The Managing Triggers Approach

Different people have different triggers that can lead to them behaving in ways that cause difficulties. Sometimes they may manage such situations successfully. Sometimes they may fall into a downward spiral.

A recovering alcoholic may find it difficult to pass a crowded pub on a warm summer night. A person who frequently gets angry can be overcome by the rising red mist.

A footballer can make a mistake and punish themselves with negative self-talk. A normally positive person can fall into depression when hearing distressing news on the radio.

A drug user may respond to feeling anxious by searching for a quick fix. A couple may get into domestic arguments when one of them says something that hurts their partner.

Looking at your own life, are there any triggers that may produce difficulties? These may lead to you showing anger, getting depressed or behaving in ways you don’t like.

If so, what are the specific triggers? What can happen as a result of not managing them successfully? What are the effects – both for you and other people?

Later we will look at how you can avoid such triggers. We will also explore how you can manage them successfully if, despite everything, the triggers still occur. Before then, however, it can be useful to recognise what can spark such difficulties.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific trigger that can sometimes lead to you behaving in ways that can cause difficulties for yourself or other people. 

Describe the specific things you sometimes to do respond to this trigger by behaving in ways that can cause difficulties. 

Describe the specific things that can happen as a result of you behaving in these ways.

Imagine that you want to  manage trigger moments. The following sections provide a framework you can apply in your own way.

Recognising the triggers and avoiding
putting yourself into those situations

Different people have different triggers. A gambler may feel bored and click onto a betting site. A footballer may rush to confront a referee after a poor decision. A sensitive person may feel a panic attack coming on in a certain situation.

Looking ahead, can you think of a specific trigger that you might want to manage successfully? This could be in your personal or professional life.

You may have a trigger that leads to you wanting to smoke, overeat or having too much to drink. You may have one that leads to you getting angry, having a row with your partner, being depressed or behaving in another way you don’t like.

How can you avoid putting yourself into such situations? How can you plan ahead and reduce the risk? How can you anticipate the potential warning signs? How can you mentally rehearse doing practical things to deal with the challenging situation?

Buying time to think if
the triggers do happen

Imagine that, despite all your efforts, you are suddenly confronted by a situation in which you are exposed to one of your triggers.

There are many ways to manage such a situation. Here are some that you may wish to consider.

Staying calm and
buying time to think

Some people do deep breathing. Some have a ritual they follow to relax, recentre and refocus.

A tennis player may have a physical action that they follow after each point. They follow this routine to clear their minds and focus on the present. They then rehearse what they are going to do next.

Some individuals have a phrase they say to remind themselves about what is really important in life. They make sure they don’t do anything rash by saying something like:

“Stop. Plan. Act.”

You will have your own way of buying time. Assuming you have taken this step, it is then time to move on to the next stage.

Considering the possible
options for going forwards

Good decisions makers take time to reflect and consider the possible options for going forwards. They then make their decision based on the outcomes they want to achieve.

Imagine that you are a divorced recovering alcoholic and you are passing a crowded bar on a sunny Friday evening. You look at the people smiling, talking and seeming to be having a good time.

Looking at the clock, you see it is 6.00 pm. You have nobody to go home to – just a television set and the promise of an empty weekend. You know that if you enter the bar it may result in you staggering home at 2.00 in the morning.

On the other hand, you know it makes sense to stay sober and take care of your health. This is the only way you will continue to have access to your children and, in the long run, keep your job.

What do you do? One choice is to walk in, get your first drink and relax. Another choice is to call your friend at Alcoholics Anonymous. Another is to walk past, go home and make yourself a meal. It is then to do positive things over the weekend.

Let’s return to the potential trigger you may encounter. How can you buy time? How can you explore the options for going forwards? How can you consider the pluses and minuses of each option?

Pursuing the route that
will get positive results 

Imagine that you have bought time to consider the possible options for going forwards. There are many models for managing such situations. One approach is to use the STOP model. This invites you to take the following steps.

Imagine that you have chosen your way forwards. You can do something quickly to implement your action plan, get a quick success and build momentum.

The next stage will be to keep following good habits. How to make this happen? Some people take the following steps. 


They start the day – or a piece of work – by following their chosen ritual and refocusing on their goals. 


They follow their chosen routine – or rhythm – and keep doing the right things in the right way. 


They do what is necessary to get the desired results. They may then, when appropriate, give themselves a reward – though doing the right things may be a reward in itself.

Let’s return to the potential trigger that you may encounter. How can you manage the situation? How can you pursue your chosen option? How can you do your best to achieve your picture of success?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific trigger that you want to manage successfully in the future.

Describe the specific things you can do to pursue your chosen way forwards and do your best to get the desired positive outcomes.

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