This is not a post about trigger warnings


I learned a couple things the other day:

I heard Mike Birbiglia describe, in an interview, how he was having trouble writing the ending of his most recent movie. He couldn’t find the motivation to actually take the time to sit down and pound out the final 10 pages or so of the script. He’d think: “I need to finish this script” but he’d never get it done. Then he realized he had absolutely no problem keeping appointments with other people, so he decided to trick his brain.

He left himself a note on his bedside table that read: “Mike: You have an appointment with yourself to write at the cafe at 8:30am. Don’t be late! Love, Mike.”

He finished the script.

Also, I learned that turkey mothers are very good mothers, but they only care for the chicks in their brood who make a “cheep-cheep” sound. And not only that, but that animal behaviorists did an experiment one time where they managed to trick a turkey mother into caring for a facsimile of it’s natural enemy (the polecat) by having it make the “cheep-cheep” sound. Take away the “cheep-cheep” and mama got protective. Bring it back, and mama got nurturing.

Scott Adams (he of Dilbert fame) has called humans moist robots. We are basically machines who can be programmed to do certain things given the right conditions and triggers*. Mike Birbiglia just needed a note. The mother turkey just needed a sound.

Like you, I can get paralyzed into inaction easily. For me, it’s not entirely about failure, but more about wasting time and energy. Still, the result is the same: I find myself in situations where I don’t want to do what needs done. So I’ve developed my own set of triggers to get me through those moments. Often I trade on my need to make an impact by simply (and literally) saying out loud: “Well, somebody has to be the adult in the room.”

Fun fact about me: Triggers are so strong that, more than twenty years after learning about classical conditioning, I salivate profusely whenever “Pavlov’s Dog” is mentioned.


*This is also why we make a big deal about “trigger warnings.” We’re trying to be kind and considerate about a phenomenon that is very powerful. Has it gone too far, as some have suggested? I’m not one to say, but there’s a good reason we’ve started being attentive to it.

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If you’re immune to psychological associations and triggers, you might like my book. Or you may be smart enough to see what I’m trying to do, and not click the link.