I’m not usually a fan of wise sayings or proverbs, as I find they’re often cliche. However, there’s one that has stayed with me and I share with my clients and our students on the BCA:

Watch your thoughts as they become words

Watch your words as they become actions

Watch your actions as they become habits

Watch your habits as they become your character

Watch your character as it will determine your destiny

As a coach, I specialise in helping clients achieve positive behavioural change. The starting point is understanding what we mean by behaviour (what we say and do) and why we behave the way we do.

If you ask someone why they were aggressive to a colleague who challenged them during a meeting, they may tell you it’s because that person made them feel angry. Anger is an emotion, a feeling, and is a powerful driver for a behaviour (I feel angry therefore I shout etc). But if that person wanted to better manage their tendency to react aggressively, they need to understand what is driving the anger in the first place.

Your feelings are largely driven by your thoughts (psychologists call it our ‘self talk’). While we’re usually good at recognising how we feel, very often we’re not so good at listening to what is going on in our head.

For instance, if the person in the meeting reacted aggressively to being challenged, because they believe their colleague thinks they are incompetent, then clearly that will lead to an emotional feeling of stress and anger.

However, imagine that ‘they think I’m incompetent’ thought could be replaced with ‘their job is to challenge my thinking, as I would do to them…they’re simply doing their job’. This would clearly create a more positive emotional reaction and, therefore, behaviour.

Often clients tell me ‘that’s all well and good, but in the heat of battle everything happens so fast I don’t have time to explore my thinking’. Well, if that’s true, consider this. You’re walking around barefoot at home and kick a piece of furniture…most of us probably shout a slightly colourful word! But, if that same thing happened again, only this time there’s a young child within earshot, you wouldn’t swear (because you believe it’s wrong to swear in front of children)?

That reaction happens in the blink of an eye, but demonstrates you’ve developed a lighting fast habit of changing your reaction to a stimulus, to achieve a different outcome (you don’t want your little one to learn a swear word!).

It takes practise but at work you can develop this exact same habit to help achieve more consistently positive behaviour and outcomes.

Because if you want to improve your character – and ultimately your destiny – it all starts with challenging those unhelpful thoughts.