopilot. The partitioning is your tripwire.
Putting budgeted money in separate categories that represent certain expenditures are tripwires that interrupt autopilot spending. It’s like not taking all your money with you to the blackjack table. When what you brought is gone – it’s gone!
Partitioning off your closet reminds you what you have enough of, too much of, or too little of. Autopilot apparel bingeing or hoarding can be curbed by partitioning.
The tripwire provides safety boundaries which gets you to where you want to go –
further, faster, with less fatigue.
What are some of your tripwires? Please share them with our readers.