By Dawn Hafner | Des Moines

I have three new vocab words for you to learn and master in 2020. Triggers, buffers and pings — oh, my! If you can master the recognition of these events in your life, they will lead you into a deeper, more profound relationship with yourself, which will lead to deeper, more connected relationships with everyone else in your life.

Wow. Vocab words can do that? Someone call my third grade teacher. I need to apologize.


Triggers are when someone does or says something to you
that is offensive. Well, that is what we think it is. We even have language for this behavior, known as "crossing the line" or "pushing our buttons." But actually, triggers are always an invitation to look inward. Anytime someone can cause us to feel offended, they are actually holding up a mirror for us. This mirror allows us to see a part of ourselves that could use healing.

Take this scenario: My teenager takes all the clean clothes out of the dryer, throws them on the floor so he can fluff his one shirt he needs. Later, I enter laundry room to see this entire load of clean laundry on the floor. Triggered! How dare he? Doesn’t he know how hard I work? How dare he disrespect me? He should value me for doing his laundry!

So, the mirror is this: What is it about me that has my value tied to the laundry or tied even to being treated with respect? What is it in me that believes I am a poor parent if my child did not act thoughtfully? What part of me believes the behavior of my child reflects on my value? Is it possible for me to both accept this reality and not have it reflect on my value? Why do I feel a need to wish reality was different than it is?

These reflections do not mean I don’t still coach my child on how to take more personal responsibility. But it means I can do it without unproductive, fired up, attacking communication.


Buffers (otherwise known as adult binkies) are activities we use to avoid our lives. Humans are 100% feeling beings. We may believe we are logical, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In his book "Descartes’ Error," Antonio Damasio revealed this research. His client Elliot had damage to the area of his brain responsible for emotions. While his intelligence and language areas were intact, his inability to feel emotion rendered him nearly paralyzed in his life. He was unable to make even the simplest decisions, such as what to eat or how to begin a project. We make decisions based on feelings, not logic. Every action we take is to either create or eliminate a feeling.

Most of us haven’t really been taught how to deal with our emotions. We buffer them instead, so we don’t have to feel them. This isn’t really conscious decision on our part. It’s something we’ve learned to do as a deeply ingrained part of our society. Television. Netflix. Shopping. Alcohol. Food. Gambling. Scrolling social media. Even healthy behaviors can be taken to the level of a buffer when used excessively, such as working out or reading.

One of the ways you can learn about yourself very quickly is to identify and remove a couple of your buffers. See what happens. How uncomfortable do you feel when you can’t take the edge off the way you are used to? What does that leave space for if you aren’t on social media or watching Netflix? How does life feel if you don’t fill every small crevice with an activity and instead have some space for boredom to creep in?

Cal Newport, author of "Digital Minimalism" and many other titles, has pointed out the last several years are the first in the history of humankind without some built-in boredom. We are creatures now that fill every single moment of empty space with a device. We used to have built-in down time in the car, in the grocery store line, at the doctor’s office. Now all of that space is filled with technology inches from our faces.


Pings are those little feelings you get to go do something. They usually come all at once as a quick, powerful download. Some people receive pings in symbols meaningful to them. Your body sends you signals through feelings and awareness. This is where the term gut instinct comes from. This is not the nagging "should" voice of your ego. It comes in more like a deep knowing.

You usually don’t know why you are getting this strong feeling, and it doesn’t usually make logical sense. Some people might call these nudges or intuitive hits. It could be grab two quarters and throw them in your pocket. It could be taking a different route to work. It could be text that friend right now. We all get them. We were all born with a powerful intuitive sense, and over the years most of us have conditioned ourselves out of being in touch with it.

To regain a relationship with your intuitive sense, all you need to do is start honoring the pings, no matter how small. Other steps to strengthen that connection are meditation, time in nature, journaling your feelings, or tuning in to your body’s signals. It could be as simple as what to order for dinner or to cancel plans based on a feeling. Start to listen to them, follow them, and over time your connection with this internal system will get stronger. Our subconscious has a deep sense of knowing what is right for us long before our conscious brain gets on board. Malcolm Gladwell dove into this topic in his book "Blink." He proved that our subconscious knows something is amiss far before our conscious brain can recognize and articulate it in the famous stacked card game experiment.

So the next time you get a ping, feel triggered or reach for a buffer, come back to the ideas in this article and use them to create new growth for yourself. All work here is self-work.

The better we know and understand ourselves, the better we can know and understand others.

Dawn Hafner is senior vice president for a Des Moines financial company and on a mission to bring more soul to the business world. You can find her work at, in her book "The Mapmaker – Your 33 Day Journey Towards Daily Presence," and at the podcast "The Solstice Space," available on Spotify and iTunes. Contact her via email.