Get Scaffolding That Supports You


This post is the second part of a two-part series on emotional reactivity. You can read part one, here.

It’s our responsibility to reduce the severity and frequency of our negative reactions to emotional triggers. We do this by developing a set of strategic supports (scaffolding). This scaffolding creates greater awareness of triggers and a more proactive approach to our behavior.


A scaffold is a a support system that, in some way, aids our effort. When we overreact to a trigger, we are obviously not at our best. If we want to dial down or avoid our triggers, we will need assistance (scaffolding) to do so. The key is to have the scaffolding in place before you need it. Once the reactivity is in full swing, it’s much harder to activate or even desire support. Here are three types of scaffolding strategies that can minimize the power of emotional triggers and help you adapt more graciously.


First, Create Strategies Of Awareness Building About Triggers


Diminishing the power of a trigger begins first when we notice it after it occurs, then as it occurs, and finally before it occurs (we see the potential for it). Notice the order. Awareness of a trigger, and our reaction to it, usually begins after the fact. We overreact and then see what happened and (maybe) why. Then, we learn to see the trigger, and our reaction, as it is happening. And finally, we can see it coming before it occurs and avoid it altogether. Here are awareness-building strategies to help you make the important progression from after, to during, to before.


  • Notice the link between the trigger and your activation. Why do you think they are connected?
  • Pay attention to internal and external dynamics occurring when the trigger arises.
  • Find linkages from the current situation to past situations that have activated the trigger.
  • Identify patterns in your activation. Do certain actions or situations consistently activate your biology and emotions in negative ways?
  • Notice when the trigger activates you.
  • Develop the ability to read the arrival of the trigger early enough to avoid it or minimize it. What are the early warning signs of the trigger? This takes a lifetime of work, and we often fail.


Second, Create Strategies Of Action To Diminish The Power Of A Trigger

Awareness of a trigger is step one. But it’s not enough. We have to add strategic action to awareness. If we don’t change and adapt our behavior we will continue to overreact, even with awareness. The key, again, is to develop these behavioral strategies before we need them. And here’s the really great part. Once we have better behavioral strategies in place, we can use the trigger to activate the better behavior rather than the reactive behavior.


  • Create a visual or word cue to remain mindful during times when triggers are most likely.
  • Imagine yourself responding without activation during a trigger. Determine and practice activities that reduce activation when it occurs.
  • Determine if any who can be supportive and is willing to be during activation—learn to co-regulate each other.
  • Pause when you’ve lost it and reflect on what happened and why (this is an “after” strategy).
  • When you’re losing it, slow down and increase awareness as well as your better behavior (this is a “during” strategy).
  • Increasing mindfulness and “ready” your better behavior when you see a trigger coming (this is a “before” strategy).


Third, Create Strategies That Include Other People


We can’t do this alone. We need a tribe. When we are overreactive, others around us are not (and vice versa). Allowing others to support our growth is a critical part of the scaffolding process. It’s humbling, but necessary. It’s also a great gift to give someone else. When we mutually “cover” each other, and help each other grow, magic happens.


  • Share your triggers with tribe members when you are not triggered (this requires trust).
  • Alert tribe members when you are activated.
  • Seek out wisdom on how to navigate triggers from trusted friends and advisors.
  • Ask for help when you’re activated. Sometimes other tribe members can talk us down or cover for us as we come down from a time of activation.


It’s Worth The Challenge of Dialing It Down


Emotional reactivity can diminish our ingenuity and hold us back in life and in our careers. Triggers happen; it’s part of the deal. And it’s unlikely we’ll eradicate all emotional reactivity. But we can learn to significantly reduce it and turn triggers into opportunities to adapt and flex with grace. Intentionality, strategic mindfulness, and trusted confidants can help us “dial it down.”


Adapted from the book, Tribal Alchemy: Mining Your Team’s Collective Ingenuity. (2016) Dave Fleming.