We all know that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, right? Well, #1 New York Times best-selling business author and expert in behaviour modification Marshall Goldsmith would beg to differ. Goldsmith is an executive coach who operates with what I call the ‘physiotherapist approach’. That is, he believes that change is possible – but you have to do the exercises at home.
‘What’s the biggest behavioural change you’ve ever made as an adult?’ he asks in his latest book Triggers – Sparking positive change and making it last (co-authored with Mark Reiter). ‘Adult behavioural change is the most difficult thing for sentient human beings to accomplish’.
Of course, anybody who has ever attempted to go on a diet or evolve into a ‘morning person’ can agree with him here. Whilst often we know the logical solutions to our problems or the pathways to achieving our goals, our existing behavioural patterns can seem immovable. Goldsmith is aware that most people know exactly what they need to do to achieve their goals, they are simply unaware of what stands in their way. Without an honest self-appraisal and an understanding of what lies beneath their own behaviour, how can anyone possibly create a realistic strategy for lasting change?
Marshall Goldsmith is a leader for leaders – for those who wish to flourish and maximise their potential. His writing is personable and charismatic, as he explains concepts and ideas via his own foibles and development, or through the journeys of his clients. Triggers is populated with references and analogies from sources as diverse as Buddhism, The Godfather, Homer’s The Odyssey and psychological theory. He states in his introduction that if he does his job properly the reader will move closer to becoming the person they want to be and have less regrets. Sounds good to me.
The name of the book itself stems from his theory about why meaningful change is so hard to do. ‘A trigger is any stimulus that reshapes our thoughts and actions’ – that is, our environment can cause or influence the way we behave. Triggers can be external or internal, encouraging or discouraging, subconscious or conscious. They can be sounds, people, places, habits or smells. A trigger is what moves us to act the way we do. A trigger, therefore, is a powerful player in human behaviour. Other than providing an understanding of how triggers instigate behaviour, this book teaches its readers how to create their own triggers to attain more desirable results.
This is where his physiotherapist approach comes in. Goldsmith says that the only way to generate lasting positive change (and he would know) is to become your own coach, maintaining a rigorous schedule of daily self-questioning. He cheerfully describes his own daily regimen of 22 questions, each beginning with ‘Did I do my best today to…’ for which he gives an numeric answer on a scale of 1-10. These questions have evolved over time and concern his professional, personal, health and philosophical priorities. By looking at his answers over time, he says he is able to give himself an honest assessment of where he is at in terms of his overall life satisfaction and development. He recommends this approach to everybody.
Given his wealth of experience and knowledge on the subject, it is humbling to realise that there is no fairytale ending for personal development – it is an ongoing process that contrary to its appearance is not about self-flagellation, but maintaining a self-appointed standard for living and happiness.
There are two underlying ingredients in Goldsmith’s recipe – humility and self-discipline. If you believe yourself to be above honest introspection or can’t commit to personal growth, how can you possibly expect to make positive change in areas? How can you expect to be a CEO and a leader if you cannot start by leading yourself? According to Marshall Goldsmith, to lead a changeless life is hazardous. This book will ensure you are inspired to do otherwise.