The Problem with Getting Triggered by Unimportant People
We have all been there… some driver cuts us off or isn’t playing by the rules of the road…some customer service person isn’t giving us the service we want, or someone that we don’t know well, or even at all, posts something on social media and we react. This reaction can take the form of stress, anger, resentment, frustration, anxiety, whatever… but, regardless, what has just happened is that some unimportant person has just become the most important person in our life!
While this is common, and even understandable, my guess is that it isn’t working for you, and if that is the case, I want to give you my best thoughts on why this is happening, and what you can do about it.
Understanding why this is happening requires that we look beyond the superficial (these people are jerks!) because seeing them as the problem makes them the cause of how we feel, and, therefore, makes them more powerful in our life than we want them to be. Since we don’t want them to be that powerful, the good news is that it’s not them. It has to do with how our brain is processing our experience of “them.”
Those of you who follow my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy know how this works. Our middle brain, or limbic system, acts as a gatekeeper, which means it receives information first, and then routes it either down to the brainstem, or up to the neocortex (what I call the Top of the Mind). Unfortunately, when our middle brain interprets another’s behavior as negative, it triggers emotions (stress, frustration, anxiety, anger, etc.) which are designed to move us to act defensively to stay safe.
The problem, of course, is that we aren’t in any real “danger,” and, therefore, only experience these reactions as annoying (versus helpful), and if we aren’t careful, we tend to blame these difficult people for how we feel (which, again, increases their influence in our life.
The key to changing this, therefore, is to purposefully decide how we want to respond (versus react) to these people. For example, if our kids were sitting in the back seat when a bad driver cuts us off on the freeway, and asked us to teach them how to respond to people like this in the future, what would we want to teach them?
Whatever comes to mind will be coming from the Top of the Mind, and will, therefore, be a more purposefully-chosen response that has the potential to maximize our influence in our experience of life, and minimize the influence of people we don’t know (people who are truly unimportant).
Of course, just knowing how we want to respond doesn’t mean that the problem will be solved. We have some old habits that are actual neural pathways in our brain that will continue to have us reacting in our old ways if we don’t begin to rewire the brain. This is done by imagining being in one of those situations with truly unimportant people, and imagining responding versus reacting. Since the brain doesn’t know the difference between a real and imagined experience, this process will begin to create new neural pathways that trigger our neocortex versus our brainstem. Do this enough, and we create new habits which are more congruent with what we would teach or recommend to someone we love.
Once we have minimized the unimportant people in our lives, we can turn to becoming more influential with those important people…people in our family, organization, our customers, etc. Of course, this is easier said than done, and why it is Part III of my Life from the Top of the Mind system. In other words, we must learn how the brain works and how to shift to the Top of the Mind when triggered (Part I), and then how to stay in this more purposeful mindset (Part II), before we attempt to get others to shift from their resistant brain to their receptive brain.
If you would like to learn any of these skills, I suggest that you contact me, because until we know what is truly keeping us from creating the life we want, why this is happening, and how we can become more influential in the process, we will continue to be influenced by people and situations that are truly unimportant.
~ All the best, Dr. Bill