Learn Your Triggers—Then Change!

learn your triggers then changeWe all have leadership habits that help us. And then there are those that hurt us. Disciplined Leaders successfully practice habits that align with their Vital Few goals, while they’re consistently working to minimize (or eliminate) those that don’t. Quitting habits isn’t as simple as saying “No more” or “I quit.” It’s a process for change, which can sometimes seem easy but often feels complicated in nature. If you’ve struggled with changing habits that impact how you lead yourself or others, you’re not alone. Even the most successful leaders have wrestled with these challenges in their journey to become more disciplined, accountable and effective. However, it’s possible to change and get better. One of the best, first steps is to learn what’s triggering the thoughts or behaviors that aren’t serving well. As explained in Charles Duhigg’s bestseller, “The Power of Habit,” our habits can be viewed as “routines,” and each habit gets triggered by one or more cues. Learning to identify which cues trigger your “routines” is a very powerful form of awareness. Through this, you then have a choice to make—to choose the old mindset/activity or replace it with something new and, ideally more beneficial. If you’ve been wanting to change your habits, take that first step and learn to spot your triggers.

Here are a few more points around the topic of triggers:

Everyone’s triggers are different. Triggers are always tied to one or more of the five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch or smell. They develop from memories of events or situations that have had an impact on us. If you’re not sure what your triggers are, but know you’ve got habits you want to change, think back about what you specifically saw, heard, smelled, tasted or touched just prior to the “automatic” response that kicked in. For example, in the workplace, many triggers get activated within the context of communication. If you hear someone say, “I don’t like that idea,” you may clam up and keep silent out of habit. Or, if you see someone avoiding eye contact while you’re trying to express your idea, you may automatically become more aggressive in your efforts to persuade. The words your hear or the lack of eye contact may be big triggers for you while someone else might experience those very same communication cues yet feel less reactive. If you’re triggered by something while other people are not, don’t judge yourself—or them. Just note what that trigger is.

Triggers can be tracked. You may find it’s helpful to track your triggers so you can get a better idea of what’s going on, when it’s happening, with whom and in which situations you are more or less triggered. So with the above example, if you’ve got habits around withdrawing or perhaps pushing your point of view, ask yourself what’s happening around you that always gets the “wheels of habit” motion turning. Does this tend to happen in formal meetings or within the context of any conversation? Are there certain personalities that trigger you? Do you feel more reactive under pressure or in its absence as well? When you track your triggers, you may notice patterns or “themes,” which will guide you as you choose the appropriate strategies for creating and implementing new routines.

Your response to the trigger CAN change. As Marshall Goldsmith notes in his book, “Triggers,” doing something outside our comfort zone can take extraordinary effort. So if a habit is not serving you well, think back about what triggers activated your response or refer to your list of triggers you’ve been tracking. Then be courageous, creating your new routine, practicing it, and being patient and forgiving with yourself. For example, if you’re sitting down in a meeting, knowing you may disagree with certain people in the room, you can take action to help prevent your normal reaction. That could be doing some quiet deep breathing before you enter a possibly contentious meeting. Or it might be making a commitment to ask at least three good questions to encourage discussion before you give your opinion or solution. (Try to plan those questions in advance!) Over time, such little changes can create shifts in your leadership style and generate greater results. And then don’t underestimate their transformative power. As discussed in MAP’s book, “The Disciplined Leader”, one of the keys to change is just getting involved and being fully present in the process. Remain aware of your habits, consistently choosing the ones that align with and support your Vital Few goals. Eventually, these new activities and mindsets will no longer feel forced; they’ll become a natural aspect of your leadership style.

How has greater awareness of your “triggers” inspired changes in your leadership habits?

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