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Habitual Triggers

The hardest thing to attend to is that which is closest to ourselves, that which is most constant and familiar. And this closest something is, precisely, ourselves, our own habits and the way of doing things.” ~ John Dewey

We often find ourselves in situations where we are triggered by outside influences. In that moment, our view of the world and our view of ourselves are skewed by something that we perceive as a threat. In an instant, the bio-historical-psychological system automatically makes judgments and conclusions and then reacts. Depending on the situation, we may be triggered to fight or flee. We will fight or flee from whatever threatens to challenge an opinion, point of view, or belief that we consider to be gospel. When we are triggered, we believe our point of view is ALWAYS right.

When triggered, it’s impossible to distinguish the facts from our beliefs. We become so invested in our beliefs that we don’t see them as our opinions— we see them as truths. Phrases such as “I’m not good enough” or “They don’t understand” become the filter through which we see ourselves.

Eventually these triggered responses become habits. These habits not only affect the way we experience events but they literally change our biochemistry. This point is made in the book, Retooling on the Run, by Stuart Heller and David Sheppard Surrenda.

“The power of belief shapes your actions, your experiences, and your results. Believing involves the whole body. Your beliefs are not found only in your thoughts, they are found everywhere, even in the subtle shapes of your posture and in the dynamics of your movements.”

Because triggering is a habitual response, we automatically act upon behavior patterns, thoughts, feelings, and moods. When we can distinguish a trigger simply for what it is, then we can begin to observe ourselves when it occurs. When we witness a habitual trigger, we begin to disengage from it.

It then ceases to define our actions.

How To Raise Awareness And Gain Presence When Triggered

Self Observation: To begin, you must admit that you can get triggered and that your thoughts, actions, moods and abilities to choose are altered when it happens. Once you have acknowledged this, you can begin to consciously observe yourself.

In order to observe yourself, you must be able to separate from the trigger itself. Witnessing yourself in a triggered state can feel almost like watching someone else– except that someone else is you. Sometimes your ability to observe is only possible at a later time, upon refl ection. Perhaps you must return to a more centered place in order to see a trigger and its impact.

Ask Yourself:

What is happening to my:

  • Body?
  • Thoughts?
  • Emotions?

What am I saying about myself, others, the world?

How is this effecting my:

  • Relationships?
  • Health?
  • Future Possibilities?

If you want to raise awareness, and become present when triggered, you must:

  • Acknowledge your trigger to yourself and others
  • Request support


“Center” is a place and an experience where mastery is possible. It is the place where one’s capacity to move is maximized. In martial arts (Aikido) practice, the practitioner prepares for attack by thinking and moving from his/her center.

Life and its pressures (requests, emergencies, breakdowns, etc.) constantly trigger us and we lose our center. In response to stress or pressure, we react by fi ght or fl ight. While these “hard wired” responses are effective for some stressors, they are ineffective in others. Being reactive—that is, off-center — doesn’t allow for choice, but reveals preconditioned tendencies.

These tendencies are refl ected as prejudices, propensities, and automatic reactions to the stresses of life. These automatic reactions don’t always yield effective results or solutions but we keep doing the same thing anyway. Why? Well, we are human mechanisms who don’t have a full repertoire of moves. We only have the ones that we have learned through habit.

Adding to your repertoire requires a capacity to observe and acknowledge where you are. Only then can you begin to see what your automatic reactions have produced that is effective and what they have cost by their limitation. With these observations, you can envision the future you desire. You can then design, with the help of a coach, the necessary lessons and practices that will get you there.

The goal with learning to center is to enhance possibilities, to provide more options, and more ways to act. Centering is a practice that reveals the experience of looking for and fi nding the center. Center is the place of optimum possibilities. At center, we are alert, relaxed, calm, not reactive and poised for action. There is a palpable stillness that underlies this readiness that allows for observation, refl ection, and choice. At fi rst, center may often be experienced as passive and too “laid back” because this state is so different from our normal, agitated, stressed condition. It may also feel physically lethargic in contrast to our normal frantic and generally overwhelmed state.

Center is a state that allows the most movement since one is not committed to going in any particular direction

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