Mindful Mondays – What Are Your Triggers?

Posted 03.18.2013

pavlovs-dog2A big part of being a mindful leader is knowing your triggers. As emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman and others remind us, one of the biggest differences between human beings and other animals is our capacity to manage the gap between stimulus and response. A trigger is one form of stimulus. Quite often when we’re triggered, we react instead of respond.

A reaction is usually pretty mindless, a response can be more mindful. We can train ourselves to be more responsive than reactive. They key is knowing and recognizing our triggers.

For example, one executive I worked with had a whole bunch of triggers around peers not performing to his level of expectations. When they didn’t follow through in the way he thought they should or did something that he didn’t agree with, he’d fire off a flaming email or take somebody apart in a room full of people. This exec was really good at his subject matter expertise and did a nice job of leading his own team. His relationship with his peers, though, was going to derail his career if he didn’t learn to handle things differently when he was triggered.

For him, making that shift came down to a simple phrase. Here’s how he did it.

The phrase was, “Pick your battles.” My client had become so used to reacting in anger whenever he was triggered by a peer that he almost always snapped back hard even when the issue that triggered the reaction wasn’t that important.

Once he became clear about the kind of issues (and particular people) that triggered him, he could choose to take a couple of deep breaths (which literally clear one’s mind) and then would say to himself, “Pick your battles.” More often than not, he concluded that the battle wasn’t worth picking. When it was, slowing down enough to manage the gap between the stimulus of the trigger and his next action allowed him to choose a more effective response rather than a reflexive reaction.

Practicing mindful leadership isn’t necessarily about sitting cross legged and chanting, “Om.” It can start with developing an awareness of your triggers and making some different choices about how to respond to them.

What are your triggers? What routines have helped or could help you to respond differently to them?