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Pushing the STOP Button: Halting Triggers Before They Cause Reactions

We all have those hot buttons: words or actions that make us immediately lose our mind and either lash out in anger or completely shut down. It could be when one of your employees shows up late to a meeting or when your business partner criticizes one of your growth strategies.

Most people are constantly chasing their triggers—meaning they are mitigating them after they’ve already reacted. Unfortunately, by this time, much of the damage has been done. The key is to use your powers of noticing and awareness to manage your triggers BEFORE they get the better of you and thus head off the unwanted response. While it may not always be easy, getting some perspective on your triggers can be a pretty simple process. Here are some tips that can help you push the STOP button on your big emotional triggers.

Figure Out Your Big Three

The average person has dozens (if not more) triggers. Trying to identify them all can be overwhelming and counterproductive. I’ve found that most people have a few triggers that cause them the most problems, and focusing on those is where they get the most benefit. Try picking out your big three triggers. What has caused the most number reactions and most intense of reactions in the past few months? You may find benefit from journaling for a bit to recall the moments when you’ve really lost control. Narrow it down to the three triggers that you find most effect your life or relationships with others.

Understand What Precedes a Reaction

This is where you need to dig down deep. What exactly is being said to trigger your reaction? Does it matter who is saying it? For example, when your colleagues pick apart your ideas you may view it as constructive criticism, but when your partner does it, you freak out and accuse him of not supporting you. Does it matter what time of day the trigger occurs? If you’re tired or stressed? Take to your journal again and jot down as many clues as you can for each trigger.

Identify Your Story

Triggering isn’t about what’s being said or done. It’s about the story you are telling yourself it means. When your partner criticizes your idea, figure out what you are making that mean about yourself. Do you get upset because deep down you are afraid they really think you’re stupid or incapable? Remember that everything someone says or does is all about them, but what we hear and observe is all about us. Figure out what meaning you are giving the event that’s causing you to interpret it in a way that triggers you.

Recognize the Physical Signs

We all have different physical signs that we’re about to blow or shut down. Do you flush? Does your heart speed up? Do you feel a drop in your stomach? Your physical signs may actually show up before you have any conscious thought of being upset, so it’s important to identify them and learn to notice and pay attention to your physical self.

Find an Effective Method to Halt Your Reaction

Now that you’ve got down your big three, what causes them, and how you physically feel when they occur, it’s time to start figuring out how to halt them before they can manifest a reaction. Everyone will be different when it comes to the most effective ways to push the STOP button, but I’ve found the following to be successful:

Take deep breaths As soon as you feel those physical symptoms, stop thinking and start breathing. Focus on nothing more than your breath and how you feel in your physical body. Some may find that just two or three cleansing breaths are all it takes to gain clarity while others may need a full minute or two.

Change the atmosphere Do something to immediately change your atmosphere, whether that means opening a window or physically leaving the room or office. In the beginning, you may not even be able to articulate why you’re making the change without losing your temper, but with practice, you should be able to get to the place where you can say, “I’m about to have a reaction here, so I’m going for a quick walk.”

Practice thought stopping Thoughts lead to emotions, not the other way around. As soon as you are triggered, you start thinking irrational thoughts (my business partner doesn’t support me, my employees don’t respect my time, etc.) which lead to an emotional reaction. As soon as you feel those first physical signs, visualize a big STOP sign in your head. This is your clue that you need to stop thinking at that moment before things get out of hand.

When we don’t effectively understand our triggers, they have control over us. As leaders, we need to be mindful and notice what our triggers are and what works for us to halt them before they cause problems. As with everything in leadership, setting the right example is the best way to ensure those we lead will follow suit and display their own increased efforts in trigger management.

With over 20 years of experience as a strategic consultant for global Leadership and Development initiatives with some of the world’s top Fortune 500 companies, Trish Cody has coached and consulted with senior level teams in planning, designing, launching, and measuring the return for major initiatives.

As a Certified Professional Coach and Energy Leadership Master Practitioner, Trish works with entrepreneurs, senior leaders and their teams to uncover their real desires for their organization, and then to align those desires with their values to co-create a strategy for execution and accountability. The leaders Trish partners with are truly working their own best plan for success in achieving their desired “new state” and weathering the changes that success brings.

To learn more about how Trish can help you and your team with one-on-one coaching, team coaching or speaking at your event, please contact

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