Feeling Tired & Depleted? 3 Steps to Overcome Both!

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

Finally just around the corner (May 19) is the publication of my new book Triggers! This week’s blog is the second of a short series that is going to be all about the book, its content, and its message. More specifically this week, I’m going to share with you how you can overcome feeling depleted (and succeed anyway) and how I use the material from Triggers in my coaching practice.

Do I see the themes from Triggers elsewhere in thought leadership?

Yes, I do. There’s a lot of exciting new research being done in the areas of goal-achievement and depletion and why we do and don’t achieve our goals. As a matter of fact, Triggers is the product of about two years of thought and research I’ve done. To date, I’ve done 79 different studies with 2537 participants. The studies are ongoing and the pool of participants keeps growing! There’s been a lot of work behind Triggers – so it’s not something I just thought of in a day or two.

For instance, in the book, I talk about depletion and its effect on us in our daily lives. As you might know, one of this book’s central arguments is that our environment affects us in powerful, insidious, and mysterious ways. Depletion is one of those environmental hazards. Viewing depletion as an external trigger is a way of seeing the world anew and appreciating the demands placed on us by our constant efforts at self-regulation.

For example, say you wake up later than usual with insufficient time for your morning workout. You tell yourself you’ll hit the gym that evening after work. But at day’s end, carrying your briefcase and gym bag from the office, you think, “I can skip today. I’ll work out tomorrow morning.”

What’s going on here? Why do our discipline and decisiveness fade at the end of the day, to the point where we opt to do nothing instead of doing something enjoyable or useful? It’s not because we’re inherently weak. It’s because we’re weakened. By the end of the day, we’re worn down and vulnerable to foolish choices.

Depletion isn’t limited to self-control. It applies to many forms of self-regulated behavior. Most obviously it affects our decision making. The more decisions we’re obliged to make, whether it’s choosing among the dozens of options when buying a new car or reducing the list of attendees at an off-site meeting, the more fatigued we get in handling subsequent decisions. Researchers call this decision fatigue, a state that leaves us with two courses of action: 1) we make careless choices or 2) we surrender to the status quo and do nothing. Decision fatigue is why the head-scratching purchases we make on Tuesday get returned on Wednesday; we’re more clearheaded the next day when we’re not depleted. It’s also why we put off decisions; we’re too drained to decide now.

So, given that depletion is an external trigger that can lead us not to achieve our goal of becoming the person we want to be, what do we do? How do we combat this treacherous trigger?

Step 1: Track your day: Once your eyes are opened, new courses of action immediately come to mind. Most obviously, you can start tracking our days in terms of depletion.

Step 2: Assemble a list: We can’t measure or quantify our depletion—we’re not even aware of it—but you can assemble a useful list of what is or isn’t depleting.

Step 3: Structure your day: Structure is how we overcome depletion. In an almost magical way, structure slows down how fast our discipline and self-control disappear. When you have structure, you don’t have to make as many choices; you just follow the plan. And the net result is you’re not being depleted as quickly.

Do I plan to use the research in the book Triggers in my coaching work?

I am definitely going to use the findings in my coaching! I have already used them many times. In fact, I did so again today.

Today I worked with the President of the New York Public Library. I’m a volunteer for the library and I worked with his top five people. We used material from the book Triggers. We talked about the environment they’re trying to create, and talked about my friend Alan Mulally’s process. Alan is the former CEO of Ford), and I talk about him and his process and its benefits in the book. I used a lot of the material from Triggers today, and after reading the book, I hope you will too.

I’m looking forward to sharing more of my thoughts on Triggers with you next week!

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

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Are You Unhappy at Work? Change Your Default!

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

Triggers is based on the fascinating realization I had a few years ago at an NAHR meeting that the key variable in behavioral change, in coaching, in life, is you!

At this meeting there were many great HR leaders presenting. During the presentations, I had an epiphany: every single one of them focused on what the company could do to engage the employees – not one of them focused on what the employees could do to engage themselves. They were missing half of the equation!

The problem with this focus is that as a person working for the company, I am reinforced into believing that the company should be making my life better. As a result, I don’t make the effort to change my life, my behavior, or my situation. I get stuck in the rut of thinking, ‘If only it would change, my life would be better.’ And, while it may get better for a short time with a new program or higher pay, in the long term when the novelty of it wears off, I go back to my default – dissatisfied and unhappy. Unfortunately, this becomes an endless cycle that I am destined to repeat until I examine my half of the equation.

So, with that as our foundation, let’s get started learning more about the concepts behind the writing of Triggers! I am so excited to share this new material with you, because it will help you become the person you want to be.

Marshall Goldsmith on Triggers: Part 1

Over the past few months, I’ve been asked many questions by people interested in the book. I’ve distilled these down into a few general questions and these will be the focus of my next few blogs. I hope you enjoy them and find them helpful!

What does the title “Triggers” mean to me?

Triggers came to me because in my coaching I realized the following:

My first inclination as a coach was to think that people would get better because of me, because I was a good coach. I gave them clever advice. Why not? Then I realized that the key variable wasn’t me. It was the person I was coaching. Some people got a lot better with my coaching, some didn’t. I’d used the same process, not done anything differently, why was this?

As I got further into coaching, I realized that the key variable wasn’t just the person, and it wasn’t just me. It was also the environment the person lived in. It had a lot to do with how the environment influences us.

Take as an extreme negative example, a drug addict. They go to rehab. They clean up. Things are looking good. When you put them back in that same environment with the same triggers that pushed them in the wrong direction in the first place, the chances are very high that they’ll go back in the wrong direction again.

Because of this insight, today I focus a lot on triggers in the environment in my coaching engagements and how these triggers can change our behaviors, often in ways we do not want.

What are some of your other books?

I’ve written and edited 34 books, which have sold about two million copies.

I have two mega-best sellers. One of them is called What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. It has had fantastic success. It was the Harold Longman Winner for Business Book of the Year, has been translated into 30 languages, and is a bestseller in 12 countries.

The other mega-seller, Mojo, is also a New York Times best seller and has been translated into about 20 languages. I wrote both of these books with my partner Mark Reiter, who is also my co-author on Triggers.

Why did you choose the subject matter in “Triggers”?

I wanted to write Triggers because it’s different.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There is about inter-personal relationships, leadership behavior, and how to develop relationships with people. Mojo is much more of an intra-personal perspective on the world as I see it. Its focus is how I look at myself and how I find meaning and happiness by looking at myself internally.

Triggers is about how the environment influences us and how we can become the person we want to be in spite of and even because of its affect. It takes as its foundation my philosophies on relationships between people and the importance of gaining perspective about myself. It marries these with how the world out there influences me and how I influence the world out there, so that I can become the person I want to be.

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

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12 Amazing Tips that Will Change Your Life!

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

Since May 2014, I have posted the Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Blog every week –  50 blogs in 50 weeks. This week is the culmination of that effort #50!

In each blog I have shared a nugget of knowledge, a piece of advice, or an amazing tip for success. In the list below you’ll find 12 amazing tips that will change your life and help you to become the person that you want to be. Plus, there’s a link to the video and written blog so you can learn more about each insight. And, I hope you’ll explore the rest of the videos in the playlists listed at the end of this blog and that all of these tips are helpful to you on your journey through life!

  1. Stop trying to win everything. This is the #1 challenge for most people, because it underlies nearly every other behavioral problem. Our obsession with winning crosses the spectrum of our lives. The next time you start trying to win and prove you’re right, take a deep breath and ask yourself: Exactly what am I winning? We can become more successful if we appreciate this “flaw” and work to suppress it in all of our interpersonal relations. (video/article)
  2. Stop adding value to others’ ideas all the time. The overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion deflates others’ enthusiasm and dampers their commitment. What does this mean for leaders? It means closely monitoring how you hand out encouragement and suggestions. You may realize that you have more to gain by not always adding value! (video/article)
  3. The best question to ask when you’re soliciting feedback (both at work and at home) is: How can I be a better ________________ (friend, partner, employer, worker, leader, daughter, father, etc.)? (video/article)
  4. If you want to change, you must follow-up! This step is essential. If you don’t do follow up, your chances of changing are slight! (video/article)
  5. Quality communication is the glue that holds organizations together. By using feedforward—and by encouraging others to use it—leaders can dramatically improve the quality of communication in their organizations. (video/article)
  6. Even the best coach in the world can’t help an uncoachable person. The four indicators that you are dealing with someone who is uncoachable are: She doesn’t think she has a problem. He is pursuing the wrong strategy for the organization. She is in the wrong job. He thinks everyone else is the problem. (video/article)
  7. Our belief in ourselves helps us become successful and it can also make it very hard for us to change. This is the conundrum of the Success Delusion! (video/article)
  8. Many leaders think they need to delegate more to be more effective as leaders. This is frequently not true. Most often leaders don’t need to delegate more, they need to delegate more effectively! (video/article)
  9. Once we get over whining because ‘life isn’t fair’ – we can become more effective at influencing others and make a positive difference! (video/article)
  10. There is often a great discrepancy between the self we think we are and the self the rest of the world sees in us. This can hold you back! Learn how aligning your stated values to your actual behavior can lead you to great success. (video/article)
  11. Changing behavior involves hard work and it takes time. If you want to be a better leader, a better professional, or a better person, you’ll have to do some work! (video/article)
  12. The moment we stop striving and begin to coast on our good reputation is the perilous moment when we settle for “good enough.” And, this is the moment when, at best, change stops and, at worst, we revert back to our old ways. (video/article)

For more amazing tips, I encourage you to watch all of my videos in their playlists on YouTube. For easy access and playability, I’ve listed them in order below and provided the link to the series.

  1. Teaching Leaders What to Stop
  2. Leadership Is a Contact Sport
  3. Coaching for Behavioral Change
  4. Coaching for Leaders
  5. Personal Advice
  6. Triggers

And I’m thrilled to tell you that your feedback has been so overwhelmingly positive that I am going to continue posting the blog! The focus of my next blogs will be ideas from my new book Triggers, which will be published May 19, 2015. There is so much new content about becoming the person you want to be (both at work and at home) that I am incredibly excited for this next series of videos. I hope you enjoy them and find them useful!

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

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What Is the Best Coaching Advice You Will Ever Get?

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

This is a great question, and the answer is going to come from an unexpected source. But, I think you’ll agree this is the best coaching advice you will ever get. It’s not going to come from me – it’s going to come from you. Ready?

Imagine yourself at 95 years old, knowing what was important and what wasn’t. Take that knowledge to heart now, both for your career and for your personal life.

You are now about to receive the best coaching advice that you will ever get in this—or perhaps any other—lifetime! You are about to receive advice from a very wise old person. Listen very carefully to what this wise old person says.

First, take a deep breath. Take a deeper breath. Now, imagine that you are 95 years old and you are just about to die. Here comes your last breath. But before you take your last breath, you are being given a wonderful, beautiful gift: the ability to travel back in time and talk with the person who is reading this column. The 95-year-old you has been given the chance to help the you of today to have a great career and, much more important, to have a great life.

Figure Out What Counts

The 95-year-old you knows what was really important and what wasn’t; what really mattered and what didn’t; what really counted and what didn’t count at all. What advice does the wise “old you” have for the you reading this column? Take your time. Jot down the answers on two levels: personal advice and professional advice. And once you have written down these words, take them to heart.

In the world of performance appraisals, this may well be the one that matters most. At the end of life, if the old you thinks that you did the right thing, you probably did. If the old you thinks that you screwed up, you probably did. At the end of life, you don’t have to impress anyone else—just that person you see in the mirror.

A friend of mine actually had the opportunity to talk with old people who were facing death and to ask them what advice they would have had for themselves. Their answers were filled with wisdom. One recurring theme was to take the time to reflect on life and find happiness and meaning now. A frequent comment from old people runs along the lines of: “I got so wrapped up in looking at what I didn’t have that I missed what I did have. I had almost everything. I wish I had taken more time to appreciate it.”

Look to the Present

The great Western disease of “I will be happy when …” is sweeping the world. You know the symptoms. You start thinking: I will be happy when I get that … that promotion … that status … that money. The only way to cure the disease is to find happiness and meaning now.

A second theme from old folks was friends and family. You may work for a wonderful company and believe that your contribution is very important. But when you are 95 and you look around your death bed, very few of your fellow employees will be waving goodbye! Your friends and family will probably be the only people who care.

Don’t get so lost in pleasing the people who don’t care that you neglect the people who do.

Give It a Try!

Another recurring theme was to follow your dreams. Older people who tried to achieve their dreams were happier with their lives. None of us will ever achieve all of our dreams. If we do, we will just make up new ones! If we go for it, we can at least say at the end, “I tried!” instead of, “Why didn’t I at least try?”

In conducting research for one of my books, my co-author and I interviewed more than 200 high-potential leaders from around the world. A key question that we asked was: “If you stay in this company, why are you going to stay?”

The top three answers:

  1. “I am finding meaning and happiness now. The work is exciting, and I love what I am doing.”
  2. “I like the people here. They are my friends. This feels like a team—like a family. I might make more money if I left, but I don’t want to leave the people here.”
  3. “I can follow my dreams. This organization is giving me the chance to grow and do what I really want to do in life.”

When my friend asked people who were on their death beds what really mattered in life, and when I asked young, high-potential leaders what really mattered at work, we heard about the same thing.

If you want to make a new beginning in life—look ahead to the end. Then decide what to do.

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

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A Radical New Approach to Employee Engagement

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

In my new book Triggers, I propose a radical new approach to employee engagement. To me, this new approach is the “other half of the equation”, the missing piece, the thing that we’ve been overlooking that could change the business landscape for good!

What is this radical new concept? It’s that the key variable in employee engagement is the individual, the employee, not the program. Although it may sound obvious, this idea is not taught or acted upon. Instead, companies spend billions of dollars every year trying to get employees and leaders to believe that the solution to employee engagement problems is “out there” not “in us”. For example:

  • Historically, almost all of the evaluations of leadership development programs have focused on participants grading the popularity of the speakers. The goal of the program developers is to develop popular programs. Who learns to take responsibility? Who is really being trained? The speaker! The speaker is reinforced for being a popular presenter. The speaker almost never has any responsibility for the actual development of the leaders. The leaders may or may not take responsibility for their own development. Many take no responsibility for implementing what they learn in programs and, not surprisingly, do not become more effective.
  • Historically, almost all of the evaluations of executive coaching is on the popularity of the coach. Companies want to hire coaches who are popular with executives. Who learns to take responsibility? Who is really being trained? The executive coach is reinforced for being popular. The coaching clients may or may not take responsibility for changing their own behavior. Many take no responsibility for implementing suggestions from their coach and, not surprisingly, do not become better leaders.
  • Historically, almost all of the evaluation on employee engagement has focused on the company. These are important things like delivering fair pay and benefits, providing tools and resources, creating a safe workplace environment, and so on. But who is learning to take responsibility? Who is being trained? The company learns to roll out popular employee engagement programs; however, the employees may or may not take responsibility for engaging themselves. Many take no responsibility for engaging themselves and, not surprisingly, do not become more engaged though they do have good benefits.

I am not suggesting that all development and engagement programs are helpful – or that if their ideas are implemented they will work. I am merely pointing out that ideas which are not implemented definitely will not work!

I want you to achieve positive, lasting change, and I want you to have a better life. And while some of your life is going to be impacted by your environment, by a program, coach, or company – a lot is going to be up to you! The fact is that while you can’t make yourself taller, you can make yourself more engaged. And maybe you can’t change your company, boss, or employee, but you can change your reaction to them.

Your success in becoming engaged, being happy, finding meaning, and leading people will largely come from inside you – not from some teacher, coach, or program. It is not just what you learn, but how you (and if you) use it that will make the difference.

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

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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 Triggersthebook.com!
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 Triggersthebook.com!

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Triggers Book Trailer

To pre-order Triggers:  http://bit.ly/Triggersthebook

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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 Triggersthebook.com!
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 Triggersthebook.com!

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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 Triggersthebook.com!
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 Triggersthebook.com!

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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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