Never Waste A Good Trigger: How to Harness the Power of Discomfort
In 2014, I did my 200 hour yoga teacher training at YogaOne Studios in Houston, Texas.
It was a life changing experience because I was asked to step outside of my comfort zone into a new way of being. My teachers, Roger and Albina, led our group, The Incredibles, thru many different exercises designed to inspire us to examine our beliefs and actions.
For one week, we worked sun-up to sun-down. We were physically and emotionally exhausted. It was the perfect environment for us to be triggered. There were many moments where I found myself shutting down or breaking down into tears, some of which I had no real clue why.
Albina, a certified Forrest yoga teacher, shared with us one of her teacher’s sage mottos, “Never waste a good trigger.” This saying has always stayed with me and helped me to stop and really think about why the things that get a rise out of me do.
What is a trigger exactly?
According to the University of Alberta, “a trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma. Triggers are very personal; different things trigger different people.”
Why are triggers important?
Triggers invite us to examine our response to our environment and to figure out where that response is really coming from. They give us the opportunity to go deeper and unearth things that need our attention and healing.
Everyone’s triggers are different. What bothers you may not even move the needle for me.
For example, traffic is a powerful trigger that causes people to act crazy -- cussing, honking their horn, etc. Yet there are other people who can sit in traffic and not be bothered by it. The question is what is lying underneath the road rage -- is it pressure from feeling like you have too many things to do and not enough time? Or feeling powerless and trapped? Why do we respond the way we do to traffic?
Maybe it’s not a situation like traffic, but rather a person. Perhaps your co-worker, Lisa, annoys the hell out of you. You know that it’s because she is always gossiping and never working. You feel resentful that she doesn’t do half as much work as you do yet she is still there and, what’s more, she's getting promoted. What is lying underneath that feeling -- a cry for love or the memory of how your younger sister always got the attention and you felt love starved as a child?
Again, everyone’s triggers are different. That’s why they are so powerful. Every day you are given multiple opportunities to go underneath the surface and bring your awareness to an even deeper issue.
One thing to keep in mind is that what’s lying underneath the surface may be way more traumatic or hurtful than you are prepared to deal with. That is okay. You are doing the best you can where you are right now. Honor that.
I strongly suggest working with a therapist to help you unearth, examine and let go of whatever it is that is lying underneath the trigger. A life coach can then help you move forward and develop healthy habits that support where you do want to go.
Here are four powerful questions to ask yourself when you are feeling triggered:
1) What is it about this moment that has me feeling this way?
It’s time to get really curious about what is showing up for you in the moment. What was going on when you realized that you were being triggered? Were you arguing with your boyfriend? Were you watching a NSFW video on social media? Did your brother forget your birthday?
The most important thing you can do right now is breathe your way thru this moment of self-reflection. When you are triggered, you need long, deep breaths to support your brain function and processing.
2) Why do I feel this way?
After establishing your breath, gently ask yourself why this is happening and what is lying underneath the surface. Is it really this moment and what’s happening right now OR is it something else? Does this moment remind you of something that happened in the past? If so, what is it?
3) How am I experiencing this in my body?
Our bodies and our emotions are not separate entities. That’s why when you’re stressed you feel an ache in your shoulders or when you’re anxious you feel a knot in your tummy. Your body interacts all the time with what you’re feeling and experiencing. Notice in this moment which area of your body is activated. What does it feel like? Stabbing? Heavy? Knotty?
4) What do I need to give myself right now?
When you’re triggered, your fight or flight response is activated, even though there may be no apparent danger (like say a tiger charging at you). However, it sure does feel like it. Ask yourself what is it that you need in this moment? Do you need more long, deep breaths? A sip of water? To lie down for 5 minutes? What can you give yourself to bring peace to this moment?
When you are triggered, you may find yourself behaving in a way that does not reflect your higher self. It happens. Don’t beat yourself up.
The reality is that you will never reach a point in your life where you are not dealing with life. I love the Zen saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” To me, this means that even if we do reach enlightenment, we probably won’t be carried away to heaven like Elijah in the Old Testament. Nope. We will still wake up and deal with the quotidian things in our lives, just like we did before. Only this time, we’ll be centered in our highest self. So, until that moment, we will be triggered, make mistakes, forgive ourselves/others, and get back on track. It’s all part of the journey.
The main thing is to use your self-awareness and self-compassion to come back to your higher self as soon as possible. Use the process I outlined in my blog post, How to Regain Control in An Argument, to help you get back to your best self.
Give yourself time and space to process what is happening to you and what it has unearthed for you.
Remember it’s all about how you choose to perceive a trigger -- as the little wire leading to dynamite or as a gift that gives you the opportunity to expose what is lying in the darkness.
I am cheering for you. Like you’ve just won the lottery.
From the Front Row,
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