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The Tom Cruise Approach to Behavior Change

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I saw Mission Impossible 7 recently…and even if you’re not a fan of action movies or Tom Cruise, there is a lesson it for us behavioral leadership geeks.

Warning: This does contain a slight spoiler for one scene of the movie, but I try not to give away too much detail.

Tom Cruise is famous for doing his own stunts in these movies, something that is unusual in Hollywood movies. He is also famous for being super perfectionistic, so he trains like crazy when he knows a tough stunt is coming up.

In Mission Impossible 7, he does a stunt where he rides a motorcycle off a mountain top, separates from the motorcycle, and parachutes after a free fall into a huge valley. He actually did this stunt in real life, but in order to do it well, he trained daily for months and months.

He did 13,000 motorcycle jumps and 500 skydives to get ready for the stunt.

Then…on the day of the stunt, he insisted on doing it 6 times, to make sure he got it right.

For most of us, thankfully that level of training and planning is not necessary to get what we want.

Most of us drift in and out of the proper habits we know we need to achieve the important goals and results in our lives.

Today, I want to share a short exercise that might help you refocus your efforts on the important things in your life.

Get something to write on for this exercise. Here are the questions:

…What are some of the things you would like to accomplish in your organization?

…How about for your department?

…for your team?

… for your career

… in your personal life?

Make a short list of results you’d like to see for one or more of these areas.

Now draw a line horizontally across your paper and put a minus on the left side and a plus on the right-hand side.

On the right-hand side, make a list of the habits that you need to engage to make that result more likely. Don’t consider current limitations…Tom Cruise probably didn’t think about what why he couldn’t do 500 skydives, he just figured that was the number he needed to be ready.

On the left side of the page, make a list of the habits you need to stop doing – habits that make it less likely that you will achieve the goals or results you listed above.

Now that you know this information and it is right in front of you, think for a few minutes about what you can do to make it the behaviors on the right-hand side more likely, and what you can do to make the behaviors on the left hand side less likely.

List a few of these things out, and commit to starting a few of the most important, highest leverage ones today.

This is how behavior changes…bit by bit, and day by day. It’s not about willpower, it’s about knowing which behaviors align with your values, and then thoughtfully creating the right environment for the behaviors to happen.

You may not be jumping a motorcycle off of mountains, but you will definitely see the change you hoping for if you reliably make a few changes.

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