You can change: Personal development is an ongoing process


Recently, as I checked out at my favorite market I overheard the man behind me say to his companion, “I can’t change it, that’s the way I was raised.”

Impulsively I turned to him, and said with friendly voice and face, “That doesn’t mean you can’t change.” Fortunately, he received my remark with a smile and we both went about our Saturday business.

Another statement you’ve probably heard often is “People don’t change.” If these remarks reflected basic truth, coaches would have a hard time making a living.

By the time we’re old enough to read, we’ve weathered thousands of changes in our environs, and consciously or not ,changed our behaviors in response to those changes. Sometimes coaching deals with developing intentional effective responses to changes in our environments. In business, the changes might be systems conversions, new leadership, mergers, organizational growth – you name it. In our personal lives, it might be welcoming new family members, changes in marital status, financial ups or downs – even adjusting to a new puppy.

The list is long and the lesson is that change is perhaps the only constant.

Marshall Goldsmith is one of my all-time favorite executive coaches. In his new book “Triggers,” Goldsmith points out how unappreciated triggers in our environment (people and situations) can lure us into being the exact opposite of the colleague, boss, parent or friend we want to be. He provides clear and proven methods to overcome those trigger points and enact changes that improve how we interact with others and how happy we are with our own behaviors.

The book is about adult behavioral change. Goldsmith asks and answers questions such as these: Why are we so bad at it? How do we get better? How do we choose what to change? How do we know that others appreciate that we’ve changed? How do we identify and deal with the triggers in our environment? In doing research for the book, he asked people, “What’s the biggest behavioral change you’ve ever made?”

A few decades ago I made a behavioral change that has improved my life greatly. People who associate with me now would not believe that I once was known for being late for meetings, late for lunch, late for picking up the kids from a birthday party. I was very good at mumbling out excuses. The consequences were terrible, and finally I faced up to the gap in my behavior concerning time and the behavior that I wanted to enact consistently. I realized that I was inconveniencing people I cared about and suggesting to them that my time was more valuable than theirs. I was not behaving like the mother, professional woman or friend I wanted to be.

It would have been helpful if Goldsmith’s book had been available then. As it was, I fashioned a plan for change, asked my then-husband (who now travels the universe) to be my coach (he was Mr. Punctual) and got to work. I analyzed situations where I messed up, tweaked my plan where needed and eventually successfully installed the behavioral change. Now, I am more apt to be a little early for an engagement, but only once in recent years showed up late.

In the section of the book called Engaging Questions, Goldsmith explains the power of taking personal responsibility for change. He recommends that we keep score daily and report the scores to someone who could be a coach, a volunteer or – in his case – someone he pays to receive the daily report. Here are the questions:

  • Did I do my best to set clear goals today?
  • Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals today?
  • Did I do my best to find meaning today?
  • Did I do my best to be happy today?
  • Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?
  • Did I do my best to be fully engaged today?

As always, Goldsmith enlivens all of his points with examples of clients who have achieved lasting positive change in behaviors important to them. He believes that with time to reflect, most of us know what we should be doing. He writes, “Honestly assessing the interplay in our lives between these two forces – the environment and ourselves – is how we become the person we want to be.”

An ongoing process, I’d say.

Jo Gorissen is a certified transition coach and a former Milwaukee area resident. She can be reached at

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