Toxic Triggers Take Their Toll---Learn To Take Control Of Your Life

Posted by Duane Cummings on 09/08/2016


Last week my friend and I met for lunch. As we sat down I asked, “So, how’s life?”

After a deep sigh he responded, “It sucks. 

Thinking that something catastrophic occurred, I braced myself and asked, “So, what happened?”

After a long pause he said, “Everything’s falling apart. My relationships, things at work, it’s all crap.” I frowned, “Wasn’t it just a few days ago that you were talking about how great your life was? So, how did everything unravel that quickly?”

I sat back and silently stared at him as the waiter approached and ask if we’d like to order. With a look of exasperation, my friend dropped the menu on the table, “I can’t think straight, just order for me.”

Turning to the waiter, I jokingly said, “My friend will have a huge Snickers.” Fortunately, the waiter had seen the television commercial where hungry people behave poorly, and then someone recommends they take a bite of a Snickers candy bar, which calms them down and brings them back to their normal self. Unfortunately, my friend hadn’t seen the commercial, “What’s that suppose to mean?”

I grabbed the menus and gave them to the waiter, “Two salmon Caesar salads and two cups of chicken noodle soup please.”  He smiled, “My pleasure, I’ll tell the kitchen to put a rush on it.” 

As my friend sat slumped over with a frown on his face, I asked, “So what triggered all this?” He looked at me like I had three heads, so I continued, “You don’t even know what your triggers are do you?” He sat forward and snipped, “What are you talking about.”

As you might guess, we spent the rest of that lunch discussing “triggers.” What they are, how they affect a person’s life, and what can be done to tilt the odds in their favor. 

You see, we’re all just a big bundle of nerves, waiting to be stimulated and there are things constantly happening in our lives that “TRIGGER” responses.  

Most people just go with the flow…regardless of where that may take them. That’s why great marketing campaigns can be so powerful. 

The responses to triggers can impact a person physically and psychologically, and can have both positive and negative effects.  The trick is to understand your triggers, and then begin substituting good ones for bad.

Think about it, do you know people whose lives are like roller coasters? Perhaps that’s even you? And sure, sometimes there’s a catalyst or a major event that can impact your life and throw everything out of whack. But more often than not, if you look closely it may have been something small or a few small something’s that triggered that shift. And as the old saying goes… 

“You may not be able to control what happens in your life, but you can definitely control how you respond.”

Have you ever felt horrible, and then you hear your favorite song, eat amazing food, or even spend time with a person you love and everything changes? Whether its sounds, smells, tastes, images, or things you come in contact with, triggers have a huge impact on your life each and everyday.

So, what if you learned to become aware of those triggers and began steering clear of those that were toxic? What if you simply sought out the positive ones? How different might your life be?


I often work with athletes, and we use positive triggers as a way to get them, "in the zone," so they can perform at their maximum potential. That's often why they have elaborate preparation rituals. From their pregame meals to which songs they listen to, everything is taken into account when it comes to what will trigger a positive outcome. 

Think about some of the “toxic triggers” you may be experiencing in your life. Perhaps your spouse has a specific ringtone on their phone (seemingly obnoxious and loud) for any calls from their work. The minute the family sits down to eat or hang out, the phone rings with that dreadful “work ringtone” and everyone’s mood changes in an instant. That’s a toxic trigger, and yet people keep allowing them to take their toll on their lives. 

Now take a moment and try to determine some of the good triggers that you have? For me it could be the smell of my wife’s hair, the sound of laughing children or oceans waves crashing. 

Why do you think many real estate agents bake cookies when they have an open house? That aroma is a positive trigger for most people, and might put potential buyers in the buying mood. Understanding ALL of your triggers both toxic and terrific is important, and there are many ways to figure them out.

One of the simplest exercises is to: 

Begin keeping score or track in a journal, on your cell phone, or by using rocks in your pocket…whatever works best for you. Do it for at least 7 days, although the longer the amount of time the better, and I recommend 30 days to get a clearer picture.

EVERY TIME you have a negative or positive reaction that shifts your mood (changes how you look at the day or your life) make a note of what triggered it. For instance, you hear someone’s voice and it makes you cringe…mark it down. 

I realize that you might not be able to stop and make a note the moment your boss says something and you realize it’s a toxic trigger, but write it down later. You have to spend a specific amount of time tracking your responses, and then later you can analyze the results. 

The reason I said the longer the sampling the better, sometimes we find that our most impactful triggers don’t come around that often. Perhaps you are one of those people who are rarely rewarded for things you’ve done well. It could also be the fact that humans naturally avoid some situations that are painful. Maybe it’s a bill collector that calls once a month. 

Once you determine what your “Triggers” are, then create a plan for how you will handle them. In some instances you may be able to exchange good for bad. You also may be able to simply eliminate the toxic triggers. For instance, if it’s an acquaintance that calls and “wears you out,” be honest and have a candid conversation with them. Sometimes the truth does hurt, but perhaps you need to address and adjust the relationship to eliminate that trigger.

Now, I also realize that “Toxic Triggers” could have you feeling trapped. For instance, if you are a teacher and your principal is the trigger, but you only have one year left before you retire. That’s probably not a situation you will walk away from, but by understanding the dynamic, perhaps you can find another way to cope with it. 

I believe that’s one of the reasons my life is amazing. I’m acutely aware of my triggers and am constantly adjusting accordingly to put myself in the best state possible. Sure, there are things I can’t plan for, but the minute I make that realization, I lean on positive triggers to shift things quickly. 

And if you were wondering, after talking through things that day at lunch, my friend determined that just before we sat down he had received two texts from someone he didn’t have a good relationship with and his blood sugar was very low, because he hadn’t eaten anything that day. So, we weren’t far off on that “Snickers” joke, and he now carries a bag of almonds with him all the time for snacking. 

Wishing you all an amazing day and I hope you’ll stop letting Toxic Triggers Take Their Toll on your life. 


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Duane Cummings