by Levi Brandenburg
Create lasting behavioral change

We all have an ideal version of ourselves. Chances are that most, if not all of us, have worked to create habits or make changes to become that ideal version. We implement these habits/changes and keep up with them for an amount of time, but unfortunately, at some point, we begin to fall back into our old ways.

Take nutrition and exercise habits, for example. We get really excited and determined to start a new lifestyle, but along the way, for some reason or another, we lose that excitement and determination that we originally had.

Why? Why is true behavioral change so hard?

Because it is. It is really hard to initiate behavioral change, harder to keep at it, and even harder to make the change stick for good.

One reason for this is because we are surrounded by triggers. They’re constantly pushing and pulling us, causing us to give up early on our new habits. So, what exactly is a trigger? According to Marshall Goldsmith, a trigger is defined as any stimulus that reshapes our thoughts and actions.There are both belief and environmental triggers that we encounter every day.

Belief Triggers

Belief triggers prevent us from making a positive behavioral change — we use these triggers to justify the resistance that we typically have toward change. Our belief triggers fool us into thinking that we can change whenever we want and we use this belief to justify the many excuses we have for postponing our change.

Examples of belief triggers are things like:

  • I have the wisdom to assess my own behavior.
  • We are actually notoriously inaccurate in our assessments of ourselves. We are quick to take credit for our successes and even quicker to blame others for our failures.
  • If I understand it then I’ll do it.
  • Understanding what to do doesn’t ensure that you will actually do it. There are many things we understand how to do or even why we should do it but yet we still have not made the change.
  • I won’t get tired and my enthusiasm will not fade.
  • When we plan to achieve our goals, we believe that our energy will not decrease and that we will never lose our enthusiasm for the change.
  • I have all the time in the world.

Here are two opposing beliefs that we simultaneously hold in our minds and mash into one warped view of time:

  • We chronically underestimate the time it takes to get anything done;
  • We believe that time is open-ended and that we have plenty of it. Therefore, we tell ourselves that we will get to our self-improvement goals eventually.

Environmental Triggers

Belief triggers are significant and provide many challenges when trying to initiate change but environmental triggers have an even stronger influence on us. We believe that we are in sync with our environment. In reality, we are constantly at war with it and its ability to constantly distract and change our behaviors. Our environment is not interested in what it can give us, but rather it is interested in what it can take from us. The impact it has on our behavior is too significant to be ignored. If we do not create and control our environment, our environment will create and control us.

Here are examples of environmental triggers:

  • Negative environments

When we experience road rage it is due to the temporary situation of being surrounded by rude, impatient drivers not because we are just hateful and angry people. Our environment has triggered that rage in us.

  • Positive environments

We all know how important it is to get a good night’s sleep, but we will put off going to sleep because we like the current environment we are in — watching a late-night movie, playing video games, hanging out with friends.

Becoming Aware of Triggers

If triggers are what hold us back, then the solution is learning how to identify and manage these situations. Give self-feedback by thinking of a behavioral goal you are trying to achieve and then listing the people and situations that influence whether you achieve that goal. If you find you are falling short then you are probably getting too much of what you want vs. what you actually need to achieve your goal.

Start asking yourself daily active questions. Active questions get you thinking about what you are doing vs. what is being done to you. Here are some examples:

  • Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals?
  • Did I do my best to build positive relationships?
  • Did I do my best to be fully engaged?

Becoming aware of these triggers prevents us from having an impulsive reaction and reminds us that no matter the situation, we always have a choice when it comes to our behavior. We can create new responses to them and learn to build behaviors that have a positive impact.

There are no guarantees or absolutes with behavioral change. What we can hope for is a consistency in our efforts and persistence of striving to become better. What’s troublesome is when we stop striving to be better, when our lapses between our attempts to change become more frequent, and when we just begin to coast on our reputation. So the next time you feel that you do not have enough time to do your work because you had to talk to a co-worker about another issue, or you are getting ready to decide to skip a workout because you’ll start exercising tomorrow ask yourself: Did you really do your best to achieve your goals today?

Watch my 11-minute talk above!

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