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15 July 2015

Book Review: Chapter Summary; Triggers: Marshall Goldsmith

The book 'Triggers' was reviewed HERE. The post below is a detailed chapter by chapter summary.

Chapter Summary:

The  central theme of the book is the question 'How can we become the person we want to be?'. In the introduction to the book author defines a Trigger as a 'Stimulus that reshapes our thoughts and actions. We can better handle our reaction to a trigger once we become aware of its existence. Environment is the biggest trigger. While triggers are outside our control, we have a choice to react to them once we become aware of the same. 

There are two reasons why adult behavioral change is difficult. This is the coverage of Chapter 1. First reason is that  adult behavior change is very hard to do. Even if we do, getting into a consistent change process is difficult and a permanent change may take years. Finally, we may not know how to execute change. There is a difference between motivation and ability. We may have overconfidence in our ability to execute changes. Second reason that many a time, we may say we want to change but we many not truly want to change. The other aspect is that the judges of your change are others external to you. Finally the change has to be made in a imperfect world out there with all the triggers impacting our change process. 

Chapter 2 looks at a set of belief patterns that we hold that impede our progress towards better behavior. These beliefs help us justify our inaction and ensure that the change process fails even before it starts. The 15 belief triggers are as follows.
  1. If I understand, I will do: Author points out that there is a difference between knowing and doing. Knowing something does not lead to change. Doing is what leads to change.
  2.  I have will power and will not give in to temptation: We constantly overestimate our will power and underestimate the power of temptations. Sometimes, we will require help even when we have will power. Author mentions the story of how Odysseus put wax in the ears of his sailors to prevent them from listening to the soulful music of sirens.
  3. Today is a special day: This is a common excuse we use to compromise on our commitment. We use 'Special Days' as excuses to avoid sticking to our plan.
  4. At least I am better than .............: I am happy because I did better than others.
  5. I shouldn't need help and structure. They are too simple.
  6. I won't get tired and my enthusiasm will not fail. At the planning stage we are all 'Super men'.
  7. I have all the time in the world: We put off working on important stuff since we think that we have enough time.  This belief leads to procrastination
  8. I won't get distracted and nothing unexpected will occur: We discount the high probability of low probability events occurring. 
  9. An epiphany will change my life: We all wait for that sudden realization, that intuition or an unexpected incident to trigger our behavior change. It doesn't work that way. Behavior change require regular, systematic and consistent effort.
  10. My change will be permanent and I will never have to worry again: Unless we stick to a new behavior, chances of our reverting to the earlier behavior are high. Getting there and staying there are two different cups of tea.
  11. My elimination of old problems will not bring new problems.
  12. My efforts will be fairly rewarded: Waiting for an 'external' reward can trigger disappointment. Improvement in behavioral outcomes is its own reward.
  13. No one is paying attention to me. 
  14. If I change, I am 'inauthentic'. This creates stubbornness.
  15. I have the wisdom to assess my own behavior: We all need help and support in our change journey.
Our environment has a lot of impact (often negative) on our behavior. The impact of environment over our behavior is covered in Chapter 3. Environment generates triggers that impact us negatively. We think that we are in sync with our environment and that we can control it. This is wrong. Most of the time it is the environment that controls. In addition, environment is not static, it keeps on mutating by the minute. Also, the impact of environment is situational. As out situations change, the environment creates new triggers that impinge on us. The most pernicious environment is that which compels us to compromise on our sense of right and wrong. Anyone who has worked in an Organization with a 'win at all costs' culture will vouch for that. Since we do not understand the impact of environment on our choices, we fail to make the right choice.

The title of Chapter 4, ‘Identifying the triggers’ is a bit of a misnomer if you are expecting a bullet list of ways in which we can catch and tame the triggers. Author discuss feedback loop and its role in modifying our behaviour, thereby behaving like a trigger. A feedback loop has four parts, evidence, relevance, consequence and action. The evidence part of the feedback loop is nothing but listing all the triggers that could impact our behaviour. Then we can prioritize the same based on the next two criteria, finally leading to the required action. Next section of the article describes different characteristics of behavioral triggers. They are shown in the diagram below.:

Author expounds on the last two categories. Encouraging triggers are what we want. They provide short-term gratification. Productive triggers are what we need. They ensure that we meet our goals in the long-term. By combining these we have four combinations, four quadrants. These are shown below.


We should always try to receive triggers in the Encouraging / Productive quadrant. However, the triggers there including appreciation and praise are mostly external in nature. If we are not able to be in that quadrant, we should try to be on the right hand side of the quadrant which is the productive side. These are the triggers that help us what we need in the long-term.

How triggers work is the focus of Chapter 5. Every stimulus will lead to a response and the response will have consequences. That is the classic Stimulus --> Response --> Consequence loop. The author tweaks the ‘Response’ part of the above loop to three sub-components, Impulse --> Awareness --> Choice of behavior. This implies that for every trigger, instead of impulsively responding,  if we pause and respond, we have a bouquet of behavior choices. We do this analysis during big moments like meeting with the CEO. The trick is to make this a habit while dealing with every day triggers.

Chapter 6 takes a look at the challenge the all of us face. Why is it that we are able to make superior plans but are weak when it comes to execution? How can we bridge the gap between the planner that is us and the doer that is again, us. MG digs into the concept of Situational Leadership to identify answers to this dilemma. As per situational leadership theories, a leader should play different roles at different points in time depending on his assessment of the subordinate. The four roles played by a ‘Situational Leader’ are directing, coaching, supporting and delegating. MG finds parallels between the situational leadership and the planning challenge we face. According to this, the planner in us should play different roles based on the caliber of the doer and the situation faced by the doer. The doer should be supported by tools to ensure that he performs his actions effectively. An example is given of a client of his, Mr.Renee, who has a weakness of giving the same instructions to multiple individuals. This challenge was resolved by providing a cue card to Mr.Renee ‘Not to delegate the same task to multiple people’. Renee will have this cue every time he was in a high pressure situation (where he normally over delegates) and with this simple cue card, his behaviour was changed almost immediately.

Now that we know that environment has a major impact on our behavior change, we need to know how to handle environment. This is the theme of Chapter 7. There are three ways in which we can handle environment in the short term. One is Anticipation. We can plan for upcoming meeting, prepare for the impending presentation etc. However it is difficult to anticipate and plan for the smaller environment triggers that impact us every moment. Another strategy is Avoidance. One should try to avoid undesirable behaviour and environment where such behaviour is most likely to occur. Politicians are masters of avoidance. Sometimes avoidance could backfire. Example is of Alison Lundergran Grimes in US election for Kentucky state senator, who avoided the question if she voted for Obama, and that avoidance backfired on her. Third strategy to handle environment trigger is adjustment. We could tailor our response to the situation we find ourselves in.

Chapter 8 rounds off Section one with a concept called ‘Wheel of Change’. This is an interplay of two sets of factors. First set consists of all the factors that help us grow or hold us back. The second set consists of factors that help create change or help maintain status quo. The interplay of these two sets of factors lead to four options for us to handle our behavior.
Wheel of Change

First option is to Create New Behaviors. We could decide to treat people better, constantly pursue happiness etc. This is not a natural option because we always yield to inertia, especially if the situation is ‘Good Enough’.
Second option is Preserving an existing good behavior. This is not a glamorous option and we might not get credit for preserving. But this is a powerful option.
Third option is Eliminating. This is a very liberating option. We could identify some of our bad habits / behavior and decide to eliminate the same. The real challenge is to eliminate something which we like, for example, micro-managing, that gives us short-term high.
Fourth option is Accepting. Many a times it is difficult to accept a situation. But in the interest of future, it is better to accept it and move on.

What are the behaviors that I want to create? To preserve? To eliminate?  To accept?

Part 2 of the book covers chapters 9 through 13. In this part we are given practical guidelines on how to effect behavioral change. Chapter 9 talks about ‘Active Questions’. These question transfer the onus of behavioral change on to the responder. Active questions start with ‘Did you do’. These are externally generated. In the corporate environment, based on their response to these questions, an can be categorized as committed, professional, cynical or hostile.

Chapter 10, ‘The Engaging Questions’, take the discussion further. It identifies six engaging questions, that we can ask ourselves. Engaging questions transfer onus to the responder in a more profound way by starting the question with ‘Did I do my best to....’. The focus is on trying and not on accomplishing. The six engaging questions identified by MG are given in the following diagram:

Six Engaging Questions - Triggers: Goldsmith

Author rounds off the chapter by a discussion on how he has incorporated the engaging questions into his daily life.

The first part of Chapter 11 is a case study of Emily, who incorporated daily question to bring about significant behavioral change in her life. There are four advantages of asking daily questions of ourselves. One, they reinforce our commitment to our goals. Two, they ignite our motivation where we need it, three, they highlight the difference between self-discipline and self-control, and four, they shrink our goals into manageable increments.

There are three lessons that we learn through asking daily questions of ourselves.These are given in the diagram below.

Three Lessons from Daily Questions

Chapter 12 covers the need for a coach. As discussed earlier, every one of us has a planner and doer in us. Since the planner and the doer often work at cross purposes, we will need the help of a coach to guide you through the behavioral change process. Many people do not like being helped by a coach due to three reasons. One, their need for privacy. Many of their goals will be very personal and private in nature and they do not want to expose these private goals to a coach. Two, many a time, they do not know what to change. Third reason for not wanting a coach is that they did not realize their need for a coach. There are three advantages to a coach. One, we get better, two, we get better faster and three, as we become better, we become better coaches ourselves.

AIWATT, covered in Chapter 13, rounds off part 2 of the book. AIWATT is summarized in the diagram below:


Mr.Goldsmith suggests that we ask this question of ourselves every time we are faced with a decision to invest our time and resources on an issue. Answering AIWATT will help us clarify our priorities at that moment. This is a delaying mechanism. We can avoid many unpleasant situations if we ask AIWATT regularly. Mr.Goldsmith defined the concept from a Buddhist story of Empty Boat.

Part three of the book, covering chapters 14 through 20 talks about the importance of structure when it comes to significant and long lasting behavioral change. Chapters 14 and 15 cover the four key benefits of structure. They are,
  1. Structure limits our option so that we are not thrown off by externalities
  2. Help us identify areas where we need external help and support
  3. Instills rigor and discipline in ourselves
  4. Structure increases our chances of success and makes us more efficient in the process.
  5. Structure helps us make better decision under a state of ego / energy depletion.
 Chapter 16 covers the Influence of depletion in our decision making. In the normal course of the day, we are flooded with various activities that calls for depletion of energy. When we are in this depleted state, we tend to make more errors and wrong decisions. The chapter talks of Israeli Police officers who had to hear cases of parole of prisoners. This was a very intensive process. It was found that almost 70% of prisoners whose cases were heard in the morning time were released on parole, compared to only 20% of prisoners whose cases were heard in the afternoon. There was no difference in the profiles of these prisoners. Only that more prisoners were prone to get a positive decision if their case was heard when the officers high in energy rather than when they were in a depleted state. As mentioned in point 5 above, structure help us handle decision making under depletion.

Chapter 17 discusses a peculiar problem with structure. It is that structure is least available when we most need it. For example, suddenly you are thrust in an unfamiliar situation and you do not have any structure to support you. To handle such situations, author suggests a simple four point test that you take regularly. As you go into this situation, imagine that at the end of it, you have to answer the following four questions.
Structure Questions
 This exercise of pretending that you are going to be tested with these four questions will help you find structure in unstructured situations.

In Chapter 18, author takes the discussion on structure to the next level. He asks us to answer hourly questions to ourselves. These are short term in nature. Hourly questions help us handle special situations or difficult people and helps us take charge of our actions. Hourly questions create pre-awareness, commitment, awareness, scoring and repetition. Example given is of a person who handle the demands of visitors to his New York house. Prior to taking hourly questions he used to feel fatigued and unhappy at the end of the day. But by asking a hourly question 'Did I do my best to enjoy my friends', he changed his reaction to the visit of his friends.

Chapter 19 discusses the problems of 'Good enough'. Many a time, we assume that our behaviour was 'Good Enough'. We enter into a paradigm of behaving 'Good Enough'. There are some situations that call for 'Good Enough'. Examples include the place to live, selection of college and even the selection of doctors (!). But there are some situations like your relationship with your loved ones, where 'Good Enough' is not good enough. 

The question is why do we behave in a 'Good Enough' way? There are four reasons. 
  1. When our motivation is marginal: We have marginal motivation when we do not have the skill to do a good job. 
  2. When we are working pro bono: We think that just because we volunteered to do something, we can do a casual job of that.
  3. When we behave like 'amateurs': We work excellently at office and sloppily at home.
  4. When we have compliance issues: Example of a patient who do not follow through with what the doctor has advised.
The key takeaway is that there is no excuse for doing something 'Good Enough'. If we are not able to do any excellent job of anything, it is better to stop doing that task and move on to something which we can demonstrate our excellence. 

Chapter 20 covers the success story of a client of the Author, Mr.Nadeem, who was able to change his behavior by following the process discussed in the book.

Part 4 of the book, 'No Regrets' covers two Chapters 21 and 22, Mr.Goldsmith discusses three reasons for him to write this book. First reason is to help the readers achieve long-lasting behavioral change in the readers. Second is to create better awareness in the readers about what is going on in the environment around us. And the third reason is to help the readers engage with their environment so that a positive, virtuous loop is created between the environment, the triggers that it generates and our response to the triggers. 

Finally, author points out that deciding to change our behavior is a choice. So is deciding not to change. Either way we have to decide and face the consequences of our decisions.


Paarth said...

Thanks for putting this together. The graphics and summary were very helpful as I prepared for a Reading Club discussion.

Ramaswamy V Krishnamurti said...

My pleasure @Paarth. Happy to have been of help. Ram

Anonymous said...

This is excellent. I was creating a similar summary for myself based on the audio book Triggers so I could review important points of the book. After doing a little research I found your site. You have provided a great template and summary. Thanks!