What does the word ‘trigger’ mean to you?

According to the Macquarie Dictionary, the word “trigger” has six definitions. Three of these are:-

  • a stimulus or cause: the trigger for a general election.
  • to start or precipitate (something), as a chain of events or a scientific reaction: takes only one person writing a letter to trigger (off) a chain reaction by people who have an axe to grind. 
  • to cause (someone) to experience an adverse reaction to specific content in a text, film, video, etc., which relates to their personal bad experience.


Habits are usually triggered by something in our environment, and this keeps them alive.

Think about some of your habits (good and bad!).

Perhaps you attend a gym on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning every week. Perhaps you have a hot drink and put your feet up for a while when you get home from work. Perhaps you make a pizza with lots of cheese. Or perhaps you stand in your back-yard and have a cigarette after your evening meal…..

If you want to maintain a habit, then reinforce the trigger for that habit.

To use the first example above, the more that you continue to attend the gym (habit) on certain days (trigger), the more the habit will continue to be triggered. However, if you start missing out on your usual days, then the trigger will be weakened, and you may find it harder to keep motivating yourself to go to the gym again.

If you want to break a unwanted habit, then replace what you do in response to the trigger. To use the example of smoking a cigarette (habit) after your evening meal (trigger), you could replace smoking the cigarette with taking a walk and taking several deep breaths. Thus, the habit is replaced with another activity which is better for your health and similar to to the original habit (you will still get some fresh air, and deep breaths!).


Memories are triggered by many of our senses – e.g. the sights of visiting the place where we lived as a child, the aroma of a loved one’s perfume, the sound of a song from our past, the taste of a certain food, or even the touch of a specific fabric that we used to wear.

These triggers can bring a joy into our lives, and bring back very happy times!

Of course, memories may not always be pleasant, so if you wish to break the association of the trigger to the memory, start linking the trigger with another event or object.

As an example, you may have unhappy memories associated to a specific department where you worked in the past, and you may have been transferred back to that department. The location triggers the unhappy memories, but unfortunately you are now working there 5 days per week. However, you can minimise and perhaps remove the discomfort by deliberately associating the location with (e.g.) your new colleagues, your new boss, and even the benefits of being there (it could be near a great coffee shop…) instead of the memories from your past. This may need to be repeated multiple times, every time the memory is triggered, until the location no longer reminds you of the unpleasant memories. Of course, you will still remember details of when you previously worked there, but the memories should be more pleasant.

Which brings us to….


Emotional triggers can be generated with just one event (e.g. if someone is in a serious car accident, they could develop a phobia about driving).

Emotional triggers can also be generated from repeated exposure (e.g. continuing criticism from someone at our workplace) could create an emotional trigger when we are criticised – even constructively -about any aspect of our work performance.

While phobias generally benefit from professional help (and can often be resolved fairly quickly), there are several things that we can do to remove or reduce other emotional triggers.

  • realise that the emotional trigger is related to beliefs that you learnt somewhere or from someone. In the example above, you might have learnt that you were “no good at maths” from failing maths tests at school, and this was reinforced when your boss repeatedly criticised the spreadsheets you created at work.
  • re-examine the belief, and decide if it is true. It might be partly true, or completely untrue – you can decide for yourself! If it is true or partly true, then you can decide to fix it, or accept it (e.g. if you do not want to become better at maths, perhaps you can get someone else to create the spreadsheets, or at least check them for you).
  • if you decide that the belief is not true, or only partly true, you can then challenge it each time you find yourself thinking it (or someone else saying it). Replace it with a true, but encouraging belief such “I’m studying maths and getting better” or “I do not need to improve my maths skills as other colleagues can check my spreadsheets, and I can use a calculator if required”.

I specialise in helping people manage triggers which are causing them anxiety and stress. Give me a call on 0403 932311 for an obligation-free chat on how I could help you.

© 2020 Lisa Billingham
Sunset Coast Hypnotherapy
Perth, Western Australia

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