Triggers: Creating Behaviors that Last-Becoming the Person You Want to Be — A Book Summary

How strongly I recommend it: 5/5

Marshall Goldsmit is an admired author popularly known for his classic, What Got You Here, Wont Get You There. (I am going to do a summary soon on that one). I picked Triggers with a lot of enthusiasm, especially drawn to its subtitle — Creating Behaviors that Last & Becoming the Person You Want to Be — and I was not a bit dissapointed. What I really liked about this one is that Marshall presents an actionable toolkit that you can readily apply to your life daily. I have tried applying the key lessons myself and am beginning to see from early benefits.

Enjoy the summary.

The book is structured in four sections:

Section 1: The Trouble with Success

  • Chapter 1: You are Here
  • Chapter 2: Enough About You
  • Chapter 3: Success Delusion, or Why We Resist Change

Section 2: The Twenty Habits That Hold you Back from the Top

  • The Twenty Habits
  • The Twenty-First Habit — The Goal Obsession

Section 3: How We Can Change for the Better

  • Feedback
  • Apologizing
  • Telling the world, or advertising
  • Listening
  • Thanking
  • Following Up
  • Practicing Feedforward

Section 4: The Twenty Habits That Hold you Back from the Top

  • Changing: The Rules
  • Special Challenges for People in Charge

Section 1: The Trouble with Success

There are two immutable truths for behavioural change:

  1. Truth #1: Meaningful behavioral change is very hard to do.
  2. Truth #2: No one can make us change unless we truly want to change.
  • Our environment is the most potent triggering mechanism in our lives — and not always for our benefit. We make plans, set goals, and stake our happiness on achieving these goals. But our environment constantly intervenes.
  • Feedback — both the act of giving it and taking it — is our first step in becoming smarter, more mindful about the connection between our environment and our behavior. Feedback teaches us to see our environment as a triggering mechanism. In some cases, the feedback itself is the trigger.
  • What if we could control our environment so it triggered our most desired behavior — like an elegantly designed feedback loop? Instead of blocking us from our goals, this environment propels us. Instead of dulling us to our surroundings, it sharpens us. Instead of shutting down who we are, it opens us.
A behavioral trigger is any stimulus that impacts our behavior.
  • The more aware we are, the less likely any trigger, even in the most mundane circumstances, will prompt hasty unthinking behavior that leads to undesirable consequences.
  • Rather than operate on autopilot, we’ll slow down time to think it over and make a more considered choice.
  • Either way, we don’t yield to impulse. We reflect, choose, then respond.
  • There is no harder task for adults than changing our behavior. We are geniuses at coming up at reasons to avoid change. We make excuses. We rationalize. As a result, we continually fail at becoming the person we want to be.
  • We willfully ignore how profoundly the environment influences our behavior.
  • In fact, the environment is a relentless triggering mechanism that, in an instant, can change us from saint to sinner, optimist to pessimist, model citizen to thug — and make us lose sight of who we’re trying to be.
  • A speech, no matter how pointed or eloquently delivered, rarely triggers lasting change — not if we lack a compelling reason to change. We listen, nod our heads in agreement, then go back to our old ways. A big part of it is that we lack the structure to execute our ambitions; we are visionary Planners but blurry-eyed Doers.

The Wheel of Change

The graphic below illustrates the interchange of two dimensions we need to sort out before we can become the person we want to be.

  • In pursuing any behavioral change, we have four options:
  1. Change or keep the positive elements
  2. Change or keep the negative
  • Creating represents the positive elements that we want to create in our future.
  • Preserving represents the positive elements that we want to keep in the future.
  • Eliminating represents the negative elements that we want to eliminate in the future.
  • Accepting represents the negative elements that we need to accept in the future.
“We are superior planners and inferior doers. We make plans, set goals and fail to achieve them. If we hope to achieve the plans we make, we need structure. We do not get better without structure.”

<write more content from each of the 4 points above>

The Power of Active Questions

  • Apology is where behavioral change begins. It is a magic move. Asking for help is a magic move. Optimism is a magic move. People will automatically drawn to the confident individual who believes everything will work out.
  • The fourth magic move: Asking active questions
  • It’s objective is to alter our behavior, not the behavior of others. The act of self-questioning changes everything.
  • The difference between active and passive question is that in passive question, is that it can cause people to think of what is being done to them rather than what they are doing for themselves.
  • Active questions are the alternative to passive questions. There’s a difference between “Do you have clear goals?” and “Did you do your best to set clear goals for yourself?” The former is trying to determine the employee’s state of mind; the latter challenges the employee to describe or defend a course of action.

The Power of Daily Questions

  • For years, Marshall has followed a nightly follow-up routine that he calls Daily Questions, where he has someone call him wherever he is in the world, and listen while he answers a specific set of questions that he has written fir himself.
“The nightly specter of honestly answering these questions kept me focused on my goal of being a happier and healthier individual. For more than a decade it was the one constant of self-regulated discipline in my otherwise chaotic 180-days-a year-on-the-road life.” — Marshall Goldsmith
  • The formulation of the question to “Did I do my best to…?” adds an element of trying to the question.
  • You aren’t being asked how well you performed, but how well you tried.
  • It injects personal ownership and responsibility into a question and answer process.
  • “This “active” process will help anyone get better at almost anything. It only takes a couple of minutes a day. But be warned: it is tough to face the reality of our own behavior — and our own level of effort — every day.”
Eventually, we become our own coach.

The Circle of Engagement

  • Honestly assessing the interplay in our lives between these two forces — the environment and ourselves — is how we become the person we want to be.
  • When we embrace a desire for awareness and engagement, we are in the best position to appreciate all the triggers the environment throws at us.
  • The interplay between us and our environment becomes reciprocal, a give-and-take arrangement where we are creating it as much as it creates us.

When we lack awareness, we are easily triggered. The gap between trigger to impulse to awareness is instantaneous. That’s the sequence. A trigger leads to an impulse, which leads directly to a behavior, which creates another trigger and so on. Awareness is a difference maker. It stretches that triggering sequence, providing us with a little breathing space — not much, just enough — to consider our options and make a better behavioral choice.

The Hazard of Leading a Changeless Life

  • When we prolong negative behavior — both the kind that hurts the people we love or the kind that hurts us in some way — we are leading a changeless life in the most hazardous manner.
  • “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 introduced ourselves to.”
  • “The customers we resent for the demands they place on us.”