In my work with leaders to help them build on strengths and develop in other areas, I often recommend books that I think are particularly insightful. A recent one I’ve been recommending is Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want To Be, by renowned executive educator and coach Marshall Goldsmith, and Mark Reiter.

In the book, the authors examine why most of us have such a difficult time changing our behaviors. Our intentions might be good (think New Years resolutions) but often we don’t follow through because of various “triggers” in our environment. “We are superior planners,” Goldsmith says, “but become inferior doers as our environment exerts its influence through the course of our day. We forget our intentions.”

Goldsmith defines a trigger as any stimulus that reshapes our thoughts and actions. “In every waking hour we are being triggered by people, events and circumstances that have the potential to change us.” He goes on to say that triggers can be major or minor moments in our lives. They can be pleasant and effect positive change, or they can be “counterproductive” and cause us to do something we know is wrong.

Triggers can be external – such as another person or a place – or they can be internal. “Internal triggers come from thoughts or feelings that are not connected with any outside stimulus.” An internal trigger could the result of a bad past experience or an ingrained belief.

Goldsmith points out that triggers are not “inherently good or bad. What matters is our response to them.” Learning how to identify and take control of your triggers – through self-awareness – is the first step in making a positive response.

Think for a moment about a positive change you made recently. What prompted that? What was the trigger that helped you change?  Now think about something you know you need to do but keep avoiding. A difficult conversation, for example. What’s holding you back? What’s the internal or external trigger that’s preventing you from just getting it done?

Doing some work to think through and maybe even write down triggers that impact your emotions and behaviors can be very helpful in learning to manage them. Enlisting the help of others by inviting feedback is another way to develop self-awareness and move toward positive behavior change.

“Behavioral change demands self-discipline and self-control,” says Goldsmith. “We tend to use these terms interchangeably, but there’s a subtle difference. Self-discipline refers to achieving desirable behavior. Self-control refers to avoiding undesirable behaviors.”

Triggers includes a Daily Question list that can be used to help motivate and monitor incremental behavior change. These are the 6 key self-questions that he recommends you ask daily:

  1. Did I do my best to set clear goals?
  2. Did I do my best to make progress towards goal achievement?
  3. Did I do my best to find meaning?
  4. Did I do my best to be happy?
  5. Did I do my best to build positive relationships?
  6. Did I do my best to be fully engaged?

Fate is the hand of cards we’ve been dealt.  Choice is how we play the hand.” – Marshall Goldsmith