September 15, 2023

Trigger Tracker: A Fitbit for Your Reactivity

Many quests for self-awareness start when you notice you are having a reaction that feels less than positive.

A few months ago, a group of friends started brainstorming a new conscious leadership coaching app that would blend coaching tools and conversational AI to give users routine practice and new self-serve learning.

We debated about the entry point for the app, and someone suggested that a user should first see a button that says “I’m triggered.” If “trigger” is an unfamiliar word, you could substitute “bummed,” “peeved,” “pissed,” “annoyed,” “agitated,” “anxious.” The idea was that many coaching conversations and quests for self-awareness start when you notice you are having a reaction that feels less than positive.

I was reminded of this idea twice yesterday.

First, I did a call with someone that is participating in our Coaching Certification for Leaders program inside a large company. The company is offering that program to a cohort of employees to build more coaching muscle internally. On the call, the woman asked “what coaching conversations light you up.” I said I’m lit up most when, after a few intro sessions, clients come to our meetings with things they want to talk about. Now, those things aren’t always originating in triggers. They might be questions about the business or about themselves; and, they often are questions to garner insights around things that were triggering. A relationship with a direct report that feels stressful. A new policy a team created that feels like it is not aligned with the culture. A seeming cross-functional failure around a project.

Second, a 1-1 client of mine asked how he could be sure he made the best use of our future time together. I repeated my hope that he brings meaty issues he’s working through in life or work to our meetings. And, because this person has a less-than-friendly relationship with anger, I specifically asked him to pay attention to moments where he’s triggered in between our sessions. I often recommend that my clients keep a running list of issues to discuss in between meetings.

Yesterday, for that second client, I suggested he make that list a “Trigger Tracker.” I invited him to pay attention to moments he has an adverse reaction to something that occurs, something he does, something he reacts to outside of himself. We both loved this idea. First, it’s fun. Second, it’s helpful because, even before our next coaching session, my client can get learnings around triggers. He can see he’s below the line, he can notice where he’s sitting on the drama triangle, he can inquire internally about the benefits he’s getting from being triggered, and he can identify an unconscious commitment or a persona that might be in the mix. Third, we have good stuff to discuss next time we talk. Usually with the passage of time, the content around the triggered situation will seem less loaded, but the behaviors, thoughts, emotions, and patterns there often open up important insights.

So, why not open up a new Asana project, or note, or page in notion, or pen and ink list on notepad and keep track of your triggers. Keep an eye out for consistent patterns. Check out the links above to learn more about how to build your awareness of your triggers and how to shift from reactivity (to me consciousness) to proactivity (by me consciousness).

And have fun. Just keeping a list of triggers on a Trigger Tracker may well be a shift move for you. Hold it lightly. Don’t use it as a tool for self-blame. Add some play instead. Welcome the lovely parts of you that react. And learn what you choose to learn about you through this useful lens.

Sue Heilbronner

Sue Heilbronner is an executive coach, Conscious Leadership facilitator, and catalyst for change.

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