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Three Questions to Keep Yourself From Losing Your Cool

I’ve learned to take my rant offline rather than saying or doing something I’m going to regret later.

Have you noticed that there are certain triggers that are guaranteed to make you lose your cool? I have. One of my “favorite” triggers is when someone makes a commitment to keep me in the loop about a series of events that could affect the health and well-being of my family and then doesn’t follow through. Another is when someone misses an agreed upon deadline on an important project and doesn’t let me know.

Depending on the day and what else is going on with me, my reaction to the trigger can be pretty ugly. I can go immediately into a fight or flight response (more fight than flight) that is usually accompanied by a good bit of profanity and speculation on the intelligence of the other party. You know, something along the lines of “that bleeping idiot.” Like I said, not pretty.

Over the years, I’ve learned to take my rant offline rather than saying or doing something I’m going to regret later. That doesn’t mean I don’t ever express my frustration or disappointment. I do, but I try to choose a time and method that leads to positive short and long-run outcomes.

The key to doing that is to get really clear about your triggers so you know them when you feel them. I’ve written a lot about triggers over the years like this post on managing the gap between stimulus and response. What I haven’t written about yet is three simple questions that can help you learn how to keep from losing it when triggered.

The questions are ones that I have used for years to set up one-on-one peer coaching conversations in our leadership development programs. They’re based on Tim Gallwey’s idea that your performance is equal to your potential minus the interference. As I cover in more detail here, interference comes in two flavors—external and internal. The external interference is all that stuff out there in the world that triggers you. The internal interference is that monologue inside your head about how stupid, wrong or unfair that external trigger is (a phenomenon more commonly known as losing your shit.) Get rid of the internal interference and you’re much more likely to live and lead at your best. Your performance just equals your potential, straight up.

Here, then, are the three questions that can help you keep it together:

  • What are the situations or events out there in the world that are guaranteed to set you off? (These are your triggers or external interference.)
  • What’s the “go-to” story in your head when you’re triggered and what kind of language do you use and physical reactions do you have when you’re telling yourself that story? (This is your internal interference.)
  • What’s the impact on your performance when those stories in your head become super loud or overwhelming? (This is what’s keeping you from demonstrating your full “at your best” potential.)

When I ask leaders to coach each other using those questions, they use words like “cathartic,” “revealing” and “valuable” to describe the experience. From encouraging these conversations over the years, I’ve learned that most people haven’t taken time to stop and learn more about their triggers and their impact.

Getting to know your triggers is essential to living and leading at your best. Here’s a suggestion:  Find a trusted colleague or friend this week and use the three questions to coach each other on getting to know your triggers.

What are your triggers?