by Marshall Goldsmith
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 in a car, surrounded by rude, impatient drivers, triggers a change in our otherwise jovial demeanor. We’ve unwittingly (and that is the key word) placed ourselves in an environment of impatience, competitiveness, and hostility – and it alters us.
What I’ve noticed about successful people, is that they are never completely oblivious to their environment. They do one very important thing differently: They anticipate and prepare for what is next, and, they do what they can to create the environment they want when they get there.
Take for instance trial attorneys – they don’t ask questions to which they don’t already know the answers! Their entire line of questioning is based on one thing: anticipation.
Another example, a public official chairing a town meeting about a divisive issue. The official anticipates that some comments will be said in anger, that the exchanges could become inflammatory and personally insulting. In a heated environment, she reminds herself to stay cool and be fair. She may even prepare some mollifying remarks.
The challenge for most of us is to anticipate our environment even in the minor moments when we’re not trying to be successful, when we’re not “on” or trying to achieve. Most of our day consists of these lesser moments. We’re not thinking about our behavior because we don’t associate the situation with any consequences – we think it’s not important enough to give it much thought.
These seemingly benign environments, ironically, are when we need to be most vigilant. When we’re not anticipating the environment, anything can happen!
For instance, after a long day at work, we get home. It’s a beautiful summer day with three hours of daylight left. We could take a walk, call a friend, cook a nice meal, catch up on bills, or finish the book we’ve been reading. Instead, we take the easy road, we grab a bag of pretzels and a soda, turn on the TV, and plop down on the sofa to mindlessly watch a rerun of something we’ve seen at least 20 times before.
Why didn’t we do what was good for us? Because we didn’t anticipate our environment and create a way to continue our successful day when we got home.
What could we have done to anticipate and create our environment? We could have called or texted a friend earlier in the day to meet us for dinner, we could have put our shoes by the door so we’d remember to take a walk when we got home, we could have placed our book on top of the remote as a reminder that we want to read. These things aren’t difficult to do before you get home after a long day, but in the moment, when we’re tired and depleted, they are practically impossible.
When I consider the behavioral edge that anticipation provides, my only question is: “Why would anyone say no to a little more anticipation?”