3 Proven Tools to Accelerate Behavior Change

“Change does not occur by merely willing it any more than behavior changes simply through insight.” — Leo Buscaglia

Now that we’re a month into 2023, you’ve probably identified at least a few goals and priorities you aim to accomplish this year. But how will you achieve them?

Goals aren’t achieved because you will them into being. Rather, they manifest as the result of thousands—if not millions—of decisions you and your team make over time. 

The problem is, while making many of these choices, it’s easy to become distracted by short-term rewards while failing to contemplate long-term consequences. One by one, the decisions you make slowly steer you away from the course to achieve your goal. Over time, they compound with the same unhappy result as an airline pilot steering just one degree off course as she flies from New York to Madrid: you miss the destination.

Too often, I see leaders focus so much on the finish line they lose sight of the path or paralyze themselves while obsessing over the process to get there. In both cases, they aren’t acknowledging the imperative that they must change themselves to achieve what they desire.

Here’s a new, behaviorally realistic way to think about achievement: A goal isn’t a goal—it’s the SYMPTOM of the changes you make over time. For example, if your goal is to achieve annual revenues of $15 million in three years, that result will be a symptom—an outcome—of how you changed your behavior along the way.

In other words, to achieve different results, you MUST change your behavior!

Here are three research-based behavior change techniques that will accelerate your progress.

Be Your Way Into Thinking

“Behavior is the mirror in which everyone shows their image.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The quickest way to modify a behavior is to just do it. Being your way into thinking is more colloquially expressed as “fake it ‘til you make it.” With this technique, you’ll emulate the desired behavior and course correct over time until it becomes both natural and effective.

Fear is often the obstacle to being your way into thinking. I observe this consistently in many of the coaches I mentor. They complete their initial training and return home, but rather than picking up the phone to network and contact potential clients, they read manuals, work on their website, and occupy themselves with other things they justify as prerequisites to get started. They’re afraid they’re not ready, they’re afraid they’re not good enough (yet), and they’re afraid they’re going to embarrass themselves.

Many believe that once they learn and master everything, they’ll feel like the professionals they hope to become, enabling them to make the calls. Instead, their efforts just delay the process. In this case, the way to learn—and learn quickly—is to emulate someone you know, dial the first number on your list, and say hello.

Here’s how to make this method work for you: Let’s imagine you decide you need to have more direct conversations with your team—a behavior you’re not very good at that makes you uncomfortable. 

To start, you might reach out to a friend or colleague who is great at giving feedback and ask her about what she does when one of her direct reports needs direct feedback. You might inquire about what she thinks when she walks through the door, or how she opens the conversation when they sit down. 

Perhaps you worry in these situations that you’ll ruin someone’s day. You might learn that your friend thinks differently: “I’m about to do this person a great service because, without this feedback on their performance, they wouldn’t have the opportunity to get better and reach their potential.” It’s the same situation, the same conversation, but with two very different beliefs driving—and thus determining—the leader’s behavior. 

Next, instead of just thinking about her insights, try emulating her feedback beliefs and behaviors immediately. Of course, it will feel uncomfortable at the beginning, but you’ll learn from the process and improve over time. 

If / When, Then

“Most bad behavior comes from insecurity.” — Debra Winger

Human behavior is governed by a rule of consistency—we behave in a manner that aligns with our conception of ourselves. If someone prompts you to consider your altruistic tendencies by asking whether you imagine yourself to be a generous person and then later that day someone else asks you to support a worthy charity, you’re more likely to donate than someone who wasn’t primed to think about their willingness to give.

Over the years, I’ve worked with many CEOs who were not formally trained in critical parts of their business, like accounting and finance for example. Though they ran a successful business, some remained overwhelmed by the numbers, and they avoided financial information and reports. This behavior created active ignorance, further reinforcing and magnifying the problem over time.

To change behaviors like this, I coach my clients to utilize “if/when, then” statements. An “if/when, then” statement names a cue and the behavior it will provoke. The financially unsure CEO, for example, might create this statement: “When I receive our monthly financials, then I will sit down that day for a minimum of 30 minutes with my Controller to understand them.”

While these words won’t turn anyone into a finance whiz overnight, they will cue you to do the thing you know you should do.

Studies show that humans crave structure. If you structure your thinking around a trigger, you’re far more likely to complete the attached behavior because you’ve made a commitment to do it.

The results are astounding. “If/when, then” statements are far superior to simple intentions because they prepare you to notice the cue and allow you to capitalize on the behavioral rule of consistency.

Know When To Say No

“Life is hard. Life is difficult. Life is going to punch you in the gut. But when you change your attitude, you change your behavior. When your behavior changes, so do your results.” — Will Hurd

Most CEOs I know consider themselves to be givers. They believe they need to give to build the organization they want.Although this is mostly true, I’ve found that giving too much can have negative consequences. 

When you say yes to something, you sacrifice attention, time, and resources for other things. Do it too often, and your own performance will suffer. In other words, when you give too much, you become a low performer!

The propensity to give without limits is often connected to fears about ego, scarcity, and failure. This is a mechanism by which many leaders justify their importance (ego) or act on their fear that if they don’t handle things directly, their business, group, or team will fail. It’s exhausting, it’s not scalable, and—ironically—it’s a significant cause of failure!

Time is a more valuable commodity than money. You can make more money, but you can never make more time. As such, it’s important to honor your priorities and protect your time by learning to say “no” more often.

But how do you get started? Use the word “don’t.”

Tell yourself: “I don’t accept tasks that can be done by others,” or “I don’t commit to anything that doesn’t serve my goals.” Then apply that belief to your decisions and watch your “yes-to-no ratio” improve.


Yes, it’s still important to create goals and priorities for yourself and for your business. But it’s a fool’s errand to fixate on the goal itself rather than how you need to change to make it happen.

Remember: A goal isn’t a goal—it’s the SYMPTOM of the changes you make over time.

Focus instead on making better decisions and becoming who you need to become in order to have what you want. You do that by changing how you think and how you behave.

A word of caution: Installing new behaviors doesn’t happen overnight. You may try one of the methods I’ve described here, and then slip back under stress.

That’s okay!

Think of it this way: If you were a parent who picked up your toddler every time he reached for you, he’d never learn to walk. Humans learn from doing, not from thinking. For instance, you didn’t learn to ride a bike by reading a book about it! You had to get on the bike, fall off, and get back on again until you figured it out.

Changing your behavior as a leader is the same. It can take multiple tries with multiple models but starting and actually DOING something is the first step toward meaningful change.

Which behaviors must you change to make 2023 the year you want it to be?


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The best strategies and market opportunities in the world mean nothing if you’re not able to execute our plans and get things done. And yet, accountability remains a recurring, frustrating issue for business leaders around the world. Organizations with a culture of accountability execute smoothly and without drama, retain high performers, and have an improved sense of collaboration, accomplishment, and fun at work.

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Imagine how great it would be if your employees were more independent, better decision makers, and did the “right things” more often without needing much guidance. Although we intuitively know that these attributes eliminate countless leadership headaches and set the stage to create scale, it’s shockingly easy to elicit the exact opposite behaviors from your team.

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Class Date: March 14, 2023. Learn more and register!


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