[To learn more about the ideas in this post, please take a look at Redesign Your Mind, available now.]
Imagine that you are doing a beautiful job of maintaining your mental health and your emotional wellbeing and up comes a trip to the dentist, a visit from your mother, a broken promise by your mate, or some extra work at your job. Here it comes—that place where you regularly trip and fall, emotionally speaking.
You can see that trip and fall coming.
+ You know that the visit to the dentist will trigger not only panic but will completely change your personality, from the person you’ve been working to become to that other person who lived out of control for the whole decades of her twenties and thirties.
+ You know that the impending visit from your mother will create an extraordinary amount of lethargy and sadness in your system, will make you hyper-critical, and will leave you with a bad taste in your mouth for weeks after she’s left for home.
+ You know that another broken promise by your mate will create all sorts of sour feelings in you and between the two of you, including revenge fantasies, doubts about the viability of the relationship, thoughts about leaving, and a bout of severe sadness.
+ You know that your job is already only barely tolerable and that if your boss springs some extra work on you on Friday afternoon, forcing you to have to catch the last train home, that will ruin your weekend, cause you to yell at your mate and your children, and almost cause you to kick the dog.
If you know from past experience that this impending event will trip you up, that means that you have good warning and can try something to prevent that trip and fall. That “something” might be anything you know to do that helps you not trip repeatedly over the very same crack in the pavement.
In recovery work this “impending event” is called a trigger. A trigger for someone who trips and falls around alcohol might be the annual holiday party at work, a visit from an old drinking buddy, or a business situation that puts him among heavy drinkers. In recovery programs you’re taught to identify these triggers, take them seriously, and know clearly what you will do when you are triggered or about to be triggered.
For someone in recovery, maybe that “something to do” is calling your sponsor or attending a 12-step meeting. Maybe it’s skipping the holiday party, seeing your old buddy but only in the safety of your own home, or letting your coworkers know that you are in recovery and can’t hang out with them. Maybe you would do several of these things or maybe you would do all of these things—because you are taking the danger seriously.
What triggers you? To come to know that for yourself is real work and you might want to do that work. What will you do when a trigger looms on the horizon? Creating a menu of things to do when a trigger approaches is also real work and you may want to do that work, too. For today, though, just do the following simple, easy thing.
Today, just practice adamantly saying, “I’m not tripping there.” Picture one of your triggers—that visit to the dentist, that visit from your mother—picture it without flinching, adamantly say, “I’m not tripping there,” and explain to yourself what you will do to handle that specific challenge when it looms on the horizon.
We journey through life on a road defined by its unevenness. The road is cracked and buckled, creating innumerable chances for us to trip and fall. We will come to know some of these cracks only by tripping over them; but many of them are visible to us from a distance and we can prepare ourselves not to trip and fall. Maybe we will still stumble a little—but maybe we won’t stumble at all. Wouldn’t that prove a welcome relief and spare you any number of emotional scrapes and bruises?
Today’s goal: Not tripping and falling repeatedly over the same challenges and obstacles.
Today’s key principle: As much work as we may do on ourselves to keep us mentally healthy, we can still be triggered and lose our balance. When you see one of these triggers coming, take it seriously!
Today’s key strategy: Adamantly say, “I’m not tripping there” when a trigger looms on the horizon.
Now, apply this principle to your creative life. See how that works! And drop me a comment, if it does work for you!
I had always been an artist who was diligent and worked daily. But I was given a medication that gave me a tremor. A person told me, ” oh, that’s okay. You can have a show of squiggly lines!” I have not picked up a brush since. I am not taking the medication now, it has been replaced. But I don’t have a lot of energy at present.