Best Practice: Understanding Triggers

 
Photo by  Clarissa Watson
 

Purpose: increase perspective under pressure, make better decisions.


There's a difference between identifying the roots of your shortcomings (which is useful), and either taking all the blame, or blaming others for them entirely (which are not).

The principle to keep in mind is that triggers explain—they don't excuse. Emotional triggering is, at root, a survival response. Our brains create powerful associations between things that hurt us and whatever happened to be occurring when we got hurt. Once you've been hit by lightning, even though you know that the odds of its happening again are astronomically low, the touch of a single raindrop may send you running for cover. 

It's easier to forgive misbehavior in ourselves and others once we understand this powerful connection between environment, emotion, and reaction. But recognition makes us responsible for recognizing triggering situations so we can change our unconscious reactions. Really pondering the concept of triggering can guide us making better choices. 

Identifying your triggers is key. To unload your own emotional gun, ask yourself, "When, before the most recent trigger, did I feel this upset?" At the outset, this is an exercise in hindsight. You won't even think to identify your trigger until after it's pulled. But with continued attention, you'll start recognizing triggers sooner, and one day, even as you're firing off shouts or tears, part of you will be saying, "Oops, there I go again." You'll then have a choice: Continue to blast, or put the safety on your psyche.

Inner Awareness: Identifying your Trigger, Overview

(When this happens…)

Define the moment. You are at the intersection of Well-Trod Road and Less Trod Path. If you don’t watch for this junction, you will miss your opportunity to try something new, and with that the chance to learn and raise your game.

The more specifically you can define this moment, the more you will learn. There are five types of triggers: time, emotional state, location, other people, and the immediately preceding action. One or a combination of these might contribute to a trigger. An example might be “When I’m feeling frustrated (emotional state) in my weekly check-in (time) with my manager (people) because he often gives me conflicting feedback (action).” Another example might be “When I’m feeling anxious (emotional state) in team check-ins (time) with my directs (people) because I’m not sure who is on the bus and whom is not (action).” 

Identifying Conventional Approach

(Instead Of…)

Define the thought pattern you typically engage in. List what you know to be true, what you believe to be fact, so that you can learn something new. The more specific you can make it, the more useful it will be. For instance, (to bring forward the example from above), “I ask Mark ‘Have you thought of X?’ and hope he’ll get the hint that I’ve disguised as a pseudo-question, all the while being afraid or unsure of him.”

Determine New Action

(I will..)

Define new action, one that will be easy to integrate. You are seeking greater curiosity toward learning and doing the emotional labor required to take action. What is great about this process that you are about to discover is that you can definitely do this in a minute or less.

To finish our example, “I will ask Mark, ‘                                        ‘?’”

Now it’s time for you to build your learning practice, one skill at a time. We’ll keep revisiting these concepts and give you some real examples for each question so you can see how the Learning Practice and the key questions work in reality.


Learn to shift thinking patterns.

Identify trigger.

Triggers take our attention away from learning. There are five types of triggers: time, emotional state, location, other people, and the immediately preceding action.

WHEN THIS HAPPENS…

Determine new action.

Define new action, one that will be easy to integrate. You are looking to avoid a focus on seeking tools over learning more deeply. You are seeking greater curiosity toward learning and doing the emotional labor required to take action.

I WILL…

Identify conventional approach.

Define the thought pattern you typically engage in. List what you know to be true, what you believe to be fact, so that you can learn something new. The more specific you can make it, the more useful it will be.

INSTEAD OF….


Alongside technical skills, people who can master a range of subjective skills are better able to influence, deal with ambiguity, bounce back from setbacks, think creatively, and manage themselves successfully in their pursuit of mastery. Learn more about skills of modern craftsmanship.