Why do we do the things we do? Why do we react the way we do? According to Marshall Goldsmith, coach and best-selling author of Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–Becoming the Person You Want to Be, it seems to all come down to the triggers in our environment. Triggers are any stimulus that impacts our behavior.
If we knew what was triggering us, how would that help our efforts towards behavior change? By identifying our triggers, we would create a space between the trigger and our response. In that space is our opportunity to choose a different response, to choose a new, more productive, more positive behavior.
That space to make a new choice is created with awareness.
Many times when we are trying to change a behavior, what holds us back is that we are not aware of how we are being triggered, until it’s too late.
Mindfulness practice (noticing where our attention is, gently returning focus to the present moment when it has wandered off and non-judgmental awareness of our thoughts, emotions, sensations) is a great way to increase our awareness. One way to incorporate mindfulness with behavior change is to take some reflective time to think about what influences a specific behavior we have.
According to Goldsmith, there are 6 distinctions of triggers. To identify how our behaviors are being triggered, it’s worthwhile to explore each of the distinctions.
Direct or Indirect: Was the trigger immediate or was it a “side effect” of something else that happened?
External or Internal: Was the trigger a person or situation or was it a thought, emotion or perception?
Conscious or Unconscious: Was I aware of the trigger or completely oblivious?
Anticipated or Unexpected: Did I see the trigger coming or was it from out of the blue?
Encouraging or Discouraging: Did the trigger reinforce my behavior or shut it down?
Productive or Counterproductive: Did the trigger push me closer towards my goal or further away?
By answering these questions for a specific behavior, we can begin to put together a picture of what caused us to act in a certain way. Armed with this new awareness, we would be more aware of the triggers next time. We could pause in the space of awareness, rather than react automatically and decide how we want to proceed.
In this way, we may not have to ask, “What’s triggering me?” so much anymore. The question may become, “What do I choose to do regardless of the triggers?”
Today’s 5-minute action item: Pick a behavior that you would like to change. Take a specific situation where you behaved that way and think about what triggered your response by answering the questions above. What is your new awareness about why you did what you did? How can this help you in the future?