Make Behavioral Changes Last

What’s the most significant change in behavior you’ve made as an adult? For some, it’s quitting smoking or drinking, or making healthy changes in eating and exercising. For others, it’s becoming a better listener, a more effective manager, or a nicer partner or spouse.
No matter what changes you’ve made, whether physical, social, or work-related, almost everyone agrees that lasting change is hard. It requires determination, motivation, vigilance, persistence, and long-term commitment. Most would agree that asking for help from a trusted friend, mentor, or professional coach helps.
Yet even with high motivation, support, and ideal conditions, it’s still hard to break bad habits. For example, two-thirds of smokers who say they’d like to quit never even try. Those who do usually need six attempts before they succeed.
Six Seconds to Set Up Change
Here’s a six-second tool you can apply at any time to assist you make any behavioral change: take a long, deep breath. This allows you to step back from reactive habits and initiate a new, healthier response to any situation.
A six second breath is a way to pause, gain awareness, gather energy, and make a preferred choice of action.
Knowing Isn’t Doing
The guidelines for changing habits are pretty simple:

  • If you want to lose weight, eat fewer calories than you burn up, and do it over a length of time until you reach your goal weight.
  • If you want to quit smoking, pick a quit date, get rid of cigarettes and smoking triggers, and don’t smoke no matter what, until the urges stop and the chemicals are out of your system.
  • Same with alcohol: don’t pick up the first drink; get social support with recovery groups.
  • To get fit, go to a gym or learn a sport, practice every day, get some coaching or training, and track your progress over a length of time.

None of these programs are complicated. But simplicity doesn’t necessarily beget easy. All humans resist change; we’re susceptible to fallibility when making plans and sticking to them.
If we understand human nature enough, we should be able to anticipate resistance and circumvent unhealthy reactions that sabotage our efforts.
Why Change Is So Hard
Even when we will reap huge benefits by changing habits, we are geniuses at inventing reasons to avoid change. We have mental urges to maintain the status quo. We fall back on a set of beliefs that triggers denial, resistance, and self-delusion.
Executive coach Marshall Goldsmith writes about this “self talk” in his book Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–Becoming the Person You Want to Be (Crown Business, May 2015).

  1. If I understand, I will do.
  2. If have strong willpower, I won’t give in to temptation.
  3. Today is special, it just won’t count.
  4. “At least I’m better than…”
  5. I shouldn’t need help and structure.
  6. I won’t get tired or depleted; my enthusiasm won’t fade.
  7. I have all the time in the world.
  8. I won’t get distracted and nothing unexpected will occur.
  9. An epiphany will happen and suddenly change my life.
  10. My change will be permanent and I’ll never have to worry again.
  11. My elimination of old problems will not bring on new problems.
  12. My efforts will be fairly rewarded.
  13. No one is paying attention to me.
  14. If I change I am “inauthentic.”
  15. I have the wisdom to assess my own behavior.

Faulty Self-Evaluation
While we believe other people consistently overrate themselves, we think our own self-assessment is fair and accurate, even in the face of evidence that shows we’re entrapped by overconfidence, stubbornness, wishful thinking, confusion, resentment, and procrastination.
If that weren’t enough, we underestimate two of the biggest obstacles to change:

  1. We don’t take into account how much energy levels vary during the day or recognize that depletion of energy brings loss of self-control. It’s easier to just say “no” early in the day than late at night.
  2. We forget to factor in the strong pull of external triggers in the environment that pop up unexpectedly to throw us off track. We don’t prepare for these obstacles, and once we give in, we give up.

Change Requires Follow-Up
The tools for making any behavioral change aren’t complicated, but they do have to include a system for follow-up if you want change to last.
The simplest way to follow-up is to answer a list of daily questions with a friend or coach. This allows you to track progress and see what’s working and what’s not. Marshall Goldsmith has written previously about his system of Daily Questions.
Now he suggests that instead of tracking whether you’ve taken an action or not, ask yourself if you did your best to make it happen. This tracks your efforts, not your results.
“Did I do my best today to…?”

  1. Make a spread sheet listing your desired behavioral changes. At the end of each day, answer: “Did I do my best today to…?” (exercise, eat healthy, listen to others, etc.)
  2. Use a 5-point scale from no (1), somewhat (2), average (3), good (4), to excellent (5). Alternatively, you can color code each answer using red, yellow, and green marks.

The key here is to record your progress and effort rather than results. This helps you avoid getting discouraged when outcomes are slow to materialize. It puts the appreciation where it belongs: on your efforts to take action.
Success comes from getting back on the horse after a fall and taking more steps forward than back.

Strength-based Leadership

Which leadership style will prevail in the future?
If you want to improve employee engagement and productivity while reducing turnover, your organization must build on individual and team strengths.
Nearly a decade ago, Gallup unveiled the results of a 30-year research project on leadership strengths. More than 3 million people have since taken the StrengthsFinder assessment, which forms the core of several noteworthy books:

  1. Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton (Free Press, 2001)
  2. StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath (Gallup Press, 2007)
  3. Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance by Marcus Buckingham (Free Press, 2007)

In Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow, New York Times-bestselling author Tom Rath and leadership consultant Barry Conchie reveal the results of extensive Gallup research. Based on their analyses, three keys to effective leadership emerge:

  1. Know your strengths – and invest in others – strengths.
  2. Hire people with the right strengths for your team.
  3. Understand and meet your followers’ four basic needs: trust, compassion, stability and hope.

3 Keys to Effective Leadership
1. The most effective leaders continuously invest in strengths.
When leaders fail to focus on individuals’ strengths, the odds of employee engagement drop to a dismal 1 in 11 (9%). But when leaders focus on employees’ strengths, the odds soar to almost 3 in 4 (73%).
That translates to an eightfold increase in the odds of engaging individuals in their work, leading to greatly increased organizational and personal gains. Employees enjoy greater self-confidence when they learn about their strengths (as opposed to focusing on their weaknesses).
Emphasizing what people do right boosts their overall engagement and productivity. They learn their roles faster and more quickly adapt to variances. They not only produce more, but the quality of their work improves. Gallup has also found powerful links between top talent and crucial business outcomes, including higher productivity, sales and profitability, lower turnover and fewer unscheduled absences.
2. The most effective leaders surround themselves with the right people and maximize their team.
The best leaders needn’t be well rounded, but their teams are. Strong teams have a balance of strengths in four specific leadership domains:

  • Execution: Great leaders know how to make things happen. They work tirelessly to implement solutions and realize success.
  • Influence: Leaders help their teams reach a broader audience by selling ideas inside and outside the organization.
  • Relationship-Building: Leaders are the glue that holds a team together. They create an environment in which groups perform harmoniously for optimal results.
  • Strategic Thinking: Leaders keep everyone focused on the possibilities for a better future.

3. The most effective leaders understand their followers’ needs.
A leader is someone who can get things done through other people.” ~ Warren Buffett, business magnate
People follow leaders for very specific reasons. While researchers have spent the bulk of their time and funding on analyses of leaders’ individual traits, the follower’s point of view has gone largely unexplored.
As noted earlier, Gallup’s study of 10,000 followers reveals four basic needs. They want their leaders to display:

  • Trust: Respect, integrity and honesty
  • Compassion: Caring, friendship, happiness and love
  • Stability: Security, strength, support and peace
  • Hope: Direction, faith and guidance

Measuring Strengths
Gallup’s new online StrengthsFinder assessment helps you identify which of 34 theme-based strengths you have and they fit into the four domains of leadership strength: execution, influence, relationship-building and strategic thinking.
You can also take advantage of similar free online tools.
Defining Strengths
Strengths development requires you to understand several key terms:
A strength is your ability to consistently produce positive outcomes through near-perfect performance in a specific task. It is composed of:

  • Skills – your ability to perform a task’s fundamental steps. Skills do not naturally exist within us; they must be acquired through formal or informal training and practice.
  • Knowledge – what you know, such as your awareness of historical dates and your grasp of the rules of a game. Knowledge must be acquired through formal or informal education.
  • Talents – how you naturally think, feel and behave (i.e., the inner drive to compete, sensitivity to others’ needs, being outgoing at social gatherings). Talents are innate and unique to each of us.

Finding Your Strengths
We display our strengths each day, and we don’t necessarily require a formal assessment to discover where we excel.

  • Our yearnings can reveal the presence of a talent, particularly when we recognize them early in life. A yearning can be described as an internal force – an almost magnetic attraction that leads you to a particular activity or environment time and again.
  • Rapid learning also signals talent. Your brain may light up when you undertake a new challenge. You’ll feel a whole bank of switches flick to the “on” position and feel invigorated.
  • If you feel great satisfaction (psychological fulfillment) when meeting new challenges, you’ve likely identified a talent. Pay close attention to situations that bring you these energizing feelings. If you can identify them, you’re well on your way to pinpointing some of your dominant talents.
  • If you’re so engrossed in an activity that you lose track of time (timelessness), you’re engaged at a deep, natural level – another indicator of talent.
  • Glimpses of excellence are flashes of outstanding performance observed by you or others. In these moments, the task at hand has tapped some of your greatest talents.

Talents are the foundation for developing your strengths. Use your StrengthsFinder report or another assessment tool to identify them. Hone them for a more fulfilling life.
34 Personal Strengths
The Gallup Organization identified 34 distinct personal strengths after interviewing 1.7 million professionals over 40 years:

Gallup’s 34 Strengths
StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath (Gallup Press, 2007) 
1. Achiever Constantly driven to accomplish tasks
2. Activator Sets things in motion
3. Adaptability Adept at accommodating changes in direction/plan
4. Analytical Requires data/proof to make sense of circumstances
5. Arranger Enjoys orchestrating many tasks/variables
6. Belief Strives to find ultimate meaning in everything he/she does
7. Command Embraces leadership positions without fearing confrontation
8. Communication Uses words to inspire action and education
9. Competition Thrives on comparison and competition
10. Connectedness Seeks to unite others through commonalities
11. Consistency Treats everyone the same to avoid unfair advantage
12. Context Reviews the past to make better decisions
13. Deliberative Proceeds with caution and a planned approach
14. Developer Sees others’ untapped potential
15. Discipline Makes sense of the world by imposing order
16. Empathy In tune with others’ emotions
17. Focus Has a clear sense of direction
18. Futuristic Eyes the future to drive today’s success
19. Harmony Seeks to avoid conflict and achieve consensus
20. Ideation Sees underlying concepts that unite disparate ideas
21. Includer Instinctively works to include everyone
22. Individualization Draws upon individuals’ uniqueness to create successful teams
23. Input Constantly collects information/objects for future use
24. Intellection Enjoys thinking and thought-provoking conversation; can compress complex concepts into simplified models
25. Learner Constantly challenged; learns new skills/information to feel successful
26. Maximizer Takes people and projects from great to excellent
27. Positivity Injects levity into any situation
28. Relator Most comfortable with fewer, deeper relationships
29. Responsibility Always follows through on commitments
30. Restorative Thrives on solving difficult problems
31. Self-Assurance Stays true to beliefs; self-confident
32. Significance Others to see him/her as significant
33. Strategic Can see a clear direction in complex situations
34. Woo Can easily persuade

Each of these strengths contributes to the four leadership domains:
Gallup Leadership Strengths
Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams and Why People Follow,
by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie (Gallup Press, 2013)


Growing Strengths for the Future
“People have several times more potential for growth when they invest energy in developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies.” ~ Tom Rath
Many people fall into the trap of trying to “fix” their deficits and flaws instead of expanding their strengths.
Use the Gallup data to identify your talents and convert them into strengths. You can then increase your leadership effectiveness and build stronger, balanced teams.
Remember: Leaders stay true to who they are. They make sure they have the right people around them. Those who surround themselves with similar personalities will always be at a disadvantage, as they’re too insecure to enlist partners and team members with complementary strengths.