If you discovered that certain foods make you unwell, you'd not only avoid them, you'd find something healthier to eat. It's the same with mental health. Don't just identify your Triggers; you also need to discover your "Resilient Resources"? Here's how.
If you want to manage your Wellbeing, it helps enormously to identify your “Triggers”. Discovering your Triggers is the mental-health equivalent of discovering a food that you’re allergic or intolerant to. You avoid it.
But if you have a food allergy or intolerance, you also replace those foods that make you unwell with foods that are good for you. If you don’t do that, you’d stay unwell.
Likewise for mental health, you also need to discover your “Resilient Resources”.
Here's a tool that you can use to help you discover your Triggers and Resilient Resources. I use the Tool as a conversational guide when I’m coaching. You can use this tool by yourself, to help you raise your own self-awareness. Or you can use it if you are supporting someone else. You can download and print this tool from the Evenhood website.
Use the tool as a journal to make a regular record of your Wellbeing. You could choose to do this from hour to hour, day to day or week to week to help you discover your Resilient Resources. Whatever suits you best.
Here’s how it works.
Step #1 - Pick a situation that you commonly find yourself in and score it
Your starting point is to pick a situation that you commonly find yourself in. Then you give that situation a Wellbeing score. Now do this again for another situation, and another, and another.
The situation can be any environment or event that you might commonly find yourself in, that might contribute positively or negatively to your Wellbeing. Here are some common ones. There are plenty of others, personal to you.
Noisy / Quiet environments
Listening to music / type of music
Hobbies / pastimes
Being desk based
Being Outdoors vs Indoors
Getting instructions and directions
Extrovert vs Introvert Personalities
Extrovert / Introvert Environments
Personality of people in your immediate network
Religion / Faith / Kindness / Gratitude
Groups / Clubs
Societies / Networks
Pressure to conform
The score you attribute is an intuitive Wellbeing score. It's how well you feel in relation to any of these given situations, events or environments. It might be how much energy you have (not too much or too little), how refreshed you feel, how relaxed you are, how self-confident you are, what your self-esteem is like and so on.
To illustrate the tool I'm going to use a deliberately silly example. Let's take the example of a decision you try to make over whether to eat a cake that Bob has brought into your workplace / university / school to celebrate his birthday.
Step #2 - What’s going on in your thought-processes?
Step Two involves exploring your thought-processes in relation to this situation. This part of the exercise is to help you raise your subconscious thoughts to a more conscious level and work out why you gave yourself a particular score.
We can achieve this by exploring how the different parts of our brains operate in each particular environment. Then we look for conflicts in our thoughts. Here I encourage people to think of themselves as having four brains that drive our decision-making, our behaviours, our feelings and so on.
Those four brains cover our Instinctive thoughts, our thoughts based on past Experiences, our Logical thoughts and our Values-based brain.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself, or discuss with someone else to explore your thought-processes.
Questions to explore Instincts
“what was your instant reaction?”
“what did you feel like doing?”
“did you think about that or just do it?”
In our example, your Instinctive brain might instruct you to eat cake. Cake sustains us. We have an instinct to eat sugars and carbohydrates. We don't even think about it, we just instinctively want to do it.
Questions to explore Experiences
“describe an occasion from your life when something similar has happened to you”
“does this remind you of another event in life?”
“in what sort of situations in life have you felt the same way as this?”
In our example, our experiences might correspond with our instincts and point us towards eating the cake. We may have happy memories of eating cake both from a personal enjoyment point of view (they taste great!) and from a social engagement point of view (they celebrate happy events!). Then again, you might have personal experiences that conflict with your instinctive desires. Perhaps you are gluten intolerant or get an uncomfortable sugar rush from eating cake on an empty stomach. So your Experiential brain may or may not agree with your Instinctive brain.
Questions to explore Logic
“if you were giving yourself advice - what would you say?”
“what were you thinking at that point?”
“what are the pros and cons of this situation?”
In our example, our logical thoughts might see no harm in eating cake. We haven't over-indulged today. We're not on a diet. We plan to go to the gym later. So all is fine. But then again we might be on a diet. We might be going out for dinner later and don't want to spoil our appetite. We've put a bit of weight on recently. So perhaps even though we might really want that cake from a different perspective, logically we might want to resist it. Again then, there could be conflicts between our different brains.
Questions to explore Values
“if you were taking advice from someone who has had a major influence in your life, what do you think they’d say you ought to do / think?”
“think of someone influential in your life, whose values you respect - what do you think they would say to you about this situation?”
“if you have a religious background or faith, what should you do, based on your beliefs?
“what’s the right thing to do / think / behave?”
“what do you think you ought to do here?”
All sorts of values could kick in for our example. What if you are fasting for religious reasons? What if you are aware of a close colleague who has an eating disorder and you don't want to eat cake in front of them? Or what if you really don't want the cake, but you don't want to offend Bob on his birthday - perhaps you'll force yourself to eat it anyway, despite not wanting to?
Using our example you can see that even in something as simple as deciding whether to eat cake, we might find conflicts going on in our thought-processes. It is these conflicts that we are looking for when using this tool. Because these conflicts can lead to a negative impact on our Wellbeing.
When it comes to cake, we often just work this stuff out and get on with life. But in other more significant areas of life, we may find our Wellbeing under greater threat.
What if you work in a job you love and which gives you both an enjoyable Experience and also helps you serve your Values; but you happen to have a narcissistic bully for a boss who deeply offends your Values? What if you enjoy a mutually supportive team environment but you find yourself in a competitive team? What if you have a work ethic that pushes you to do whatever is asked of you, but you end up working impossibly long hours? What if your anxieties are triggered in a noisy, badly lit work area? What if your depression is driven by a lack of self-esteem which, in turn, is weakened by a lack of positive feedback?
Step #3 - What Outcomes, Behaviours & Feelings are you Experiencing?
Next you can focus on your outcomes, behaviours, reactions and feelings. This will help you understand whether your patterns of thinking are leading to good outcomes or outcomes that you’d wish to avoid.
You can then start to choose to give more power to one part of your thought-processes that may help improve your Wellbeing by leading to better outcomes.
Let's say you constantly allow your instincts or experiences to rule your decision-making in certain situations but this, in turn, has a negative impact on (say) your anxiety levels and your self-esteem because your logical brain constantly tells you that these decisions aren't good for you and they conflict also with your Values. You could choose give more power to your logical thoughts and values to help manage your Wellbeing better.
Step #4 - Identify your Triggers & Resilient Resources
The result of this exercise is that you will build yourself a list of your Triggers and your Resilient Resources. This can help you to take steps to avoid your Triggers as much as possible, and immerse yourself in your Resilient Resources as much as possible. You can use this knowledge to talk to your boss, tutors, friends, family members and so on to ask them to support you in this.
I'm not going to pretend this is easy. It took me a long time, lots of hard work, and plenty of conversations to find my Resilient Resources to help me manage my post traumatic stress. And then there's more hard work to try and make sure you live with your Resilient Resources at all times.
But I have used this tool both with myself and the clients that I coach and I find it has great benefit in helping people to find their Triggers and Resilient Resources.
I hope it works well for you too.
I wish you well — Jonathan Phelan
About Jonathan Phelan
Jonathan is the author of “The Art of the Mentally Healthy Conversation” which tells the story of how Jonathan learned how to manage the challenge of a mental health condition following a child bereavement. The book helps the reader discover how to have mentally healthy conversations, which are more likely to result in support, rather than stigma. It also promotes the benefits of workplaces, universities and schools nurturing a culture in which it is normal for people to talk about their mental health and to offer mutual support for wellbeing and resilience.
Jonathan has held a senior leadership position in a large financial services organisation since 2004, with a long-term career in law, law enforcement and consumer protection. When he went through the trauma of a child bereavement he gained an insight into the obstacles people face when they have mental wellbeing challenges. More importantly he learned how to overcome those obstacles by improving the way we talk about our wellbeing and resilience.
Through his talks, workshops and book Jonathan shares his personal story. Using the drama of how mental health has been portrayed in film, and his own particular take on how our brains process information, Jonathan guides the listener to discover more effective ways to talk about mental wellbeing.
Jonathan also promotes the concept of mutual support for wellbeing; based on the belief that we should all aim to make it normal for people to talk about their mental wellbeing, just as we are already willing to talk about physical wellbeing.