One evening, I sat with some lovely people at a café, discussing the way forward for a project. Everyone was proposing constructive opinions. It was great! While listening to them though, I drew a cube in my book. And shaded it.
That was it! My mind shut down and I stopped listening. When they asked for my opinion, I became John Rambo. You have no idea how horrible I felt later. But what led to this behavioral change?
I have worked in the corporate for many years. I have attended endless meetings; sometimes all day. Colleagues would ask why I looked drained. I said it was because I was. But they refused to believe it. “How can meetings be exhausting?”, they asked. “What better way to spend your day than talk and do no work?”
But I hated meetings. They were ego boosters for people in love with their own voices. Imagine sitting in a room filled with people for hours, with just one or two people doing all the talking. Nothing constructive ever came out of these meetings. My ears bled and eyelids felt like they were tied to paperweights. No wonder meetings rank among the top three time wasters in the office.
A book and pen were my only companions. To retain sanity, I would doodle – draw cubes and shade them. You have to something. How long can you fake paying attention and get away with it.
This doodling turned out to be my trigger. A trigger is an action or event that sets off specific emotions or behavior. For instance, let’s assume that you don’t like your workplace. Your mind is filled with negative thoughts about it. If, for a few mornings, the alarm off and you brood over these thoughts, the alarm becomes a trigger. Each time it rings, negative thoughts flood your mind. A grumpy day follows, even though nothing may go wrong in it. It’s just a behavioral change. Or, if you walk into the kitchen and open the fridge a few times, it becomes a trigger. Every time you enter the kitchen, your subconscious mind directs you to the fridge. Before you know it, your weight has spiraled out of control.
Your brain tries to save energy. Hence, when it experiences an event often, it forms patterns. These patterns are stored in the basal ganglia and become habits. That’s why you don’t think while brushing, eating, wearing clothes (choosing doesn’t count). It’s automatic. With experience, your conscious mind also works less while driving, cooking or swimming.
Preemption is another factor which leads to triggers. As discussed above, your brain experiences events and formulates patterns. These patterns can be good or bad. Imagine, for instance, that someone says something that ticks you off. This leads to an outburst of angry (and regrettable) reactions. Or if you look forward to something, your mind is filled with good thoughts. I’m hooked to doodling when I’m bored. This trigger makes me numb-minded and irritable.
How can you become aware of these triggers and overcome how they challenge your subconscious mind? Judy Nelson suggests a simple exercise:
- Spend the next two weeks doing nothing different but observing your irritation.
- Write down every time you feel the least bit annoyed and what sets you off.
- At the end of the two weeks, review your entries for common triggers for irritation and frustration.
This exercise helps you become self aware and recognize your natural instincts. Once you know your triggers, you can tweak your responses. “Just because you are naturally reactive doesn’t mean that you always have to react naturally”, Judy writes.
Why is it important to control your reactions? Because reactions are often negative and knee-jerk. Responses, on the other hand are positive and yield positive results. The former often damages a situation and your ability to handle pressure. The latter makes you mentally stronger and fortifies you to take challenges on.
Yes, it is easy to blame others for your irritability. It’s your boss’ fault that the project wasn’t completed on time. It’s your friend’s fault because he said something which ruined your mood. It’s your spouse’s fault that… oh, anything that goes wrong can be blamed on a spouse. But that’s not how you lead life. Instead of looking for good people, focus on being one yourself.
Focus on others, and the world looks confusing. But focus on yourself, and all the pieces fall into place.