Milestones for Behavior Change

Milestones are major progress points. Whether in projects or life, they indicate an important stage of development. Think for a few minutes about birthday milestones. Do you recall turning 16, 21 or maybe even 40 or 50? Reaching these life milestones probably signaled big changes in what life looked like at these stages. 

Milestones are effective in daily behavior change too. They map out the journey ahead. They give us a way to recognize when our small behavior changes begin to take root.

Milestones are impactful coaching strategies

Consider a recent coaching client whose skepticism and distrust of others was holding him back. When he first explained the dynamics, he described it as feeling like a peer or superior was out to get him or intentionally trying to set him up for failure. These fears were most common when receiving emails that didn’t give him the benefit of live conversation or body language.

He found himself questioning the email writer’s intentions and regularly sending accusatory emails in return. His accusatory responses were putting distance between him and others. He was alienating the people he needed most. He knew this behavior needed to change. Yet, he was struggling to do it alone. 

We worked together and co-created these three milestones to help him see when he was making progress:

Milestone #1: Effectively wait 24 hours before responding

Milestone #2: Actively put himself in the email writer’s shoes

Milestone #3: Consistently seek perspective from a peer

He started his development journey focused on Milestone #1. At the end of the first week, he had mastered his behavior and consistently waited 24 hours before responding to inflammatory emails.  He celebrated! It was a moment to pause and recognize his progress. 

Next, he tackled Milestone #2. He practiced putting himself in the writer’s shoes. What else might the writer be trying to accomplish instead of the negative intentions he initially assumed? Was it possible the writer wasn’t even thinking about him? Maybe she was just trying to get her own work done or accomplish her own goals.

Asking himself where the writer was coming from uncovered new insight. He started to see how his own thinking was flawed. Each day he understood more and more how he was making untrue assumptions. Wow. In our next coaching session, he told me how frustrated he felt for assuming the worst. 

Milestones provide focus!

This mental discovery prompted him to take more deliberate action and move to Milestone #3. He decided to leverage a trusted peer AND me as an objective third party. For the next few weeks, each time an email arrived that caused him to doubt or distrust, he sent the email to me and his colleague. Now, both of us were able to help him question his assumptions and offer another view on what the writer was saying. 

Milestone #3 was a game changer for him. Our questions and reactions added an entirely new layer of thoughts and ideas he had never considered. These insights “flipped the switch” for him mentally. His new motivation was to make up for lost time he had spent assuming the worst. 

So what’s the key to effective Milestones?

These intentional but not easy milestones served as developmental guideposts and progress reports for him. Each time he reached a milestone, his confidence grew.  Each time he was able to stop and reward himself, he benefited from positive reinforcement. It also gave him much needed motivation and refueled his commitment to go even further!

If you’re struggling to stick to a behavior change plan, today is the day to try again. This time, start by intentionally creating 3 simple (but not easy) milestones. Dig deep to articulate what it’s going to look like when you see yourself making progress. 

Paige Boyd is an executive coach in Nashville, TN. She coaches and advises leaders and organizations who want to break through barriers and overcome challenges that are holding them back. If you are ready to achieve significant growth, let’s talk!