Feeling Tired & Depleted? 3 Steps to Overcome Both!


By Marshall Goldsmith

Finally just around the corner (May 19) is the publication of my new book Triggers! This week’s blog is the second of a short series that is going to be all about the book, its content, and its message. More specifically this week, I’m going to share with you how you can overcome feeling depleted (and succeed anyway) and how I use the material from Triggers in my coaching practice.

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Yes, I do. There’s a lot of exciting new research being done in the areas of goal-achievement and depletion and why we do and don’t achieve our goals. As a matter of fact, Triggers is the product of about two years of thought and research I’ve done. To date, I’ve done 79 different studies with 2537 participants. The studies are ongoing and the pool of participants keeps growing! There’s been a lot of work behind Triggers – so it’s not something I just thought of in a day or two.

For instance, in the book, I talk about depletion and its effect on us in our daily lives. As you might know, one of this book’s central arguments is that our 

environment affects us in powerful, insidious, and mysterious ways. Depletion is one of those environmental hazards. Viewing depletion as an external trigger is a way of seeing the world anew and appreciating the demands placed on us by our constant efforts at self-regulation.

For example, say you wake up later than usual with insufficient time for your morning workout. You tell yourself you’ll hit the gym that evening after work. But at day’s end, carrying your briefcase and gym bag from the office, you think, “I can skip today. I’ll work out tomorrow morning.”

What’s going on here? Why do our discipline and decisiveness fade at the end of the day, to the point where we opt to do nothing instead of doing something enjoyable or useful? It’s not because we’re inherently weak. It’s because we’re weakened. By the end of the day, we’re worn down and vulnerable to foolish choices.

Depletion isn’t limited to self-control. It applies to many forms of self-regulated behavior. Most obviously it affects our decision making. The more decisions we’re obliged to make, whether it’s choosing among the dozens of options when buying a new car or reducing the list of attendees at an off-site meeting, the more fatigued we get in handling subsequent decisions. Researchers call this decision fatigue, a state that leaves us with two courses of action: 1) we make careless choices or 2) we surrender to the status quo and do nothing. Decision fatigue is why the head-scratching purchases we make on Tuesday get returned on Wednesday; we’re more clearheaded the next day when we’re not depleted. It’s also why we put off decisions; we’re too drained to decide now.

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So, given that depletion is an external trigger that can lead us not to achieve our goal of becoming the person we want to be, what do we do? How do we combat this treacherous trigger?

Step 1: Track your day: Once your eyes are opened, new courses of action immediately come to mind. Most obviously, you can start tracking our days in terms of depletion.

Step 2: Assemble a list: We can’t measure or quantify our depletion—we’re not even aware of it—but you can assemble a useful list of what is or isn’t depleting.

Step 3: Structure your day: Structure is how we overcome depletion. In an almost magical way, structure slows down how fast our discipline and self-control disappear. When you have structure, you don’t have to make as many choices; you just follow the plan. And the net result is you’re not being depleted as quickly.


I am definitely going to use the findings in my coaching! I have already used them many times. In fact, I did so again today.

Today I worked with the President of the New York Public Library. I’m a volunteer for the library and I worked with his top five people. We used material from the book Triggers. We talked about the environment they’re trying to create, and talked about my friend Alan Mulally’s process. Alan is the former CEO of Ford), and I talk about him and his process and its benefits in the book. I used a lot of the material from Triggers today, and after reading the book, I hope you will too.

I’m looking forward to sharing more of my thoughts on Triggers with you next week!

Marshall Goldsmith Meme