Trigger -> Behavior -> Reward -> Repeat


Trigger. Behavior. Reward. An evolutionary mechanism within us that’s meant to help us survive.

Triggers are always about survival.  In the simplest sense, we see or feel something that scares us or is uncomfortable; we respond in some way that minimizes that feeling; we’re rewarded by feeling the opposite.  For instance, our stomach begins to rumble; we eat until it no longer rumbles; we’re rewarded by feeling full. It worked! So we repeat this mechanism for anything that makes our stomach rumble.

That’s in the beginning. Then we learn to apply that same mechanism to all kinds of things we encounter. Is it scary? Does it make us feel some kind of pain? Then do something until we feel good, or at least no longer scared.

So far so good. Then one day, a friend we counted on turns on us. We’re hurt and confused. Perhaps we feel a tightness in our belly. So, we turn to something that calmed our belly in the past – we eat a donut, perhaps.  We feel good. The pain goes away.

You and I know that eating to counter emtional pain won’t work for more than a moment. But most of us do it anyway, because it’s something we’ve built from the beginning. It isn’t logical. It’s automatic – a very well-entrenched habitual respnse, or reaction, to a particular feeling.

How can we change that reaction? The answer is to change the habit. Justin Brewer suggests mindfulness: go ahead and react, and when you react be mindful – get curious about it.  For instance, when I reach for that choclate chip cookie next time I’m anxious, I can take a moment to notice what it’s actually doing for me: the sugar high makes me dizzy, and instead of really being satisfied, I feel a craving for more. What if I take a handful of almonds?  Then I feel full fast. How about if I take some deep breaths and go for a walk? I return feeling refreshed and energized.

In other words, the more I becme aware, mindfully, to a reaction or response, I can begin to reprogram my body, and my reactions.

Worth a try!

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Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at .


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