IF this, THEN that.

In the case of automation applications like Zapier, Automate.io, and of course, IFTTT, it represents the deliberate initiation of a sequence of desired next steps.

In the case of social interactions, both digital and IRL, it can represent a spectrum of different events.

In our pursuit of Becoming Superhuman, we should analyze these triggers, and the subsequent actions. Today, we’re going to look at the presence and impact of triggers and actions in our lives.

NOTE: If you are someone who jokingly and antagonistically uses the phrase “trigger warning” to belittle people who have an emotional reaction to certain people, places, phrases, or events I would encourage you to read this entire post. While you do, try to engage your empathy muscles. Even if you don’t walk away learning to be more understanding of others, you will still gain a new tool for your own personal success.

OMG, me too!

woman carrying child on color run

In some cases, the trigger is something that spurs the action of retelling a particular story. In these cases, the triggers serve as the play button for a routine or shtick.

For Example…

  • IF a parent brings up a story about their child to another parent, THEN the other parent draws from a particular set of stories about their own children.
  • IF someone brings up an embarrassing, but funny, story from work or childhood, THEN others will likely join in and share their own story from a short but memorable repository.
  • IF someone brings up a restaurant they liked, THEN others will join in and share their own recent dining adventures.

We do this unconsciously, as a shortcut, in order to create a connection. These stories and shticks aren’t deliberately curated but rather cobbled together after reading people’s past reactions.

  • When we told that story last time, someone laughed, so we tell it again next time.
  • We told that other story a few weeks ago and it fell flat, best to leave it out of the repertoire.

The triggers in these cases are non-threatening, and our subsequent actions are generally agreeable.

From a bad experience to outright trauma

silhouette of man standing near window

In other cases, the trigger is something that automatically causes someone to remember and experience an unwelcome memory or past trauma. In this case, the trigger is perceived as threatening and provokes a stress or survival response. The subsequent actions can range from total retreat to explosive and violent reaction, or anything along that spectrum.

These triggers can take so many shapes.

For Example…

  • IF you offer someone help, THEN they react negatively. You may not realize that the mere offer of help makes them feel weak, helpless, or even untrusted by those who offer the help. This could be a result of their education, past employment experiences, or upbringing where internalized messages from childhood bubble up to the surface.
  • IF you make a comment about someone’s hair, the way they talk, or mispronounce their name THEN they react hurt or angry. You may not realize that this individual has endured years of similar incidents and micro-aggressions have intentionally or unintentionally marginalized them and left them feeling like an outsider or other.
  • IF after accepting someone’s Linkedin connection request they immediately start pitching you, THEN you respond with a snarky, sarcastic, or even hostile message. They may not realize the various beliefs, past experiences, or values they have encroached upon.

That last one was about me.

Three days ago.


What inspired me to write this post was a watershed moment that happened to me just three days ago.

I am in the midst of promoting my book The Lovable Leader. I want everyone to know about it. I’m proud of it and I think it will help create better work environments built on care, trust and safety. Because the Linkedin algorithm shows content to 1st degree connections before expanding the reach beyond that, I’ve been accepting more incoming connection requests. My hope is to expose more people to my content and drive additional interest in my book and speaking engagements.

However, accepting many new incoming requests is a stark contrast to my previous approach. Because of the epidemic of cold, untargeted, irrelevant pitches that show up in the DMs immediately after accepting a connection request, my previous approach was to mostly retreat from connecting and become a Linkedin hermit crab. I don’t know if I was emotionally prepared to deal with what I’d signed myself up for.


man in white dress shirt wearing eyeglasses sitting by the table using macbook

I hate cold calling, or really any cold outreach. I had to do it in the first job I took after my MBA and I hated doing it so much. In the years since, I realize that I hate being on the receiving end of it even more because I see it as an interruption, an attempt to manipulate me and get me to buy something I didn’t ask for, and also a waste of my time.

  • I have ADHD and a single interruption can ruin an entire day.
  • For reasons too long to explain in this post, I do not respond well to authority, or anything I view as an attempt to control or manipulate me.
  • I think we put too much of a premium on money and not enough on people, and as a result I’m allergic to anything that highlights or reinforces that perspective.
  • Because my mother almost died in a car accident on my last day of high school and my dad was a funeral director, I’m intimately aware of mortality and constantly feel like I’m in a race against time. I want to make an impact and leave the world better than I found it so I don’t have time to waste. I don’t even like repeating myself.

These are just a few of the things that set me off and I’m not saying any of this is good, true, or rational but it may help give some context to why I respond the way I do when I get a cold pitch.

man holding telephone screaming

What happened three days ago

I accepted a new Linkedin request. She has a network of coaches, works with other authors, and may even be the sort of person who would enjoy and even promote my book.

But her first message to me was the start of a pitch, and in it, she did something that triggered me: she pitched me without checking to see if I was a good candidate.

My Linkedin headline is this: Superhero. Author of The Lovable Leader. Commonly known as the World’s Most Handsome Strategist and Professional Speaker.

Not only have I “considered writing a book,” but I wrote one, and it just came out 2 months ago.

The smart thing, as my wife later helped me realize, was to see this new request as an opportunity. I could’ve been kind, I could’ve easily looked past this small “transgression,” I could’ve even done what I was there to do: promote my book. But instead, I opted for temporary self-righteous satisfaction. I was a jerk.


I have since apologized to this person but I haven’t heard back from her. Possible bridge burned but possible lesson learned. I’ve been replying with snarky, mean, or otherwise unpleasant words and gifs when people reach out to me cold. I may have been under a delusion: that the intensity of my action can alter the presence of the trigger.

It can’t. Here is the truth…

We may not have any control over what people do to trigger us —or even what triggers us— but we would be wise to assert as much control as we can over how we act when we are triggered. At the same time, we must take responsibility for how we trigger others but we have no say in how they act when we do.

No one is excused. No one gets a free pass. This isn’t about them. This is about us and what we can control versus what we can’t.

I don’t gain anything nor do I change anything when I blow up on a random individual trying to pitch me. However, for the first time three days ago, I realized that I have probably spent years losing opportunities.

TL;DR – Take accountability for how you trigger others. Take accountability for how you act when you’re triggered.

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