By Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter
(Crown Business, 244 pages, $32)
Every evening, executive coach Marshall Goldsmith pays an associate to call him and ask a series of questions that force him to recap whether he has been true to his behavioural intentions as he caromed through the day's events. He thinks you should try the same approach.
Currently he has 22 questions, but at the heart are these six that he recommends for everyone:
- Did I do my best to set clear goals?
- Did I do my best to make progress towards goal achievement?
- Did I do my best to find meaning?
- Did I do my best to be happy?
- Did I do my best to build positive relationships?
- Did I do my best to be fully engaged?
You might also want to pose some questions tailored to your current concerns. For example, he asks if he did his best to exercise, have a healthy diet, and say or do something nice for his wife and children (each family member merits an individual question).
It's easy to slip when we set out to change our behaviour. The daily questions force you to be accountable to yourself. They prevent the slippage that happens as we become consumed with life's many tasks and our vows of change fly out of our mind. They can only be forgotten until the day's question period.
The reminders can be posed by a friend, family member or colleague, in person or by phone or e-mail. The wording is essential. If the constant "Did I do my best?" intro seems needlessly repetitive and wordy, don't edit. In the past he asked questions that allowed him to evade accountability, such as: "How happy were you today" or "How meaningful was your work?"
If he wasn't happy and work lacked meaning, he could blame it on some factor outside himself. Now he isn't asked how well he performed but how much he tried – how much effort he put into it, on a one-to-10 scale – which is a more active, engaging question. It injects a sense of personal ownership.
"If I scored low on trying to be happy I had only myself to blame. We may not hit our goals every time, but there is no excuse for not trying," he notes in his book Triggers, written with literary agent Mark Reiter.
"This 'active' process will help anyone get better at almost anything. It only takes a couple of minutes a day. But be warned: It is tough to face the reality of our own behaviour – and our own level of effort – every day."
There's no magic number of questions. Some of his clients have only three or four, focusing on some crucial behavioural changes they want to make. Usually those cover health, family, relationships, money, enlightenment or discipline.
People routinely give themselves a better than 50 per cent chance of hitting the targets in their question. So he tosses some cold water into their face. "Within two weeks," he will announce, "half of you will give up and stop answering the Daily Questions."
He stresses he doesn't just mean they will slack off on a few of their goals. In fact, they'll abandon the process completely, giving up keeping score. It's human nature. Either we'll feel ashamed when we have some bad days and redouble our efforts or we'll quit rather than be faced with our failings. After all, he notes, we wrote the questions and are failing the test.
But the questions can work effectively because they reinforce our commitment. They ignite our motivation where we need it, not where we don't – the questions focus on where we require help, not where we're doing just fine. They also shrink our goals into manageable increments, dealing with our impatience since we can see progress fairly quickly.
They also highlight the difference between self-discipline and self-control. "Behavioural change demands self-discipline and self-control. We tend to use these terms interchangeably, but there's a subtle difference. Self-discipline refers to achieving desirable behaviour. Self-control refers to avoiding undesirable behaviours," he says.
Most people are better at one than another and we can phrase our questions accordingly. "Did I do my best to limit my sugar consumption?" calls for self-discipline, while "Did I do my best to say no to sweets?" hints at self-control.
Above all, the questions provide structure. And he says we'll never get better without structure, pointing to Alan Mulally, former president and CEO of Ford Motor Co., who is obsessed about structure, in personal and corporate improvement, and happens to be the client who improved the most with the least amount of time by Mr. Goldsmith.
The book is a guide to becoming the person you want to be, opening with a look at the psychological factors at play and the role of triggers and the environment before moving on to the daily questions and other self-improvement paths. It's easy to read and has lots of ideas you can use.
Here are the 16 other questions that executive coach Marshall Goldsmith answers every day, after the six basic ones he recommends for everyone. On a one-to-10 scale, did I do my best to:
- Learn something new?
- Develop new material?
- Preserve all client relationships?
- Be grateful for what you have?
- Avoid angry or destructive comments about others?
- Forgive yourself and others for perceived mistakes?
- Avoid trying to prove you’re right when it’s not worth it?
- Not waste energy on what you cannot change?
- Get a good night’s sleep?
- Have a healthy diet?
- Say or do something nice for Lydia [his wife]?
- Say or do something nice for Bryan [his son]?
- Say or do something nice for Kelly [his daughter]?
- Say or do something nice for Reid [his son-in-law]?
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter