May 26, 2015
Marshall Goldsmith teaches us how to instill awareness into our daily lives and use simple behavioral triggers to become the people we want to be.
Triggers tackles one of the most difficult things we have to do to be successful—change our behavior as adults. As they say, "you can't teach an old dog new tricks," but Marshall has been successfully doing just that, with some of the most successful leaders in the world, for more than 35 years now.
The reason it's so hard is that we will do almost anything to avoid it, even if we don't think we are doing so. Even the very notion that we have willpower and won't give into temptation—a seemingly positive and reinforcing belief—can undermine us, because we tend to overestimate our own will and it stops us from seeking help. And we can all use a little help, even if it is just in the from of simple, self-imposed structure.
One of our most dysfunctional beliefs is our contempt for simplicity and structure. We believe that we are above needing structure to help us on seemingly simple tasks. ... This is a natural response that combines three competing impulses: 1) our contempt for simplicity (only complexity is worthy of our attention); 2) our contempt for instruction and follow-up; and 3) our faith, however unfounded, that we can succeed all by ourselves. In combination these three trigger an unappealing exceptionalism in us. When we presume that we are better than people who need structure and guidance, we lack one of the most crucial ingredients for change: humility.
Marshall points to Dr. Atul Gawande's Checklist Manifesto and the startling success of using "a simple five-point checklist involving such rote procedures as washing hands, cleaning the patient's skin, and using a sterile dressing" to decrease infection to the point that they "virtually disappear" in intensive care units. So we learn that structure trumps our best intentions, smarts, and willpower. Doctors and nurses working in these situations are obviously intelligent, capable, and hard-working, but in the end it is a simple checklist that helped lower infection. An easy, literally life-saving behavior change, undermined only by the belief that it wasn't needed.Marshall describes 15 similar belief triggers that inhibit behavioral change, and a straightforward process to instill more awareness of your environment—internal and external—and use behavioral triggers to overcome them. He'll be the first to say it's not easy, but with his help it can be simple. He's also the first not to let "the perfect be the enemy of the good" and will help you decide when you're "good enough" in certain ways, and even when the status quo is desirable, when instead of changing "preserving can be transformational." And if you're still not convinced, check out our Jack Covert Selects review of the book for a little more enticement.