Living in today´s world, creating a career you thrive in, leaving a positive mark as a leader while also nurturing your personal life can be demanding. My clients often come to coaching because they want to create MORE in their lives and careers. More success, impact, effectiveness and efficiency, clarity, focus, and alignment. Or they aim to have LESS – less stress, confusion, or disconnect from others.  

While the goal is often apparent, the way to get there is not. Why? Because whatever the goal is, it more often than not requires a change to happen. Changing the way we do things or the way we look at life and others. 

It might be very tempting to hope that one day when the environment or the people around us change, it’ll all be fine. But the truth is, things and people might change … or not. So, instead of hoping for better circumstances, taking action ourselves and changing what needs to be changed is often much more promising. Instead of trying hard to change the possibly unchangeable, we focus on the one thing that we can control and change – ourselves, our thoughts, and our actions. 

That change could point into many different directions. It could require us to do more of something or to create something new. It could also mean doing less or completely abandon a particular behavior. We might have to change the way we think, the way we behave and take action or the way we interact with others. 

While it sounds to intuitive and logical, lasting behavioral change can be one of the most challenging tasks. Why is that? Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, Executive Coach, bestselling author, and well-known leadership expert, offers an answer to that. According to Marshall, the reason is that we have to manage change in an imperfect world, full of triggers that might pull and push us off course.  

I had the opportunity to meet Marshall in 2019 for a one-day workshop with fellow coaches selected for Marshall´s 100 Coaches initiative. During this workshop, Marshall shared very insightful ideas on how to successfully manage behavioral change.

Here are the key findings from the workshop, complemented with takeaways from his bestseller ‘Triggers: Creating Behavior that Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be.’ 

Let´s start by looking at the question ‘What’s a trigger?’.

According to Marshall, a trigger is a stimulus that has the power to reshape our thoughts and actions. In every waking hour, we’re facing people, events, circumstances, all of which have the potential to trigger and change us – to the better or worse.

As we go through life, we make plans, we set goals and often link our happiness and satisfaction to the achievement of these. However, as we pursue these goals, our environment keeps on intervening and puts us to the test.

It´s the chocolate cake offered when we’re trying to lose some extra pounds. Or the pressing deadline at work that causes us to skip the evening fitness class that we intended to join. The thoughtless comment made by a colleague during the team meeting that caused us to snap back and lose face in front of our boss…and the list goes on. We have all been there.

Our environment is indeed the most potent triggering mechanism. Sometimes, these triggers have a massive impact without us even noticing that they are at work. And once we realize, it is so tempting to feel like a victim to circumstances, ignoring that we do have a choice. As Marshall puts it: ‘Fate is the hand of cards we’ve been dealt. Choice is how we play the hand’. 

So how can we proactively choose for the better? It requires three steps:



A trigger is any stimulus that can impact our behavior. Now, the challenge with triggers is that they can tempt us to enjoy short-term benefits, instead of sticking to what is needed to achieve the long-term positive results we’re aiming for. 

We have to continuously choose how to respond to our triggers. And with short-term pleasures being so appealing, we’re put to the test. There’s this permanent inherent conflict: Should we give in and follow short-term temptations or be in there for the long-term, even if it requires much discipline and sticking to rules and routines?  

Marshall suggests an easy to follow-through yet very insightful exercise to make us smarter about our triggers. It also helps us to connect these triggers directly to our own behavioral successes and failures. It goes as follows:

  • Pick a behavioral goal you are pursuing.
  • List the key people and situations that influence the quality of your performance in the respective area. This means the kind of triggers that could cause you to either follow through or deviate from the plan and desired behavior.
  • Check your triggers and the response they cause in you. 

Be aware of the fact that some triggers might be enjoyable, yet cause us to detour. That´s when praise, recognition, or admiration trigger a specific behavior in us, which, however, might be counterproductive considering our goal. When the charming feedback we receive causes us to take on more workload than we should because ‘saying no’ just seems inappropriate. Or when a trigger allows us to get pleasantly distracted or to be tempted into something which we enjoy instead of doing what needs to be done. Or when we can stay in our beloved comfort zone. 

In these moments, we’re simply getting too much of what we want (pleasure, comfort, acknowledgment, …) but not enough of what we need to follow through. Meaning those triggers such as rules, routines, anticipated pain, or consequences that cause us to stay committed and take action towards our goals. 

So, observe yourself and your response patterns – focusing on both the bigger and smaller actions, keeping in mind that they all accumulate. Success is not the result of winning in one big moment but typically built on many consistent day-to-day actions and the aligned choices leading to these.

Often, we excel in high-pressure moments when the stakes are high, just to find ourselves stumbling through little, day-to-day moments when we´re on autopilot. When life is taking a detour and triggers us to respond in a not so productive way. 



Once we become aware of the trigger and understand which impulse it causes, we can think about better strategies to respond.

One option could be to avoid or bypass the trigger. If that´s not possible, we could choose other behavioral strategies.

That means that we, rather than being on autopilot, take the time to think it over and make more conscious choices. We create strategies, structures, and new routines that help us stay in alignment with the behavior we want to show to reach the objectives that we aim for. 

So, ask yourself:

  • What triggers could come in the way between you and your goals, and how could you choose better response alternatives that are in alignment with who you are and where we want to go.
  • Considering the objective that you want to achieve – what behavior would help you to get there more effectively?



An easy to establish, yet very impactful structure we can use to keep ourselves on track is the routine of Daily Engaging Questions

How does it work? Let´s look at an example. 

Imagine your objective is to communicate more effectively with your colleagues at work. To achieve this, you want to focus on: 

  • listening more actively,
  • changing perspective to understand the other side better,  
  • and using an engaging language to convey your ideas. 

Your goal is clear, and so is the way to get there, meaning the behaviors which you want to show. 

At the end of each day, you could now use Daily Engaging Questions to reflect on how well you did concerning these behaviors. 

Asking yourself an engaging question means that you ask yourself:

‘Did I do my best to … listen actively, change perspective, use engaging language’

instead of just asking

‘Did I do…’.

Asking ourselves whether ‘we have done our best’ causes us to challenge ourselves and to no longer be satisfied with ‘good enough.’ It triggers us to strive for continuous improvement. As a consequence, we achieve our goals even faster as we get better and refine our strategies over time. 

At the same time, ‘Doing our best’ questions trigger us to focus on the effort – not the result. We acknowledge that any change in behavior takes time and that any setbacks or challenges along the way should not stop us from pursuing our dreams and goals. If we make an effort, we will get better. If we don´t, we won´t. It’s as simple as that, and Daily Engaging Questions are a powerful reminder for us to stay on track.

So, once you have defined your list of questions, score them on a scale from 1 – 10, with ten implying that you have done your absolute best. Then ask yourself what the scores are telling you as you review them. 

A consistently low score gives you precious feedback. Maybe there are still triggers to be overcome, or other strategies could yield better results. Or perhaps it tells you that what you thought is important is simply not important enough for you. Remove and replace those questions which are no longer valid. Over time, your list will change, but it will always remain a potent tool to learn, progress, and achieve your goals. 

How can you come up with your list? Here are some tips:

  • Keep in mind that this list is yours. It should reflect your objectives, not those of others. So, don´t worry about being judged or the need to impress anybody else other than you. 
  • Ask yourself whether whatever you put as a question refers to something significant to you in your life right now. 
  • Check-in with yourself and ask whether success on these items will help you become the person you want to be and to achieve the goals you have set for yourself.

Whatever your goal is, keep in mind that change is possible but will most likely not happen overnight. Our successes are the sum of the small efforts repeated day in day out. So, know your triggers, consciously choose productive strategies to drive your behavior and actions towards success and alignment, and follow through wholeheartedly. Doing so will help you living and leading with intention and impact and creating a career and life you thrive in.


Sabine is an Organizational Psychologist & Expert in Positive Psychology, Leadership & Personal Development.

It is her mission to empower leadership across all levels of an organization and to inspire & enable individuals to thrive at work & in life. 

+49 (0) 179 51 88 944

Sabine on Linkedin



© 2021 Sabine Renner





One of the aspects I truly love about working as a coach is that it gives me a front-row opportunity to see my clients achieving meaningful goals, stepping into their potential and living an intentional and impactful life.

My clients often seek out coaching because they’re looking for a positive change or because they have an important goal to achieve. Many of them are already successful, and they strive to elevate their success even further. Or they come with the realization that they have already accomplished so much – yet there’s still that nagging feeling of ‘something is missing, and I don’t know what.’ They have climbed the so-called career ladder only to realize that their ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.

As we go through the coaching journey, there’s often this AHA moment. The realization that ultimate success is not just about ticking the box on the next goal or moving one step further on our career ladders. It is about achieving what truly matters. Then coaching is no longer only about improving performance and reaching goals – although that happens eventually. It’s much more about creating awareness about what really matters and discovering options on how to get there. It’s about choosing consciously and responsibly.

Whether we’re aware of it or not, we choose all the time. The question is whether our choices and the resulting actions bring us closer to alignment.

So, what do I mean with alignment, and how can we get there?

I want to share some insights which I learned from my dear mentor Jan Elfline. Jan is one of the pioneers of coaching, who started her coaching journey in the early 1990s and was amongst the first Master Coaches certified by the International Coach Federation. Her perspective on aligned action is simple, yet so profound.

Being in alignment means that we’re not only aware of our values, but that we honor and treasure them and use them as a compass to guide our decisions and determine our path forward.

Now, what are values?

Values are things that are important to us – it’s as simple as that. They’re the ideals that are at the core of who we are. When we are clear about our values, decision making, and effective follow-through become so much easier – because it just feels like the right thing to do.

When we’re out alignment with our values, life feels a little off. Maybe we’re only marginally conscious of it – that’s when we say ‘I don’t know, this just doesn’t feel right…’.  And when we do something that violates or neglects a core value, we can even feel resentful or frustrated. Why? Because we’re out of alignment.

According to Jan, being in alignment and taking aligned actions means to consciously choose those actions that are aligning with our values.

How to find your values and live by them? Here are some insights and an easy to follow four-step process to experience the power of aligned action.



Try to identify what really matters to you by asking yourself a couple of questions:

  • What’s important to you? What do you care about? What do you want in your life?
  • What was a peak experience in your life? What was remarkable about it?
  • What makes you crazy, frustrated, or angry? As you think of these things – what value is violated/dishonored?
  • What could be a value that is so much part of who you are that you forget about it? An example could be creativity for an artist or functionality for an engineer.

Once you have identified your list of key values, it can be very insightful to go one step further. What do I mean with that? It means to differentiate between so-called end- and mean-values.

A mean-value helps us to get something else that we truly want to have or experience in our lives and that something is what we call an end-value. How can you find out whether a value is a mean- or end-value? Just ask yourself: Is this value giving me something else which I even value more? If so, then it’s a mean-value, and you’d want to understand better what else this is giving you (end-value).

To give you an example of a very prominent mean-value: money. Money could be a mean to get something else that could be very different depending on whom you are talking to. Money could lead to stability. Or it could offer more freedom. The same mean-value, but two very different end-values that lead to different goals and aligned actions to achieve those.

Imagine, you value money because you subconsciously see it as a means to experience freedom. But then you accept a career opportunity that is well-paid but puts you into a very rigid and autocratic work environment. You can guess how long it will take for before you start thinking about how to get out of this.



Now that you went through your values, it’s time to check whether or not you are living in alignment with these.

Here are some questions that could help you:

  • How much does this value show up in your current behavior?
  • Are you honoring this value in your day-to-day life?
  • Does this value get neglected, or do you even even violate it?
  • What can you do to be more in alignment?



Depending on how long your list of values is, meeting all of them every day might be a challenge, at least initially. So, consider choosing the top three, those that matter the most to you. The three you would have the most difficulty to compromise on.

Image what would happen if you use these to steer your direction towards alignment. Not only would you achieve, but you’d be in alignment with what matters to you. That’s when we feel we are climbing the right ladder, and life and work are flowing.  



Being in alignment comes down to day-to-day decision making. The big decisions and the small ones. Questions can provide us with helpful reminders to stay on track. Here are some:

  • As you plan to take these actions – what values do you want to honor?
  • Does this behavior fit well with who you are as a person and what you stand for?
  • Is this commitment in agreement with your values?
  • As you design a strategy for reaching this goal – are you reflecting or violating any of your values?

As you consistently favor choices and actions that align with who you are and what matters to you, the power of aligned actions will start to unfold – helping you to live and lead with intention and impact and to create a career and life you thrive in.





Sabine is an Organizational Psychologist & Expert in Positive Psychology, Leadership & Personal Development.

It is her mission to empower leadership across all levels of an organization and to inspire & enable individuals to thrive at work & in life. 

+49 (0) 179 51 88 944

Sabine on Linkedin



© 2021 Sabine Renner