Improving Your Mental Toughness, Part 4 – Learn Your Triggers


We are all influenced by a variety of triggers, and those triggers are unique to each individual. Examples of triggers could be something that we see, hear, smell, feel, read, or even recall from our memory.

“What I mean by triggers is that it’s an emotional response; it’s a hormonal thing; it’s that fight or flight feeling … If I was to say to something mean to you right now … your stomach would start to do a little turn, your heart would start to race a little bit, your eyes would change, you would start to [change] your posture … [all of that] is a hormonal response to your environment … this is fight or flight; this is built into us, it’s not our fault. What happens is, something goes wrong – somebody says something mean to you, someone cuts you off in traffic … kid spills their orange juice at the table, you’re in last place, you go down by 20 points, judge calls no rep on you, a bad workout pops up. Because any of those things happen does not mean something bad is going to happen. (Bergeron, 2020, 00:38:10)

At this point we ask that you take a moment to identify and write down some of your own triggers. As you read the rest of this post, think about the information in context to your individual triggers.

Between Stimulus & Response

Victor Frankl was imprisoned in the death camps of Nazi Germany where, in the words of Stephen Covey, “he experienced things that were so repugnant to our sense of decency that we shudder to even repeat them.”

“One day, naked and alone in a small room, he began to become aware of what he later called “the last of the human freedoms” – the freedom his Nazi captors could not take away. They could control his entire environment, they could do what they wanted with his body, but Victor Frankl was himself a self-aware being who could look as an observer at his very involvement … He could decide within himself how all of this was going to affect him. Between what happened to him, or the stimulus, and his response to it, was his freedom or power to choose the response.” (Covey 2004, p. 69)

What happens to us, the stimulus, is largely beyond our control, but our response is 100% within our control. Between the stimulus and our response, we have the greatest power – the freedom to choose.

Don’t react, respond

We understand that we all have triggers; and we now know that we have the freedom and power to choose our response to those triggers. That choice comes down to whether we listen to our feelings or our principles.

“Reactive people listen to their emotions. What we need to do instead is be a professional, not an amateur; we need to be productive, not unproductive; we need to listen to our principles, not our feelings, and if we do those things we will respond, not react, appropriately. This is how the best do it.” (Bergeron, 2020, 00:40:22)

For example, we could drive by a huge billboard with a tantalising image of our favourite fast food. That advert could trigger us to imagine what taking a bite into that food would taste like, the smell, the flavour, the texture, and we begin to salivate. Suddenly we’re feeling hungry and taking a detour to buy fast food!  This is an example of a reaction. On the other hand, if we had principles such as “I am not the type of person that eats fast food”, even though we will still experience the innate emotional reaction, we can choose to listen to our principles and respond appropriately.

Awareness, and create space

Below we are going to share a couple of tactics. The first is to become aware. “All of this is an awareness thing. When you get those feelings when your spouse or your kids do something that sets you off … you have to realise and [say] there it is, this is the [innate] … hormonal and emotional reaction, what is the best possible way that I could respond?” (Bergeron, 2020, 00:41:31)

The second is to create space because space brings perspective. “The best way to do that is to breathe. [When something sets you off, you’re] being stripped from the parasympathetic nervous system into the sympathetic nervous system. You’re being taken from rest and digest – where you make really good, rational thoughts – and thrust into fight or flight, where it’s all instinct and survival. You need to get yourself back into [the parasympathetic nervous system] … and the best way to do that is [through] deep, diaphragmatic breathing … Breathe in and try to fill up your belly, not your chest, because [breathing through your chest] is shallow and uncontrolled.” (Bergeron, 2020, 00:42:59)

Thank you for reading this post

We hope that you found the information valuable, and we hope that you take it on board and put it into practice. Next week, in part 5, we will be diving deeper into “kill the critic”.

Reference list:

The 6 Steps to Improving Your Mental Toughness (2020) YouTube Video, added by Ben Bergeron [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 29 May 2020]

Covey, S 2004, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Schuster, Great Britain [Accessed: 29 May 2020]

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