Book Review: Triggers: Creating Behavior that Lasts

“If there’s one ‘disease’ that I’m trying to cure in this book, it revolves around our total misapprehension of our environment.  We think we are in sync with our environment, but actually it’s at war with us….If it sounds like I’m treating our environment as a hostile character in our life dramas, that intentional….Our environment is a non-stop triggering mechanism whose impact on our behavior is too significant to be ignored.”

– Marshall Goldsmith, Triggers


Review by Joelle A. Godfrey

Triggers.  We pull the trigger on projects, on goals, on decisions.  We don’t think much about how we are triggered by others words, ideas, events or even environments.  We like to imagine that we are independent actors – freely choosing our decisions and actions.

Triggers: Creating Behavior that Lasts; Becoming the Person You Want To Be, Goldsmith’s book on managing personal behaviorial change, rips the bandage off of that delusion.  As Project Managers, so much of our effectiveness is being able to manage our emotions and behavior.  When I read his description of how our environment tends to trigger behavior instead of our actions triggering positive change in others, I was certain of it.  This was a book I had to read.

Goldsmith defines a behaviorial trigger as…

Anything that impacts our behavior.

That could be a simple as an flame email or a difficult conversation in a meeting.  How to go about changing your reaction so that you are the positive trigger in the situation, rather than reacting, is the focus of the book.  Where most books on change focus on how to motivate yourself to implement the change – this book focuses on the obstacles that hinder us.

In his view, a few of those obstacles are:
  • We misunderstand who we are.  We are not just the person who plans and then acts.  There are three aspects of our personality that play into our willingness to change – The Planner, the Doer, the Coach.  Without that understanding, our ‘Planner’ may set out to accomplish something that (using the lense of Situational Leadership) our ‘Doer’ may need a little support or structure to complete.
  • We misunderstand the power of our Environment to trigger unwanted behavior.  We may enter a meeting with one intention and leave it with an undesired result due to the power of the environment (that combination of personality/ team/ timing/ topic/ what you ate for lunch, etc that triggers your reaction).
  • We underestimate the power of inertia.  “Given the choice, we prefer to do nothing.”  This can be as simple as continuing not to start the exercise program we resolved to start on New Year’s Eve because it takes more energy to start a new habit.  Rolling over and hitting the snooze button is far easier.
  • We don’t recognize the power of structure to help us change entrenched personal behaviors.  When we forget our New Year’s Resolution or fail to make a personal change, we don’t see the lack of accountability or a structured check as the reason for our failure.

In short, this book hands the thoughtful reader a number of tools and some very sound advice to facilitate change.  It guarantees effectiveness only if you apply yourself to its principles.  To me that seems like a better bargain than most self-help books that offer hope without an understanding of why we fail.

Have you read Triggers?  Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

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