"This is a book about adult behavior change. Why are we so bad at it? How do we get better at it? … To answer these questions, I’ll be focusing on the triggers on our environment. Their impact is profound."

- Triggers, page xv

Marshall Goldsmith has worked with some of the most influential CEOs of our time and coached them on making behavioral changes in their personal and professional lives. In his book Triggers, he examines how environmental triggers can derail us and shares strategies on how we can overcome those triggers to become the best versions of ourselves.

If you’ve been looking to make a change in your life and found yourself getting stuck, this is a book for you. Behavior change is quite possibly the most difficult challenge that we come across in our lives. We’re battling ingrained habits and environmental queues, and having the right tools at the right time is paramount to your success. Read on to find out what some of those tools are and start implementing them into your life today.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

It’s The Environment

"If there is one 'disease' that I’m trying to cure in this book, it revolves around our total misapprehension of our environment."
- Triggers, page 26

A good friend of mine, Matt Tod, uses the phrase, “Awareness creates choice. Choice creates change” and I always thought that it was such a great way to describe how we go about making changes in our lives. It all starts with awareness of our surroundings and of ourselves.

But awareness is not enough when we’re dealing with something as complex as our environment. If you’ve ever come home from a long day of work or school where you were highly focused and engaged, but the moment you step through the doors you become a tired (or worse) irritated family member or partner, you know what I mean. You may be aware of your behavior change but you might not have the tools or skills to deal with this shift.

Goldsmith suggests looking at our environment “as if it were a person – as imminent and real as an archrival sitting across the table.” When we look at our environment as a real person the challenge becomes more dynamic and situational. Sometimes our environment can present us with very positive triggers (e.g. our boss commending our work) or negative (e.g. a snarky remark from a colleague) but what really matters is our reaction to them. Once we understand the power the environment has over us, we can then begin to make the necessary adjustments to overcome the negative triggers.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Six Daily Self-Questions

"That’s the secret power of daily self-questioning. If we fall short on our goals eventually we either abandon the questions or push ourselves into action."
- Triggers, page 123

One of Goldsmith’s key takeaways in the book is implementing what he calls the “Daily Questions”. It’s a series of questions you ask yourself at the end of the day to see how well you did with each one. You then give yourself a score between 1 and 10 for each. For any of you that have tracked your habit changes in the past like tracking your workouts or monitoring your calorie intake, this’ll probably sound familiar.

Where Goldsmith strikes gold is in how you ask the questions to yourself. Instead of asking yourself “Did you exercise today?” he recommends starting the question with “Did you do your best?” When you start the question with “Did you do your best? it puts the onus on the effort that you put into achieving that goal. Sometimes we don’t meet our daily goals but at least we can try our best to achieve them.

This was a huge insight for me. I’ve tracked myself in the past to measure my habits and productivity but I could never really sustain it. I often got demotivated after a couple of days of lackluster results. The Daily Questions is a new weapon in my arsenal and I’m excited to give the six fundamental questions he provides in the book a shot. I’ve been recording my scores over the last couple of weeks and the process has been much more tangible and rewarding so far.

Here are the six questions to ask yourself daily:

  • Did I do my best to set clear goals today?
  • Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals today?
  • Did I do my best to find meaning today?
  • Did I do my best to be happy today?
  • Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?
  • Did I do my best to be fully engaged today?

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life


"AIWATT is the delaying mechanism we should be deploying in the interval between trigger and behavior – after a trigger creates an impulse and before behavior we may regret."
- Triggers, page 158

AIWATT stands for the following:

Am I willing,
at this time,
to make the investment required
to make a positive difference
on this topic?

Goldsmith suggests that every time you get triggered by your environment, you go through the AIWATT. Am I willing makes your response to the trigger a choice and not a reaction. At this time makes you think whether now is the appropriate time to respond to the trigger or should you wait until later. To make the investment required reminds us that responding to a trigger takes energy and allows us to ask ourselves whether the response is worth our time. To make a positive difference places the emphasis on the gentler side of who we are and how we can make the situation better. And finally, On this topic asks us whether the matter at hand is something we actually can make a positive difference on – sometimes we just can’t make a positive difference.

For me, it’s an interesting idea and I know it’s going to be a bit of a challenge to remember the phrase every time I get triggered. But hey, it’s better than being overwhelmed by a trigger or not having a response at all. Whether it be a debate with a colleague or an irritating conversation with a family member, I can practice implementing AIWATT to ensure I can react in the best way possible to my triggers.

So how does your environment impact you at the moment? Does it serve you or does it prevent you from becoming the person you want to be?

Triggers gave me some practical tools to apply to my life immediately and like any good habit, it’s going to take some time to implement and find consistency with. But starting with a proven system that has worked for some of the top leaders in the world seems like a great place to start!

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Peter Nakamura

ABOUT Peter Nakamura

Peter was born and raised in Kobe, Japan. He moved to Ontario, Canada and completed a Commerce degree at Queen's University. Upon graduating, Peter spent a year in Mozambique working at a microfinance bank to improve access to loans for local entrepreneurs...
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