How to Forecast the Environment for Success

Dear Followers: I’m excited that my new book Triggers is finally finished! Pre-order it now at!
Life Is Good. — Marshall

As we journey through life, we are creating our world and our world is simultaneously creating us. Much of who we are and what we will become is determined by environmental factors that we cannot control. Much of who we are and what we will become is determined by personal choices that we can control. As we experience our world – and it experiences us – we live in a circular cycle of constant change.

So, the question becomes: How can we forecast our environment so that we are aware of its influence over us and how we can use what we learn to our success?

For instance, in San Diego, where I live, I can always identify the neighbors who are fanatical sailors, surfers, or golfers. They’re the ones checking their phones for hourly weather updates. A bumbler like me might think that San Diego has some of the most reliable weather on the planet, but to these guys, every knot, degree, and percentage point of humidity counts! They are determined to participate, enjoy, and succeed at their sports. That’s why they use all the tools at their disposal to determine if the wind on the Pacific Ocean will be blowing, the surf will be up, and the course will be playable. They are not only aware of the environment, they go out of their way to forecast it so that they can choose their plan of attack for that day.

Few of us shape our days with the obsessive forecasting that avid sailors, surfers, and golfers do. If we did, we wouldn’t be blindsided by our environment so often. Yet, once we acknowledge its power over us, we realize that forecasting the environment is necessary if we are going to achieve our goals.

Let’s take a closer look at how to forecast our environment. There are three interconnected stages of importance here: anticipation, avoidance, and adjustment.

1. Anticipation

Successful people are aware of their environment. In the major moments of our lives, when the outcome really matters and failure is not an option, most of us are masters of anticipation.

For example, when an ad agency team enters a client’s conference room to pitch an account, they’ve already honed their presentation, researched the client’s biases, and rehearsed sharp answers to deflect any pushback. They imagine the positive emotional temperature in the room when they’re finished—and then design their pitch to create it.

It’s the same with trial attorneys who never ask a question to which they don’t know the answer. Their entire line of questioning a witness is based on anticipation.

When our performance has clear and immediate consequences, we rise to the occasion. We create our environment. We don’t let it re-create us.

The problem is that the majority of our day consists of minor moments, when we’re not thinking about the environment or our behavior because we don’t associate the situation with any consequences. These seemingly benign environments, ironically, are when we need to be most vigilant. When we’re not anticipating the environment, anything can happen.

I once thought it would be useful to introduce two of my clients to each other over dinner. I should have known better. I knew their political differences. Needless to say, it didn’t go well! My big mistake was a failure to anticipate their behavior in the after-hours environment of dinner at a restaurant—when both men considered themselves off-duty, free to say anything, because it would have no business repercussions. I realize now that proper anticipation would have led to . . .

2. Avoidance

Peter Drucker famously said, “Half the leaders I have met don’t need to learn what to do. They need to learn what to stop.”

It’s no different with our environment. Quite often our smartest response to an environment is avoiding it.

  • If we’re returning home late at night, we don’t take a route through a sketchy high-crime neighborhood.
  • If we’ve given up drinking, we don’t hang out at a bar.
  • If we’re fair-skinned and burn easily in the sun, we skip the beach.
  • If we detest our neighbor Todd, we politely turn down his invitations to visit.

We’re generally shrewd about avoiding environments that present a physical or emotional risk or are otherwise unpleasant.

On the other hand, we rarely triumph over an environment that is enjoyable. We’d rather continue enjoying it than abandon or avoid it. Because of our delusional belief that we can control our environment, we choose to flirt with temptation rather than walk away. We are constantly testing ourselves against it. And dealing with the shock and distress when we fail.

It’s a simple equation: To avoid undesirable behavior, avoid the environments where it is most likely to occur.

3. Adjustment

Of course, there are many moments in life when avoidance is impossible. We have to engage, even if doing so terrifies us (for example, public speaking), or enrages us (for example, visiting our in-laws), or turns us into jerks (for example, conducting business with people we don’t respect).

Adjustment, if we’re lucky, is the end product of forecasting—but only after we anticipate our environment’s impact and eliminate avoidance as an option. Adjustment doesn’t happen that often. Most of us continue our errant ways unchecked. We succeed despite, not because of, falling into the same behavioral traps again and again. Adjustment happens when we’re desperate to change, or have an unexpected insight, or are shown the way by another person (such as a friend or coach).

It’s not a Cloak & Dagger Operation!

So, the bad news is that the environment is a relentless triggering mechanism that, in an instant, can change us from saint to sinner, optimist to pessimist, model citizen to jerk—and make us lose sight of who we’re trying to be.

The good news is that the environment is not conducting a cloak-and-dagger operation. It’s out in the open, providing constant feedback to us. Though we’re often too distracted to hear what the environment is telling us, in those moments when like the golfers, surfers, and sailors in my neighborhood, we’re dialed in and paying attention, the seemingly covert triggers that shape our behavior become apparent and we can anticipate, avoid, and adjust as needed to make real changes in our lives.


See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series and please pre-order Triggers at!

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Triggers Book Trailer

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Are You Playing Your Hand or Are You Being Played?

Dear Followers: I’m excited that my new book Triggers is finally finished! Pre-order it now at!
Life Is Good. — Marshall

Fate is the hand of cards we’ve been dealt. Choice is how we play the hand.

This is a wonderful old saying that has been passed around, revised, and voiced in slightly different ways by many great people. Basically what it says to me is that we were born with a certain physicality, at a certain location, of certain parents, and so on. And, what we become is in very large part the result of how we, and in some cases if we, choose to use the talents we were born with, learn from the experiences we have, and apply that learning along the way. It’s just about that simple.

Because some things are outside of our control, we may feel like victims of circumstance. Victims of fate. I don’t accept that. What would life be like if we just accepted the hand of cards we were dealt and lived the rest of our lives in homeostasis?

Imagine a life in which nothing changed.

I’m not talking about working at the same company for years, or staying married to the same person your entire life. Those are choices to be honored, not regretted or derided. They reflect a sturdy permanence worth celebrating.

Nor am I talking about going through life and not changing the food we order in a restaurant, the style of clothes we wear, the music, TV shows, and books we enjoy, even the social and political views we hold. Going through life and never changing our tastes, opinions, and everyday preferences is unimaginable—because our environment won’t allow it. The world around us changes and we change with it, if only because it’s easier to go with the flow.

What I am talking about is our interpersonal behavior and our resistance to changing how we treat other people. For instance,

The sister we haven’t seen or spoken to in years because of some long-forgotten grievance.

The old friend we still tease with a cruel childhood nickname that he’s long outgrown.

The neighbor we’ve seen for years and, out of shyness or inertia or indifference, have never talked to.

The customers we resent for the demands they place on us.

Most of us would mock a restaurant that never changed its menu. But we are not so reproachful or mocking with ourselves. We take a foolish pride in prolonging some behaviors as long as possible, with no regard for who is harmed. Only when it’s too late to undo the damage and we have reached some objective distance do we rethink our behavior, perhaps regret it. Why did we go all those years without talking to our sister? Why were we cruel to our best friend? What relationship did we miss by not introducing ourselves to a neighbor? Why not thank a customer for placing the order?

When we prolong negative behavior—both the kind that hurts the people we love and the kind that hurts us in some way—we are leading a changeless life in the most hazardous manner. We are willfully choosing to be miserable and making others miserable, too. The time we are miserable is time we can never get back. Even more painful, it is all our doing. It is our choice.

So, now it’s your turn. Think about one change that you can make that you won’t regret later on. (That’s the only criterion: you won’t feel sorry you did it.) Maybe it’s calling your mother to tell her you love her. Or thanking a customer for his loyalty. Or saying nothing instead of something cynical in a meeting. It could be anything, as long as it represents a departure, however modest, from what you’ve always done and could continue doing forever.

Now do it. Take that action. It will be good for your friends. It will be good for your customers. It will be good for your family. Most important, it will be better for you. So much better, you will want to do it again!

See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series and please pre-order Triggers at!

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A Six-Second Six Pack? Really, Now…

Dear Followers: I’m excited that my new book Triggers is finally finished! Pre-order it now at!
Life Is Good. — Marshall

Recently, I found myself channel surfing on a Saturday morning. I was amazed by the number of ads/infomercials I saw about getting in shape!

Here are some of the phrases I heard:

  • “Six-second six pack”
  • “Easy shaper”
  • “Incredible – a miracle!”
  • “It feels terrific! Let us show you how easy it is!”
  • “Turn your flabby abs into that sexy six pack!”

My personal favorite was an ad that claimed “visible results” could be achieved in two three-minute sessions!

If you want to know why so many goal setters don’t become goal achievers, you can pore over a bunch of enlightening academic studies about goals or you can watch these ads for 15 minutes. Where did we ever get the crazy idea that getting in shape is supposed to be quick and easy? Why do we think that there will be almost no cost? Why are we surprised that working out is arduous and healthy foods don’t always taste that good?

We see the impact of this delusional thinking around us every day. For instance, a few months ago, Mary, an EVP for Human Resources, who was dealing with the integration of people and systems after her company made a large acquisition. “Don, our CEO, has been hearing some serious grumbling about Bill, our Chief Information Officer,” she groaned. “Bill is 56 years old and has great experience. No one else in the company can match it. Unfortunately, he wants everything to be done ‘his way.’ There are some brilliant people in the company we acquired who have their own ideas. Several of their top people, including our new COO, are expressing concerns about Bill. Don wants this issue resolved now! He has suggested that we get an executive coach to work with Bill. Given Bill’s busy schedule and our immediate needs, Don would like to see a dramatic change in Bill within a couple of months. Because Bill is also very impatient, he won’t work with a coach that will waste his valuable time. Do you think that you can help us? When could you start?”

Like all of the folks that buy these “miracle” products to help them get in shape, Mary wanted a “miracle” coach to change Bill — immediately!

I pointed out that Bill was a 56-year-old executive. Just as with diet and exercise, Bill’s behavioral habits took years to develop and won’t go away overnight. We all set goals to get some aspect of our lives in shape. All too often, they don’t come to fruition. Why? Four of the major challenges to goal achievement are:

  1. Time: This is taking a lot longer than I thought it would. I don’t have time for this.
  2. Effort: This is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I’m tired. It’s just not worth it.
  3. Competing goals: I had no idea I would be so busy this year. I’ll just have to worry about this later.
  4. Maintenance: After I got in shape, I celebrated by indulging in some of the actions that forced me to set my goals in the first place. Now, for some unexplained reason, I’m back where I started. What am I supposed to do? Go on some kind of “diet” for the rest of my life?

We often confuse the words simple and easy. The changes I help people make are generally very simple. However, they are never easy. Just as with diet and exercise, changing behavior involves hard work. It takes time.

During the next year, Bill would be barraged with competing goals that would distract him from his efforts to change. He needed to realize that lasting leadership development is a lifelong process. A temporary change in behavior to “look good” in the short term would only create cynicism if Bill didn’t stick with it. If Bill were interested in investing time, working hard, making this change a high-priority goal and continuing his changed behavior throughout his career, then I could definitely help him. If not, hiring me would probably be a waste of everyone’s time.

Look in the mirror. Not just at how you look but who you are. If you want to be a better leader, a better professional or just a better person—don’t kid yourself—to achieve meaningful goals you’ll have to pay the price. There’s no product, no diet, no exercise program and (I hate to admit it) no executive coach that can make you better. Only you can make you better. If your source motivation doesn’t come from inside, you won’t stick with it and you won’t get the job done.

This is may not be great advice for a Saturday morning TV ad (could you imagine?), but it is great advice for any real achievement!

See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series and please pre-order Triggers at!

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4 Reasons We Settle for “Good Enough”

In behavioral change, there are no absolutes. We never achieve perfect patience or generosity, empathy or humility. This is nothing to be ashamed of. The best we can hope for is a consistency in our effort—a persistence of striving. What’s worrisome is when the striving stops, our lapses become more frequent, and we begin to coast on our reputation. This is the perilous moment when we start to settle for “good enough.”

Why do we settle for “good enough”?

Let’s look at four environments that trigger “good enough” behavior.

  1. Our motivation is marginal. If your motivation for a task or goal is in any way compromised—because you lack the skill, or don’t take the task seriously, or think what you’ve done so far is good enough—don’t take it on. Find something else to show the world how much you care, not how little.
  2. We’re working pro bono. Pro bono is an adjective, not an excuse. If you think doing folks a favor justifies doing less than your best, you’re not doing anyone any favors. People forget your promise, but remember your performance. It’s like a restaurant donating food to a homeless shelter, but delivering shelf-dated leftovers and scraps that hungry people can barely swallow. The restaurant owner thinks she’s being generous, that any donation is better than nothing. Better than nothing is not even close to good enough—and good enough, after we make a promise, is never good enough.
  3. We behave like “amateurs”. We segregate the parts we’re good at from the parts we’re not—and treat our strengths as the real us. The weaknesses are an aberration; they belong to a stranger, someone we refuse to acknowledge as us. This is how we confer amateur status on ourselves and secure our license for good enough. We are professionals at what we do, amateurs at what we want to become. We need to erase this devious distinction—or at least close the gap between professional and amateur—to become the person we want to be. Being good over here does not excuse being not so good over there.
  4. We have compliance issues. We all have compliance issues, admitted or not. We all resist being told how to behave, even when it’s for our own good or we know our failure to comply will hurt someone. When we engage in noncompliance, we’re not just being sloppy and lazy. It’s more aggressive and rude than that. We’re thumbing our noses at the world, announcing, “The rules don’t apply to us. Don’t rely on us. We don’t care.” We’re drawing a line at good enough and refusing to budge beyond it.

Good enough isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In many areas of life, chasing perfection is a fool’s errand, or at least a poor use of our time. We don’t need to spend hours taste-testing every mustard on the gourmet shelf to find the absolute best; a good enough brand will often suffice for our sandwich. The problem begins when this good enough attitude spills beyond our marketplace choices and into the things we say and do. In the interpersonal realm—we’re talking about how a husband treats his wife, or a daughter deals with an aging parent, or a trusted friend responds when people are counting on her—good enough is setting the bar too low. It disappoints people, creates distress where there should be harmony, and, taken to extremes, ends up destroying relationships.

The Great Payoff for Not Settling for “Good Enough”

We immediately recognize high motivation in the extraordinary effort of others—say, an assistant staying late while we’re heading home or our child going straight to his room to tackle homework rather than plop in front of the TV. We note it and admire it—because it’s inspiring to see people spurning the seductive pull of good enough.

And, for the person (and those around him or her) who doesn’t succumb to the “good enough” trap, the payoff for not settling is immense! When we dive all the way into adult behavioral change—with 100 percent focus and energy—we become an irresistible force rather than the proverbial immovable object. We begin to change our environment rather than be changed by it. The people around us sense this. And, funnily enough, through our efforts to be better, we become a trigger for others to achieve their own positive change!

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How to Instantly Make Your Life Better!

Have you ever tried to change your boss? Your partner? The guy on the road who cut you off? How’d that work out for you? Did that person hear, understand, and magically start doing things your way and suddenly all was right with the world again? Or did you become frustrated, irritable, and angry at their lack of attention to your plan for how people, more specifically they themselves, should behave? Think about it for a minute – I’d wager that your episodes of non-acceptance trigger more bad behaviors than the fallout from just about anything else you do.

Here’s an even harder question: have you ever tried to change something about yourself that was out of your control? I have. It was a fruitless and vain attempt, which I’ll tell you now had a happy ending not because I changed what I couldn’t change, but because I made peace with it.

At 26, I was married to my first and only wife, Lyda. I was pursuing a doctorate in organizational behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles. Since high school I had been a folliclly challenged man, but back then I was loath to admit it. Each morning I would spend several minutes in front of the bathroom mirror carefully arranging the wispy blond stands of hair still remaining on the top of my head. I’d smooth the hairs forward from back to front, then curve them to a point in the middle of my forehead, forming a pattern that looked vaguely like a laurel wreath. Then I’d walk out into the world with my ridiculous comb-over, convinced I looked normal like everyone else.

When I visited my barber, I’d give specific instructions on how to cut my hair. One morning I dozed off in the chair, so he trimmed my hair too short, leaving insufficient foliage on the sides to execute my comb-over regimen. I could have panicked and put on a hat for a few weeks, waiting for the strands to grow back. But as I stood in front of the mirror later that day, staring at my reflected image, I said to myself, “Face it, you’re bald. It’s time you accepted it.”

That’s the moment when I decided to shave the few remaining hairs on the top of my head and live my life as a bald man. It wasn’t a complicated decision and it didn’t take great effort to accomplish. A short trim at the barber from them on. But in many ways, it is still the most liberating change I’ve made as an adult. It made me happy, at peace with my appearance.

I’m not sure what triggered my acceptance of a new way of self-grooming. Perhaps I was horrified at the prospect of starting every day with this routine forever. Or maybe it was the realization that I wasn’t fooling anyone. The reason doesn’t matter. The real achievement is that I decided to make peace with what is. And it instantly made my life better!

In my walk through life I’ve discovered a number of main themes that require acceptance. These are just facts of life, and we cannot change them. Here are just a few, so you can get the idea:

  1. Our physical body – height, hair growth, body type (there’s always plastic surgery, but you get the idea)
  2. The weather
  3. Traffic
  4. Other people
  5. The fact that decision makers have the power to make decisions – and we are not always the decision makers!
  6. The fact that change requires consistent effort; it is a process, not an overnight event. If we don’t put in the effort, we won’t change.
  7. That misfortunes are often the result of fate or bad luck, they are not because that we are bad people or that someone is trying to “get us”.

There are many, many more things about life that we need to accept if we’re going to be happy. Take a moment to think about it. Can you name some for yourself? What are they? Make a list, take a breath, and let them go. And remember, change requires consistent effort, so don’t be surprised if you have to do this again tomorrow!

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Road to Reinvention: Leadership in the Digital Age

My friend and colleague Vijay Gurbaxani of the Center for Digital Transformation’s Road to Reinvention: Leadership in the Digital Age executive forum on March 19th, will be hosted on the UC Irvine campus. It is a one-day forum that will provide strategic insights to develop a roadmap for business reinvention.

As a part of The Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine, the Center conducts research and develops programs for the business community that address the full impact technology has, and will continue to have, on how businesses think, operate and grow.

Martin Giles, the Senior Technology Correspondent at The Economist, and CDT’s Director, Vijay Gurbaxani, will be moderating individual and panel Q&A discussion with executives from companies including Cognizant, OpenTable, Oakley, Walmart, Marriott and IBM Watson. In addition, Arun Sundararajan, a Sharing Economy Expert and Professor at NYU, will also be sharing his expertise and will be paired with Instacart.

The full program and list of speakers are on their conference website.

If you need additional assistance, call (714) 979-9131 or email their Event Manager, Cynthia Fusco, at

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Who Else Wants to Be Happy?

The Great Western Disease is “I’ll be happy when . . .” This is our belief that happiness is a static and finite goal, within our grasp when we get that promotion, or buy that house, or find that mate, or whatever. It’s inculcated in us by the most popular story line in contemporary life: There is a person. The person spends money on a product or service. The person is eternally happy…

This is called a TV commercial. The average American spends 140,000 hours watching TV commercials. Some brainwashing is inevitable. Is it any wonder that we become so attached to any change we make that we think it will change us forever? We set a goal, and mistakenly believe that in achieving that goal we will be changed forever, happy at last. But this just isn’t so.

And, it gets worse. It’s our attachment to the goal that keeps most of us from achieving long-term, lasting change. It’s the difference between, say, getting in shape and staying in shape—hitting our physical conditioning goals and maintaining them. Even if we get there, we cannot stay there without commitment and discipline. We have to keep going to the gym.

Whether it’s flat abs or a new reputation, most of us want to see results now, not later. We see the gap between the effort required today and the reward we’ll reap in an undetermined future—and lose our enthusiasm for change. We crave instant gratification and chafe at the prospect of prolonged trying.

By focusing on effort, rather than goals, we distract ourselves from our obsession with results (because that’s not what we’re measuring). In turn, we are free to appreciate the process of change and our role in making it happen. We’re no longer frustrated by the languid pace of visible progress—because we’re looking in another direction.

So, as you journey through your day and you find that you would like to make an attempt at changing your life or your behavior in one way or another, there are three things to remember:

  1. Change doesn’t happen overnight.
  2. Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out.
  3. If we make the effort, we will get better. If we don’t, we won’t.

Commitment. Motivation. Self-discipline. Self-control. Patience. These are powerful allies when we try to change our ways – and even more powerful in keeping them changed.


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10 Belief Triggers that Sabotage Your Success

Some of our inner beliefs can trigger failure before it happens. They sabotage change by cancelling its possibility! Discover how to recognize these sabotaging beliefs and learn what you can do about them.

I’m sure you’ve met him, or her. That person who says he’ll finish the project tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes. Or the person who promises to call as soon as she gets home, but you never hear from her.

We know lots of people like this. If we’re a hard case, we cut them out of our lives. If we’re a “softie”, we make excuses, and try to let it go. Either way, these people, who make promises to change one day and excuses not to the next, exist.

And, we may have even done this ourselves! I know I have. For those of us who admit to it, we know our genius becomes more acute when it’s our turn to change how we behave. That’s when we fall back on a set of beliefs that trigger denial, resistance, and ultimately self-delusion. These beliefs are more wicked than excuses. An excuse is the handy explanation we offer when we disappoint other people. It is acute and convenient, often made up on the spot. Basically an excuse is a variation on “The dog ate my homework,” and these are so abused it’s a wonder anyone believes them.

What do we call the excuses we privately harbor when we disappoint ourselves? Mere “excuse” is somehow inadequate to describe these inner beliefs that represent how we interpret our world. An excuse explains why we fell short of expectations after the fact. Our inner beliefs trigger failure before it happens. They sabotage change by cancelling its possibility. We employ these beliefs as articles of faith to justify our inaction and then wish away the result. I call them belief triggers and we think them all day long. Here’s a not-extensive list, but it should get you started on where I’m going with this.

1. I am the same ‘me’
The person who promised to change yesterday is not the same person who has to execute that change today. We make promises to ourselves and others today that we cannot keep tomorrow. This is a most illusory belief – because it triggers over-confidence in our ability to execute our plan.

2. If I change I am ‘inauthentic’
We refuse to adapt our behavior to new situations because “it isn’t me.” This belief triggers stubbornness.

3. I won’t get tired
When we intend to work long hours, we’re not exhausted. But after we work several hours we become tired and are eager to throw in the towel. It’s the same with changing our ways – we grow tired with the effort it takes to change. This triggers depletion.

4. I understand the requirements
People who read my writing often tell me, “It’s common sense. I didn’t read anything here that I don’t already know.” True, but there’s a difference between understanding and doing. Just because people understand what to do doesn’t ensure that they will actually do it. This belief triggers confusion.

5. It has to be perfect
Even when we appreciate that nothing is permanent, we still believe in the idea of perfection – that there is a perfect weight, a perfect job, a perfect state of mind if only we strive harder to achieve it. This triggers hopelessness — so we give up.

6. It’s not fair
We have an unshakeable belief in the essential fairness of life – that if we do what is asked of us, we will be rewarded for it. When that faith is shaken and we see that life is not fair, we feel cheated. Our dashed expectations trigger resentment. We convince ourselves that the game is rigged against us and refuse to play again. In other words, we stop trying.

7. I can do it on my own
We believe that we are solely responsible for our own happiness and success, that positive change starts and ends within us and is neither shaped nor determined by the people around us. We abuse self-sufficiency, ignoring the value of a supportive environment, taking foolish pride in doing it all ourselves. We trigger our isolation.

8. Nothing will interrupt my focus
We don’t plan for the low-probability events because, by definition, any one of them is unlikely to occur. But in the aggregate, low probability events affect us all the time. Who plans on a flat tire, or accident, or stalled traffic because of an overturned semi on their way to work? This belief triggers unrealistic expectations.

9. ‘At least I’m better than…’
In a down moment after failure or loss, we tell ourselves, “At least I’m better than _______.” We award ourselves a free pass because we’re not the worst in the world. This is our excuse to take it easy, lowering the bar on our motivation and discipline. We’ve triggered a false sense of immunity.

10. I am exempt on this ‘special day’
Today is the Super Bowl, or my birthday, or our anniversary, or my day off. We excuse our momentary lapse as an outlier event, a blip in the long arc of committed change we are making. This belief triggers a self-indulgent inconsistency – which is fatal for change.

Overconfidence. Stubbornness. Depletion. Confusion. Hopelessness. Resentment. Isolation. Unrealistic expectations. Immunity. Inconsistency. That’s a lot of heavy baggage to carry on our journey of change.

These are just some of the rationalizations that keep us from becoming the person we want to be. Now that you’ve read them, I bet they’re nothing you’ve not heard before! Keep watch in your daily life for them, keep track of how often you use one of these trigger beliefs, see if you can come up with others. This is a great exercise, because as you know awareness is the first step towards change!

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The One Question You Need to Ask Yourself before You Say Anything

Conflict is an unavoidable part of our lives, whether we’re CEOs, entrepreneurs, parents, spouses, engineers or ditch diggers. In some cases, conflict stimulates us to accomplish great things. It can also drag us off course, eroding our relationships, stalling our careers and keeping us from becoming the people we want to become.

So which conflicts are useful and which are counter-productive? As an executive coach, I’ve been helping successful leaders achieve positive, lasting change in behavior for more than 35 years. My experience with great leaders has led me to develop a simple formulation, one that can help you avoid pointless skirmishes and help you take on the challenges that really matter. Follow it, and you will dramatically shrink your daily volume of stress, unpleasant debate and wasted time.

I phrase it as a question:


It pops into my head so often each day that I’ve turned the first five words into an acronym, AIWATT (which I find appropriately rhymes with Say What?). AIWATT doesn’t require you to do anything, it merely helps you avoid doing something you’ll regret.

Perhaps you’re thinking, ‘I don’t need to repeat a simple question to know which battles are worth fighting.’ But I believe that all of us – even the most brilliant and successful – need exactly this kind of help. In my new book Triggers (Crown, May 2015), I make the case that relying on structure – even something as simple as the AIWATT question – is key to changing our behavior.

Why? Because in every waking hour we are bombarded by people, events, and circumstances that have the potential to change us – the triggers in the title of my book. We often fail to appreciate just how much these triggers affect us, and how difficult it is to fend them off without some kind of support.

AIWATT is just one of the tactics I suggest. Of course, it isn’t a universal panacea for all our interpersonal problems, but it has a specific utility. It’s a reminder that our environment tempts us many times a day to engage in pointless arguments. And, it creates a split-second delay in our potentially prideful, cynical, judgmental, argumentative, and selfish responses to our environment. This delay gives us time to consider a more positive response.

Let’s look at the question a little more closely.

“Am I willing” implies that we are exercising volition – taking responsibility – rather than surfing along the waves of inertia that otherwise rule our day. We are asking, “Do I really want to do this?”

“At this time” reminds us that we’re operating in the present. Circumstances will differ later on, demanding a different response. The only issue is what we’re facing now.

“To make the investment required” reminds us that responding to others is work, an expenditure of time, energy and opportunity. And, like any investment, our resources are finite. We are asking, “Is this really the best use of my time?”

“To make a positive difference” places the emphasis on the kinder, gentler side of our nature. It’s a reminder that we can either help create a better us or a better world. If we’re not accomplishing one or the other, why are we getting involved?

“On this topic” focuses us on the matter at hand. We can’t solve every problem. The time we spend on topics where we can’t make a positive difference is stolen from topics where we can.

Like closing our office door so people hesitate before they knock, asking ourselves, “Am I willing, at this time, to make the investment required to make a positive difference on this topic?” gives us a thin barrier of breathing room, time enough to inhale, exhale, and reflect before we engage or move on. In doing so, we block out the chatter and noise – we make peace with what we are not going to change – freeing ourselves to tackle the changes that really matter in our lives.


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