Simple Ain’t Easy!

MG Thinkers 50 Blog

August 3, 2015

by Marshall Goldsmith

As an executive coach, I’ve been helping successful people achieve positive lasting change in behavior for more than thirty-five years. Most of my clients embrace the opportunity to change, and most are aware of the fact that behavioral change will help them become more effective leaders, partners, and even family members. A few are not.

My process of helping clients is straightforward and consistent. I interview and listen to my clients’ key stakeholders. These stakeholders could be their colleagues, direct reports, or board members. I accumulate a lot of confidential feedback. Then I go over the summary of this feedback with my clients. My clients take ultimate responsibility for the behavioral changes that they want to make. My job is then very simple. I help my clients achieve positive, lasting change in the behavior that they choose as judged by key stakeholders that they choose. If my clients succeed in achieving this positive change—as judged by their stakeholders—I get paid. If the key stakeholders do not see positive change, I don’t get paid.

Our odds of success improve because I’m with the client every step of the way, telling him or her how to stay on track and not regress to a former self. But that doesn’t diminish the importance of one extremely significant fact:

Meaningful behavioral change is hard to do.

It’s hard to initiate behavioral change, even harder to stay the course, hardest of all to make the change stick.

If you think I’m overstating its difficulty answer these questions:

  1. What do you want to change in your life? It could be something major, such as your weight (a big one), your job (big too), or your career (even bigger). It could be something minor, such as changing your hairstyle or checking in with your mother more often or changing the wall color in your living room.
  2. How long has this been going on? For how many months or years have you risen in the morning and told yourself some variation on the phrase, “This is the day I make a change”?
  3. How’s that working out? In other words, can you point to a specific moment when you decided to change something in your life and you acted on the impulse and it worked out to your satisfaction?

These three questions conform to the three problems we face in introducing change into our lives.

We can’t admit that we need to change—either because we’re unaware that a change is desirable, or, more likely, we’re aware but have reasoned our way into elaborate excuses that deny our need for change. In the following pages, we’ll examine—and dispense with—the deep-seated beliefs that trigger our resistance to change.

We do not appreciate inertia’s power over us. Given the choice, we prefer to do nothing—which is why I suspect our answers to “How long has this been going on?” are couched in terms of years rather than days. Inertia is the reason we never start the process of change. It takes extraordinary effort to stop doing something in our comfort zone (because it’s painless or familiar or mildly pleasurable) in order to start something difficult that will be good for us in the long run.

We don’t know how to execute a change. There’s a difference between motivation and understanding and ability. For example, we may be motivated to lose weight but we lack the nutritional understanding and cooking ability to design and stick with an effective diet. Or we have understanding and ability but lack the motivation. Our behavior is shaped, both positively and negatively, by our environment—and a keen appreciation of our environment can dramatically lift not only our motivation, ability, and understanding of the change process, but also our confidence that we can actually do it.

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. Achieving meaningful and lasting change may be simple—simpler than we imagine. But simple is far from easy.

I hope that you enjoy this next series of videos and written blogs, which are all about how to overcome triggers and become the person you want to be!