Picture the scene. You are out and about, on your own or perhaps with loved ones or friends. You are going about your day and feeling good. Seemingly out of nowhere all of this changes. Something happens or someone does something which makes you so angry you find yourself instantly raging and out of control. Congratulations, you have just experienced an emotional trigger.
There are as many examples of emotional triggers and automatic responses as there are people. We all have them. Emotionally intelligent people are simply more aware of them and take more control over their responses. Emotionally intelligent people take total ownership.
This tip explores the phenomenon of emotional triggers, how to identify them and even how to deliberately repurpose them for more positive outcomes.
BTW If you prefer to listen to an audio version, I have included one at the end just for you.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
The simplest definition for Emotional Intelligence (EI) is how well you recognise, understand, and manage your own emotions whilst recognising, understanding, and working with the emotions of others.
Well, your emotions help shape and direct your thoughts and actions. The enhanced recognition, understanding, and management gained by improving your EI gives you more ability to effectively manage yourself and your life. Gaining more emotional intelligence allows you to gain deeper knowledge of who you are and what drives you. Enhanced EI enables you to communicate more effectively with others and build stronger relationships. The potential benefits are legion. Quite simply, more EI equals a more confident and in control you.
What are emotional triggers?
Emotional triggers are initiators of automatic or habitual responses leading you to repeated sequences of thoughts and behaviours.
The emotional triggers and automatic responses can be good, bad or neutral. You can live with them or choose to make them better and more beneficial for you and those around you.
Why do we give up control?
It is easier to cede control and run your day on the equivalent of automatic pilot. Your brain actively encourages this. It is a default mode. Your brain is basically lazy. The official term is cognitive miserliness. Here are two approximate but interesting things to be aware of about your brain. It weighs about one fiftieth of your adult body weight yet consumes around twenty percent of your energy consumption. It consumes more energy when applying deliberate, conscious, and focused thought. Have you ever felt exhausted after a heavy academic exam or after driving through a strange city? Well, now you know why. Therefore, to conserve energy, your brain works in low-energy automatic mode as much as possible. Emotional triggers are very much part of the automatic mode function.
For a great read on this, and many other fascinating brain-related behaviours, check out the deservedly best-selling book “Thinking, Fast & Slow” by Daniel Kahneman.
Normally, the automatic mode responses get you through your day in fine style most of the time but …
Several big problems with running in autopilot response mode
…. some of the automatic (habitual) responses do not always do what you intend or desire. Some represent a serious problem for you, and it is these responses which are often associated with the emotional triggers under discussion.
Here are some of the issues arising when emotional triggers are left unmanaged:
Unmanaged emotional triggers lead to surprises and shocks
You cannot predict when you will find yourself automatically doing, saying, or thinking things based on the many and varied random external events which happen all through your busy, complex days.
Unmanaged emotional triggers lead to poor decision making
The number of poor decisions made possible by unmanaged emotional triggers is essentially infinite. They can lead to any number of poor decisions ranging from frustrating & annoying to embarrassing & expensive and even all the way to dangerous & illegal.
Not all emotional triggers create obvious and/or immediate reactions or behaviours. Some are subtle yet still lead into making some very poor or even harmful decisions. Some of these decisions can manifest in the future long after the triggered event. For example, repeatedly not resisting having that one little cream cake effectively sabotages your diet a few weeks along with feelings of failure and misery.
Unmanaged emotional triggers lead to firefighting
You can waste a great deal of time, energy and money picking up the pieces after one or more of your emotional triggers has wreaked havoc.
Unmanaged emotional triggers encourage button pushers
If you do not know your emotional triggers you can be sure that others will. They will push these buttons for fun, or worse, to cause you harm. Control your buttons before someone else does.
I cover the concept of emotional button pushers here in EI Tip 2.
One solution is emotional trigger recognition and behaviour substitution
First you must take full and unreserved ownership of you part in your own life. You must get more control over your emotional triggers.
In my experience, one of the best ways to deal with emotional triggers and their associated automatic responses is to first identify them then replace the unwanted response with a wanted one when they get triggered.
Learn to recognise your emotional triggers and spot the early warnings because then you can act. When you notice (or someone else does) run your new more beneficial sequence. It takes time and effort to replace one habit with another, but it is well worth it. Doing this is a highly emotionally intelligent activity.
Take it one emotional trigger at a time
Pick one of your emotional triggers and its associated automatic response which you would like to change. I always recommend going big or going home so pick one which happens most often or one which cause most issues for you. Start to work on it by:
- Identifying the repeated unwanted situational sequence.
- Design a preferred alternative situational sequence of behaviour.
- Identify the first warning that the original unwanted sequence is imminent – this is the situational emotional trigger. Note that you can initially enlist a trusted assistant to help you spot the signs if necessary.
- Practice running the preferred alternative sequence in place of the unwanted one whenever you notice that situational emotional trigger firing
- Rinse and repeat until you are confident that the new sequence is now the automatically triggered one
- Choose another unwanted automatic response and work on that one.
How long will it take?
Well, how long is a piece of string? It depends on a variety of dynamic elements. How much ownership you take and how much commitment you make will have an impact. How often you practice is also a factor. Reflect on your practice results by seeking feedback from trusted sources. Think process and overall outcomes rather than setting time limits.
What are you waiting for?
Getting the life you want is all about taking total ownership and applying maximum effort. If you do not own things, then who will? If you do not apply yourself then who will? You know what to do so do it.
That is all for this one
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In the meantime, you might also like to check out these related articles:
Emotional Intelligence is vital
Monitor your emotions EI Tip 3
PS Do you want to maximise your emotional self-control? Here is a link to my very useful and also totally FREE Rapid Emotional State Management Technique audio file which you can download, listen to, and then learn to manage your emotional states with confidence. You’ll also join my monthly newsletter community. In the unlikely event that you don’t like it, an unsubscribe option is available.
PPS Here is the audio version of this article