When I was little, TV cowboys were all the rage. There was Gene Autry The Singing Cowboy, The Lone Ranger and his horse Silver, and the most beloved of them all, Roy Rogers. Roy and his partner Dale Evans were huge celebrities, as was Dale’s horse Buttermilk, and Roy’s horse Trigger.
Trigger was so famous that his hoof prints are in Hollywood’s Walk of Fame next to Roy’s (no, not Roy’s hoof prints, his footprints, wiseguy). He even had his own comic book series, and millions of Trigger action figures were packaged and sold to little kids all over the world.
So famous, that when he died in 1965, Roy had him stuffed and mounted. 45 years later Trigger was sold at auction for over a quarter million dollars (or buckaroos for you cowpokes out there).
Now I bring this up, not to reminisce about mangy old horse carcasses, but to talk about the triggers that all of us own. The deep-rooted things in all of us that trigger our behaviors. In the Behavioral Science world we call them Antecedents, the situations and things that come before we act. The Triggers that cause our behavior.
Triggers can lead to good or bad behavior. Triggers like praise, applause or blue ribbons can cause us to practice more, study harder or challenge ourselves to do more. But often our triggers initiate poor performance, like anger, substance abuse, or worse, giving up.
In the recovery movement triggers are usually the things that set off our mental health issues, and cause people to act out, veg out, or stress eat pints of ice cream or Costco-sized bags of cheesy poofs. Bad triggers.
So I ask you, what are your triggers? What situations or actions cause you to lose your composure, break your promises, or devolve into self-harm of some sort? Are there certain people in your life that know where your buttons are and push them to get you out of control, or away from your goals? I know I have them, plenty of them.
But if we’re going to break out of our present circumstances and achieve the things we desire, we need to get real clear on what these triggers are, in order to (again, in cowboy parlance) head them off at the pass before they manifest themselves into negative behaviors.
Sound easy? Hell no, we’ve all been there and know how hard it is. But if we identify our triggers and plan in advance to instead, deploy productive healthy behaviors, we’ll be able to stay on target and make progress when we would otherwise give up, go off our diets or go off on other people.
The key is to look at our behaviors and figure what happens right before we act. When we do well, let’s figure out what triggered the positive behavior that led to the good work, and replicate those conditions. When we fail, we need to find what happened right before we f!#*ed up, and try to prevent those conditions from triggering our epic fail responses.
So when you hit the end of your dusty trail, when you ride off into the sunset, we want them all singing Happy Trails, not Another One Bites the Dust. And maybe, just maybe, someone will want to drop a quarter mill on your taxidermied remains…