Quick Read

Changing for the better and making it last


By Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter

Profile Books/Paperback/252 pages/$20.22 with GST from major bookstores; on loan from the National Library Board under the call number English 155.24 GOL


It is a truth only recently acknowledged that successful people often struggle to keep their perch. This is because success tends to lull them into believing they know best, they alone can solve their problems and they are better than most.

Triggers: Sparking positive change and making it last

But Marshall Goldsmith, one of the world's top C-Suite coaches, points out that overachievers ignore, or forget, that their motivation tends to wane the moment they make any progress in changing such bad behaviour.

As he notes in this book: "At the level these people operate in - where nine out of 10 times they are the most powerful people in the room... they actually believe that they control their environment, not the other way around."

For example, in the spring of 2014, he hosted a dinner with 17 self-made millionaires and corporate chieftains. All of them promised him at the start that they would throw US$20 (S$28) on the table every time they interrupted someone, or passed judgment on anyone.

Within 10 minutes, there was US$400 in the ring. Half an hour later, the sum had doubled, and one person had to head for an ATM.

Goldsmith's clients have included World Bank president Kim Jim Yong, Mayo Clinic chief executive John Noseworthy and United States Presidential Medal of Freedom awardee Frances Hesselbein.

Goldstein actually wrote this book on how adults can change bad behaviour for good after learning two things from his daughter Kelly, a behavioural marketing don at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management

One, the way to make anyone more dedicated at work is to monitor them through an active question like "Did you set clear goals for yourself today?", not a fuzzy one like "Did you set clear goals?".

Two, employees alone are responsible for making their work meaningful, enjoyable and productive.


1. Changing your behaviour is hard enough. It gets even harder because you need everyone around you to recognise and support you while you change - and people are not always reliable.

2. Nor can you rely on willpower because people are better at repeating positive actions than avoiding negative ones.

3. Successful people rise to the most high-pressured occasion because they thrive on big challenges. It is "life's paper cuts" (from having to queue to being needled by others) that trigger the basest behaviour.

4. Be aware of when, why and how such triggers affect you. Rather than cave in to impulse, respond positively to such moments with a kind word or by just listening.

5. Commit to answering these six daily questions: (1) Did I do my best to set clear goals today? (2) Did I do my best to make progress towards my goals today? (3) Did I do my best to find meaning today? (4) Did I do my best to be happy today? (5) Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?(6) Did I do my best to be fully engaged today? Then have someone you trust hold you to account with your answers to these questions, by calling you at the end of each day.

7. Impatience is the Achilles' heel of lasting change, so such daily questioning has you appreciating each of your small steps forward, and keeps you alive to the present.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 19, 2017, with the headline 'Changing for the better and making it last'. Print Edition | Subscribe