Building Your Trigger - Art of Learning

Written By Adam Drake

5 min read

Recently I read the wonderfully insightful book on learning and performance at an extremely high level -The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin - and I was very captivated by one idea. The idea of 'building your trigger'. The reason I was so caught by this idea was the practicality and potential wide range of use for it.

The idea in a nutshell

The whole idea of 'Building your trigger' is to get yourself in the right mental state and focused for performing some act at a high level.

For example, take presenting at work to a crowd of 50 colleagues. For many people this can be a very nerve wracking experience and can cause a wide range of emotions in the lead up to the presentation and during the presentation itself. Anxiety about how the presentation will go and fear of things going wrong during the presentation itself.

Josh's idea is to work on a routine over a period of time, say 30 days, where you would work purely on getting yourself into the zone or into a state of flow. Professional athletes do this before every game. They come up with a deliberately designed routine where they can consistently get themselves into the zone. Once in the zone the level of performance is guaranteed to be much higher than if you were to lead everything to chance.

How you can build a trigger

Josh's main idea is deceptively simple. You have to search through your life and find an activity you do regularly where you have a feeling of flow. It doesn't matter what you are doing at this time of being in the zone but there must be something. For some it will be walking, for others it will be playing with their children, for others it will be some sort of exercise or meditation technique.

Once you discover this activity then it is a matter of building a routine leading up to this activity every day for 30 days or so. This is training yourself and creating a routine you can then transfer over to your performance.

Presenter to audience

The example given in 'The Art of Learning' is a business leader who always felt nervous during big presentations and tended not to perform to the level he felt he could. So after discussions with Josh they discovered the time of day he feels most relaxed is when he played ball with his son at their home. So they built a routine around this activity. The routine started out like this:

  • Eat a light consistent snack for 10 minutes
  • 15 minutes meditation
  • 10 minutes stretching
  • 10 minutes listening to some Bob Dylan
  • Play ball with his son

The business leader then performed this routine for 30 days. Playing ball with his son was always a joy and he was always in a relaxed state. He was training himself to consistently get in a state of flow by doing something he enjoyed doing anyway.

The next step is the crucial step - Transferring this routine over to where you want to implement it into other 'pressure' situations in your life. In this example the business leader transferred it over to the time before big presentations. He did exactly the same routine (except the playing ball with his son!) before the presentation and by the time he reached the presentation he was in such a relaxed state that he breezed through the presentation and it went much better than usual.

Condensing the routine

One has to be practical though and we all are leading busy lives. This example routine is great because it is extremely transportable and can be performed pretty much anywhere. However, in all likelihood you won't have 45 minutes before every moment you want to get into this state.

Therefore to make this routine lower maintenance and more flexible, the idea is to incrementally reduce the amount of time on each part of the routine BUT keeping it similar enough it will still produce the same physiological effect.

The leader gradually reduced the time spent on each activity in his routine over a number of days. By doing this gradually he was able to retain the impact of the routine but condense the actual routine into a much shorter period. Eventually he reduced the time for the routine down to 12 minutes and it was still just as potent.


If there is any area of your life where you would like to perform at a high level consistently, incorporating a 'trigger' into your life can really help you. It gives you a predictable and reliable method to getting 'into the zone'.

The beauty of this practice is a trigger can be created for anyone and catered to that person's specific needs. If incorporated correctly it can become extremely powerful, transportable and potent.

It requires some thought and dedication to build the habit into your life but once that work is done you have a great addition to your tool chest to help you achieve your goals.

Want to Learn More?

The Art of Learning - Josh Waitzkin

Building a reading habit pdf

Want to Build an
Effective Reading Habit?

Subscribe to our sporadic newsletter
and we will send you a pdf guide:
How to Build an Effective
Reading Habit in 2021

PaperBackTravels © 2021

Paperback Travels is an Amazon Associate. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a commission through qualifying purchases.