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MG Thinkers 50 Blog

May 11, 2015

Will Triggers change people’s lives? The simple answer is an emphatic “Yes!” In this blog, I’ll explore my enthusiastic response to this and a few other questions.

by Marshall Goldsmith

As we gear up for publication of Triggers (my new book, which will be out May 19th!), I’m spending a few weeks answering some questions that people ask me frequently about the book, its content, message, and the research that’s gone into it.

This week’s blog is the third of this short series and answers the pertinent question: Do you think Triggers will change people’s lives?
The simple answer is an emphatic “Yes!” Let’s explore my enthusiastic response to this question.

Do you think Triggers will change people’s lives?

The sole purpose of this book is to help you become the person you want to be, to help you change your life. In Triggers, I won’t tell you who you should want to be. I won’t judge you or tell you who should become.

I will tell you why we don’t become the people we want to be. And, I do this for the sole purpose of helping you become the person you want to be. For instance, I explore the Two Immutable Truths of Behavioral Change. These will stop change in its tracks!

1. Meaningful change is very hard to do. It’s hard to initiate behavioral change, even harder to stay the course, hardest of all to make the change stick. Adult behavioral change is the most difficult thing for sentient human beings to accomplish.
2. No one can make us change unless we truly want to change. This should be self-evident. Change has to come from within. It can’t be dictated, demanded, or otherwise forced upon people. A man or woman who does not wholeheartedly commit to change will never change.

What makes positive, lasting behavioral change so challenging—and causes most of us to give up early in the game—is that we have to do it in our imperfect world, full of triggers that may pull and push us off course.

How do triggers work?

Belief triggers stop behavioral change in its tracks. Even when the individual and societal benefits of changing a specific behavior are indisputable, we are geniuses at inventing reasons to avoid change. It is much easier, and more fun, to attack the strategy of the person who’s trying to help than to try to solve the problem.

We fall back on a set of beliefs that trigger denial, resistance. and ultimately self-delusion. They sabotage lasting change by canceling its possibility. We employ these beliefs as articles of faith to justify our inaction and then wish away the result. These are called belief triggers and a few of them (there are many!) include:

  • ‘I have willpower and won’t give in to temptation.’
  • ‘Today is a special day.’
  • ‘At least I’m better than…’

The environment also triggers us. Most of us go through life unaware of how our environment shapes our behavior. When we experience “road rage” on a crowded freeway, it’s not because we’re sociopathic monsters. It’s because the temporary condition of being behind the wheel of a car, surrounded by rude, impatient drivers, triggers a change in our otherwise friendly demeanor. We’ve unwittingly placed ourselves in an environment of impatience, competitiveness, and hostility—and it alters us.

Some environments are designed precisely to lure us into acting against our interest. That’s what happens when we overspend at the high-end mall. Other environments are not as manipulative and predatory as a luxury store. But they’re still not working for us.

The environment that is most concerning is situational. It’s a hyperactive shape-shifter. Every time we enter a new situation, with its mutating who- what- when- where- and- why-specifics, we are surrendering ourselves to a new environment—and putting our goals, our plans, our behavioral integrity at risk. It’s a simple dynamic: a changing environment changes us.

The Solution

The solution I describe is to identify our behavioral triggers (any stimuli that impacts our behavior). These can be direct or indirect, internal or external, conscious or unconscious, etc.

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, take time to think it over, and make a more considered choice.

We already do this in the big moments. It’s the little moments that trigger some of our most outsized and unproductive responses. The slow line at the coffee shop, the second cousin who asks why you’re still single, the colleague who doesn’t remove his sunglasses indoors to talk to you.

Isn’t it time to learn how to be who we want to be in every moment possible? If your answer is “Yes!” then this book is for you.