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Trigger — “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” Summarized

Habits are not created, they are built upon.

External Triggers

External triggers are embedded with information, which tells the user what to do next.


  • External triggers are only the first step to ultimately form internal triggers.
  • Too many choices or irrelevant options can cause hesitation, confusion or abandonment.

Paid Triggers

  • Advertisement
  • Can be effective but costly

Earned Triggers

  • Could be: press mentions, viral content, store listings, etc.
  • Can’t be bought directly
  • Based on investments on public and media relations
  • Awareness generated by earned triggers is short-lived

Relationship Triggers

  • Could be: word of mouth, invitations, etc.
  • For it to work, one needs to build an engaged and enthusiastic user base
  • Can create viral hypergrowth

Owned Triggers

  • Could be: notifications, newsletters, etc.
  • User must agree to receive these triggers
  • This is the only external trigger that doesn’t acquire new users, but prompts repeat engagement from existing users
  • This is the key to forming habits

Internal Triggers

An internal trigger is the coupling of the product with a thought, an emotion or a preexisting routine. Information on what to do next is encoded as a learned association in the user’s memory.

Especially negative emotions are effective:

  • Boredom
  • Loneliness
  • Frustration
  • Confusion
  • Indecisiveness

The 5 Whys Method

By repeating “why?” 5 times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear.

Why #1: Why would Julie want to use e-mail?

  • Answer: So she can send and receive messages.

Why #2: Why would she want to do that?

  • Answer: Because she wants to share and receive information quickly.

Why #3: Why does she want to do that?

  • Answer: To know what’s going on in the lives of her coworkers, friends, and family.

Why #4: Why does she need to know that?

  • Answer: To know if someone needs her.

Why #5: Why would she care about that?

  • Answer: She fears being out of the loop.


  • Triggers cue the user to take action and are the first step in the hook model
  • External triggers tell the user what to do next by placing information within the user’s environment
  • Internal triggers tell the user what to do next through associations stored in the user’s memory
  • Negative emotions frequently serve as internal triggers
  • To build a habit-forming product, makers need to understand which user emotions may be tied to internal triggers and know how to leverage external triggers to drive the user to action

Do This Now

  • Who is your product’s user?
  • What is the user doing right before your intended habit?
  • Come up with three internal triggers that could cue your user to action. Refer to the 5 Whys Method.
  • Which internal trigger does your user experience most frequently?
  • Finish this brief narrative using the most frequent internal trigger and the habit you are designing: “Every time the user (internal trigger), they (first action of intended habit).
  • Refer back to the question about what the user is doing right before the first action of the habit. What might be places and times to send an external trigger?
  • How can you couple an external trigger as closely as possible to when the user’s internal trigger fires?
  • Think of at least three conventional ways to trigger your user with current technology (e-mails, notifications, text messages, etc.). Then stretch yourself to come up with at least three crazy or currently impossible ideas for ways to trigger your user (wearable computers, biometric sensors, carrier pigeons, etc.). You could find that your crazy ideas spur some new approaches that may not be so nutty after all. In a few years new technologies will create all sorts of currently unimaginable triggering opportunities.




Web developer & project manager with experience in React, Nest.js and Flutter

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Maximilian Eckert

Maximilian Eckert

Web developer & project manager with experience in React, Nest.js and Flutter

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