THE BLOG

A Six-Second Six Pack? Really, Now...

03/17/2015 05:31 pm ET | Updated May 17, 2015

Recently, I found myself channel surfing on a Saturday morning. I was amazed by the number of ads/infomercials I saw about getting in shape!

Here are some of the phrases I heard:

  • "Six-second six pack"
  • "Easy shaper"
  • "Incredible - a miracle!"
  • "It feels terrific! Let us show you how easy it is!"
  • "Turn your flabby abs into that sexy six pack!"

My personal favorite was an ad that claimed "visible results" could be achieved in two three-minute sessions!

If you want to know why so many goal setters don't become goal achievers, you can pore over a bunch of enlightening academic studies about goals or you can watch these ads for 15 minutes. Where did we ever get the crazy idea that getting in shape is supposed to be quick and easy? Why do we think that there will be almost no cost? Why are we surprised that working out is arduous and healthy foods don't always taste that good?

We see the impact of this delusional thinking around us every day. For instance, a few months ago, Mary, an EVP for Human Resources, was dealing with the integration of people and systems after her company made a large acquisition. "Don, our CEO, has been hearing some serious grumbling about Bill, our Chief Information Officer," she groaned. "Bill is 56 years old and has great experience. No one else in the company can match it. Unfortunately, he wants everything to be done 'his way.' There are some brilliant people in the company we acquired who have their own ideas. Several of their top people, including our new COO, are expressing concerns about Bill. Don wants this issue resolved now! He has suggested that we get an executive coach to work with Bill. Given Bill's busy schedule and our immediate needs, Don would like to see a dramatic change in Bill within a couple of months. Because Bill is also very impatient, he won't work with a coach that will waste his valuable time. Do you think that you can help us? When could you start?"

Like all of the folks that buy these "miracle" products to help them get in shape, Mary wanted a "miracle" coach to change Bill -- immediately!

I pointed out that Bill was a 56-year-old executive. Just as with diet and exercise, Bill's behavioral habits took years to develop and won't go away overnight. We all set goals to get some aspect of our lives in shape. All too often, they don't come to fruition. Why? Four of the major challenges to goal achievement are:

  1. Time: This is taking a lot longer than I thought it would. I don't have time for this.
  2. Effort: This is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I'm tired. It's just not worth it.
  3. Competing goals: I had no idea I would be so busy this year. I'll just have to worry about this later.
  4. Maintenance: After I got in shape, I celebrated by indulging in some of the actions that forced me to set my goals in the first place. Now, for some unexplained reason, I'm back where I started. What am I supposed to do? Go on some kind of "diet" for the rest of my life?

We often confuse the words simple and easy. The changes I help people make are generally very simple. However, they are never easy. Just as with diet and exercise, changing behavior involves hard work. It takes time.

During the next year, Bill would be barraged with competing goals that would distract him from his efforts to change. He needed to realize that lasting leadership development is a lifelong process. A temporary change in behavior to "look good" in the short term would only create cynicism if Bill didn't stick with it. If Bill were interested in investing time, working hard, making this change a high-priority goal and continuing his changed behavior throughout his career, then I could definitely help him. If not, hiring me would probably be a waste of everyone's time.

Look in the mirror. Not just at how you look but who you are. If you want to be a better leader, a better professional or just a better person--don't kid yourself--to achieve meaningful goals you'll have to pay the price. There's no product, no diet, no exercise program and (I hate to admit it) no executive coach that can make you better. Only you can make you better. If your source motivation doesn't come from inside, you won't stick with it and you won't get the job done.

This is may not be great advice for a Saturday morning TV ad (could you imagine?), but it is great advice for any real achievement!

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Please view the Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog. The next video in the series Triggers: Turning Those Flabby Abs Into that Sexy Six Pack! accompanies this article. I'll post these blogs once a week for the next 50 weeks. The series will incorporate learnings from my 38 years of experience with top executives, as well as material from my previous research, articles and books, including What Got You Here Won't Get You There, MOJO, Coaching for Leadership, and Succession: Are You Ready? The blogs will also include material from my exciting new research on engagement and my upcoming book Triggers (to be published by Crown in 2015). Pre-order Triggers at TriggerstheBook.com!