Take the Railroad to Avoid Triggers
If given the choice between a mindful, happy existence and a harried, stressful life, most would choose mindfulness. So, if mindfulness is obviously the best choice for you and those around you, why don’t we have world peace? Because being interested in mindfulness is easy, but maintaining it in the face of stress involves practice and self-regulation.
This is important, since both emotional and environmental distractions can keep you from working quickly and efficiently. One common situation in which self- regulation skills really come in handy is when we get triggered. That is when a seemingly small situation causes a disproportionally large emotional response in us, such as when our spouse makes an almost innocuous comment about something we do and we just blow up. From an objective, third- party perspective, such an event often seems like making a mountain out of a molehill.
So how do we keep our molehills from becoming mountainous problems? The first step in learning to deal with triggers is identifying when you have been triggered. Marc Lesser, our CEO, provides these helpful suggestions on things to look out for:
Shallow breathing, rapid heartbeat, and sick to the stomach
Experiencing a fight or flight response, either feeling like a “deer in headlights” or having an emotional outburst
Feeling like a victim, thoughts of blame and judgment, difficulty paying attention
Triggers almost always have long histories behind them. When we get triggered, it is very often because it brings back something from the past.
At work, triggers can be especially problematic. An emotional outburst over criticism or an unproductive meeting could lead you down that doesn’t help you or your team. How do you avoid triggers? By hopping on the railroad, of course!
At SIYLI, we use a practice called the Siberian North Railroad for dealing with triggers. This is a useful practice not only for triggers but also for other situations in which we need to deal with negative or distressing emotions.
The practice is a mneumonic device for the practice’s five steps:
Whenever you feel triggered, just stop. Pausing at the onset of a trigger is a very powerful and important skill. Do not react for just one moment. This moment is known as the sacred pause.
By focusing our mind on the breath, we reinforce the sacred pause. In addition, taking conscious breaths, especially deep ones, calms the body and mind.
Experience your emotion by bringing attention to your body. What does this feel like in the body? What is most important at this point is to try to experience emotional difficulty simply as a physiological phenomenon, not an existential phenomenon.
Where is the emotion coming from? Is there a history behind it? Is there a self- perceived inadequacy involved? Without judging it to be right or wrong, let’s just bring this perspective into the situation.
Bring to mind ways in which you might respond to this situation that would have a positive outcome. You do not actually have to do it— just imagine the kindest, most positive response.
Let’s take the railroad to the office. Pretend you’re at a meeting and you feel your coworkers aren’t paying attention to your thoughts and observations. Instead of letting this perceived slight cause a comment from an aggravated place, try the Siberian North Railroad.
Pause before you react. Take this time to gather your thoughts and focus on your breathing. Once you feel a sense of calmness, examine your emotions.
Are you angry? Hurt?
What emotion is driving this response?
Before you respond, try to think of a way to address the situation that will bring about a positive outcome. Consider addressing the problem directly by saying, “guys, this is pretty important, so listen up.” or “I want to make sure you hear this part, it’s how the company needs to move forward”. Whatever phrase you choose, if you communicate with positive intentions, your listeners will pick up on that and make an effort to give you what you need.
Learning to work around triggers is a great way of improving your home and working life, and it beats screaming at the boss any day of the week!
Think about your responses to situations. What are your triggers?