Creating Behavioral Change with a Three Minute Daily Practice

Marshall Goldsmith, bestselling author and executive coach, shares six questions in his book Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be.

  1. Did I do my best to set clear goals today?
  2. Did I do my best to make progress toward 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?

Goldsmith hires someone to call him and ask these questions every evening.

Why would he do that?

Our Default Behavior Is Dysfunctional

We all have a default behavior. For most of us, it is staying in our comfort zone, avoiding discomfort, indulging in short-term pleasures, and similar dysfunctional patterns.

If we don’t make a conscious effort, we fall back to our default behavior. We can’t make progress in our lives with our default behavior. If we don’t make any progress, we lag behind.

That means we need to make a conscious effort toward our goals day after day. Having someone call you every day is a reminder, in other words a trigger, to make that effort.

If you can’t afford a virtual assistant to call you every evening, I’m sure there’s a way to program Apple’s Siri or Google Assistant to do the same thing. If you know how to do that, please let me know in the comments.

One How Question per Day

I like the idea to take a few minutes every day to evaluate my day as I explained in the post Create Your Dream Life, 15 Minutes a Day.

Nevertheless, yes-no questions don’t work for me very well. They don’t get me into a reflective state of mind that triggers insights and causes behavioral changes.

I like how questions more than yes-no questions. They make me go deeper, come up with insights, and change my behavior the next day.

My Focus Nowadays: Time Management

Nowadays, I ask myself a single how question at the end of the day: “How could I make better use of my day today?”

This question makes me reflect on my time management throughout the day. I try to come up with at least three answers.

As long as I can come up with at least three answers every day, that means I have still room for improvement in how I use my time.

When I do this exercise for a few minutes every evening, my use of time the next day changes.

I become more mindful. I try not to make the same mistakes and apply the improvement ideas that I came up with the evening before.

Change Doesn’t Happen Overnight

Don’t expect that your behavior and your life will change forever just because you did this exercise for a week or two.

You’ll be mindful for a week or two while doing this exercise. You’ll revert to your default patterns a few weeks after you stop doing it. Therefore, I recommend you make this exercise a part of your daily routine.

Focus on a Single Virtue at a Time

Benjamin Franklin had a similar practice in his daily routine. He had 13 virtues that he focused on, including resolution, industry, and sincerity. He focused on one of those virtues every week.

You don’t need to copy the virtues of Benjamin Franklin. You can pick a virtue that would benefit you at this moment in your life.

You don’t need to change your focus every week. You can focus on a virtue as long as you deem necessary.

I plan to ask the same question to myself as long as I can come up with three answers every day.

Coming up with the same answers every day would hurt me because that means that I haven’t learned my lessons. Therefore, I pay more attention the next day.

Change Your Focus as Needed

When I’m satisfied with my time management, I plan to move on to mindfulness. I plan to ask myself the question “How could I be more mindful today?”

I don’t plan to make a list of virtues at this moment. I plan to pick a virtue as needed. There’s a chance that I’ll have to repeat the same exercise with time management down the road.

As I mentioned before, we fall back to our default behaviors if we don’t practice every day.

Conclusion

Asking yourself a simple how question to reflect on a virtue and coming up with a few answers every day is an effective personal development practice.

It’s easy to do and takes only a few minutes. It motivates you the next day to practice that virtue.

I don’t believe we can change our default behaviors. We’ll fall back to them if we don’t keep up with our daily practices.

Asking myself a how question every day is a little investment of time and effort for all the improvements it creates the next day. Highly recommended.