Making Meaningful Behavioural Changes Ain’t Easy

Based on an article by Marshall Goldsmith

Shared by Andrew Cooke, Blue Sky GPS

As an accredited Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching (MGSCC) executive coach, my role is to help successful people achieve positive lasting change in behaviour. Many embrace the opportunity to change, and most are aware of the fact that behavioural change will help them become more effective leaders, partners, and even family members. A few are not. I would like to share some of the insights as to why people find changing themselves so hard!

My process of helping clients is straightforward and consistent. I interview and listen to my clients’ key stakeholders. These stakeholders could be their colleagues, direct reports, or board members. I accumulate a lot of confidential feedback. Then I go over the summary of this feedback with my clients. My clients take ultimate responsibility for the behavioural changes that they want to make. My job is then very simple. I help my clients achieve positive, lasting change in the behaviour that they choose as judged by key stakeholders that they choose. If my clients succeed in achieving this positive change – as judged by their stakeholders – I get paid. If the key stakeholders do not see positive change, I don’t get paid.

Our odds of success improve because I’m with the client every step of the way, telling him or her how to stay on track and not regress to a former self. But that doesn’t diminish the importance of one extremely significant fact:

Meaningful behavioural change is hard to do.

It’s hard to initiate behavioural change, even harder to stay the course, hardest of all to make the change stick.

If you think I’m overstating its difficulty answer these questions:

  1. What do you want to change in your life? It could be something major, such as your weight (a big one), your job (big too), or your career (even bigger). It could be something minor, such as changing your hairstyle or checking in with your mother more often or changing the wall colour in your living room.
  2. How long has this been going on? For how many months or years have you risen in the morning and told yourself some variation on the phrase, “This is the day I make a change”?
  3. How’s that working out? In other words, can you point to a specific moment when you decided to change something in your life and you acted on the impulse and it worked out to your satisfaction?

These three questions conform to the three problems we face in introducing change into our lives.

  1. We can’t admit that we need to change—either because we’re unaware that a change is desirable, or, more likely, we’re aware but have reasoned our way into elaborate excuses that deny our need for change. In the following pages, we’ll examine—and dispense with—the deep-seated beliefs that trigger our resistance to change.
  2. We do not appreciate inertia’s power over us. Given the choice, we prefer to do nothing—which is why I suspect our answers to “How long has this been going on?” are couched in terms of years rather than days. Inertia is the reason we never start the process of change. It takes extraordinary effort to stop doing something in our comfort zone (because it’s painless or familiar or mildly pleasurable) in order to start something difficult that will be good for us in the long run.
  3. We don’t know how to execute a change. There’s a difference between motivation and understanding and ability. For example, we may be motivated to lose weight but we lack the nutritional understanding and cooking ability to design and stick with an effective diet. Or we have understanding and ability but lack the motivation. Our behaviour is shaped, both positively and negatively, by our environment—and a keen appreciation of our environment can dramatically lift not only our motivation, ability, and understanding of the change process, but also our confidence that we can actually do it.

Causes Problems of Changing Behaviour

What makes positive, lasting behavioural change so challenging – and causes most of us to give up early in the game – is that we have to do it in our imperfect world, full of triggers that may pull and push us off course. Achieving meaningful and lasting change may be simple – simpler than we imagine. But simple is far from easy. And being aware of that is the first step in helping you change yourself successfully.  Share this insight with your team, reports and colleagues.

To find out more and discuss this and other ways to improve leadership effectiveness and organizational performance further contact Andrew Cooke (MGSCC), call Andrew Cooke on +61 (0)401 842 673 or

You can also find further insights and a wealth of material on business and leadership on Andrew’s other blog – Growth & Profit Solution Blog. There are also a large number of resources at his Blue Sky GPS Website, and these can be found Blue Sky GPS Resources.

About Andrew Cooke & Blue Sky GPS (Growth & Profit Solutions)


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