The Journey of Behavior Change

Marshall Goldsmith has his own version of the weekly check-in only he is a little more strict and simple: he has someone call him at the same time each day to check-in with him and ask him how he is doing that day in the categories that matter the most to him. The questioner doesn’t judge him. Doesn’t lay into him. Just asks the same questions each day to make sure Goldsmith is on the right track behaviorally for the day. His questions are purposefully written so that he owns responsibility for his actions. Each one begins with, “Did I do my best to…?” Such as, Did I do my best to say something kind to my wife today? Did I do my best to be helpful to a stranger today? Did I do my best to work-out today? These questions are simple, but not always easy to answer when they’re answered in the negative, especially in dealing with loved ones. This may be the least popular behavior altering mechanism Goldsmith pitches to clients because the stick rate is so low. People don’t like the brutality involved. They don’t like the behavior mirror reflected to them each day in this fashion. So, they stop. Note that Goldsmith doesn’t do this because he likes pain. He does this because he says he needs help and this is one of the best ways he’s found to keep himself honest and on track in the areas that matter.

Regardless of how you score yourself, it is a behavior altering mechanism if you stick with it. Our scorecards that show low scores in areas that matter the most to us offer a snapshot into our own behavior reality that few other things do. Those are our own scores on our own behaviors. Trending over time, we may not like what we see. But that negative trend acts as the alarm system for emotions and behaviors. It reads “Hey, you’re doing poorly here again and again. I thought you wanted to improve!” You know you can do better. After all, you’re excellent in many other areas. There’s no reason why you can’t improve these low scores with some practice and determination. You’ve done it before. You can do it again. The weekly or daily review gives us that scoring dashboard into how well (or not) we’re doing lately. And there’s no denying the accumulated data into how it gets interpreted.

Pick an area or behavior you suck at and mix it in with ten or twelve other actions that you’re good at. Put it into a grid in Excel and keep it handy. Set a reminder to do the review weekly at the same time each week. Then, stick to it. The actual review itself should only take a few minutes. As the data accumulate, you will begin to see your trends. You’ll see how you’re doing, and you won’t like how you’ve done on the one behavior you wish to change. It’ll be an active pain point in your reviews. That’s what they’re designed to do: keep the one behavior you want to change flashing at you like a shining beacon. Of course, you can do better. Why haven’t you yet? What’s holding you back? You’ve changed behaviors in the past. Why not now? These questions are painful and poignant, and they should make you pause and reflect. Remember the Ray Dalio behavior change equation: pain + reflection = progress. Your reflection is your weekly review and its accumulated scores. This pain and its reflection is your path to progress. If you’re able to stick with it and keep up the discipline of the weekly or daily review no matter how painful, there’s nothing about you that you cannot change.

Note that with these processes and disciplines of score yourself in place, you’re performing self-coaching and self-monitoring. You’re able to affect your own behavior in a positive direction without the need for a coach or accountability buddy. But you must be disciplined in your recordings and monitoring. The easiest thing in the world is to skip one week and not do it. That one week turns into two. Then, one month. Before you know it, you’re off the wagon. It is just like working out. Taking even one day off can make it difficult to hop back on the work-out train. It is better to do something each day regardless of how difficult or rigorous the physical activity. You must train. You must score yourself on a regular basis. It is the discipline of doing that sets you apart.

Accountability is vital to behavior change because it is so hard. People say they want to change but do not wish to hold themselves accountable to the change they seek in themselves. It’s too difficult for them. So, they revert back to the way things were and that’s that. It is accountability that keeps us on track and it is best led by a coach and stakeholders interested in the change agents’ success. We have to be accountable for our behavior because we’re trying to improve. It is no different than losing weight. We have to be accountable for what we’re eating each day. Weight Watchers makes its participants write down every single thing they eat to build awareness of what they’re actually eating. While seemingly extreme, it gets peoples’ attention. And this one simple act of discipline gets them thinking about all the food they’ve been unconsciously and mindlessly eating for years. Eating is just one behavior that we may do unconsciously. There are dozens and dozens of others. Unconscious behaviors are fine if they’re positive. If they’re negative, we have to shine the light on them and bring them back to our attention, like writing down everything we eat. Because if we don’t, we deny we do them! Not our fault, we exclaim. I didn’t do that! And then accountability is gone before we even begin. We must own our own behavior.

To prevent skirting accountability, we hire a coach to help guide us along our behavior change journey and we have stakeholders interested in our success. The coach shepherds us along the path of change, through its peaks and valleys and darkness to the new behavior the person being coached seeks. The stake holders and their opinions act as success metrics. Theirs is the only real opinion that counts to gauge whether true behavior change has occurred. It cannot be the person being coached because they can be adept at faking it (for awhile). It cannot be the coach because that is a conflict of interest. The stakeholders are the only ones who possess the potentially unbiased opinion of the person being coached and can best gauge true, lasting change through daily monitoring and interaction. The stakeholders need to be questioned or interviewed regularly to note progress in the areas that matter. The data are gathered and reported back to the person being coached as a scorecard. Here’s how you’re doing.

The entire coaching and behavior change process doesn’t happen in one week or even in one month. For lasting, meaningful change to occur, it typically requires one year of constant monitoring, feedback, further coaching, and evaluation. After that, people being coached can in fact use the same coaching process that was used on them on themselves for future behavior changes. They’re learning how to coach while they themselves are being coached even if they may not realize it at the time. This is a wonderful problem-solving value add to the person being coached. They’re learning the aspects of coaching behavior change while going through the process. They can use it whenever they want in the future to further modify undesirable habits.

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I’m a sales, marketing and tech Pro who creates content designed to help people solve problems and shift perspectives.

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