Vital Behaviors


One of my favorite take aways from my Influencer Training is Vital Behaviors.  Vital behaviors are the smallest set of actions that lead to the results you want.  They are the few high-leverage actions that if you keep doing, produce the outcomes you’re after.  Vital Behaviors are key to change efforts whether you are trying to change yourself or something larger (your team, your organization, or the world.)  In fact, change efforts often fail because they either focus on the results but don’t identify the specific actions to get there, or they spend time and energy on a bunch of actions that are good ideas, but aren’t the vital few.

I like to think of the vital behaviors as the MUST actions vs. the SHOULD or COULD.  For example, if I want to get my body in fighting shape, I need to workout 4 times per week.  If I want to write a book, I need to write and edit daily.  I can do a bunch of other supportive behaviors, but if I don’t do these vital behaviors, I don’t get the results I want.  Vital Behaviors cut to the chase.

Key Points
During training, we learned the following points on Vital Behaviors:

  • Behaviors are actions, not results.
  • Behaviors are actions, not qualities.
  • Ask what behaviors would demonstrate that a particular value is being lived.
  • If it isn’t actionable, it isn’t a behavior. If you can’t go and “do it”, it’s not a behavior.
  • Just because it’s a behavior doesn’t make it vital.
  • Look for the fewest behaviors that lead to change.

Vital behaviors depend on context, so while some may be reusable or generic (such as a pattern or proven practice), others will vary from individual to individual or from project to project or from situation to situation.  The key is to test what works.

How To Find Vital Behaviors with Larger Projects
We learned a few ways to find Vital Behaviors with larger projects:

  • Check with local experts.
  • Scan the best and most-cited articles and research.
  • Search the Internet for most-cited experts.

How To Find Vital Behaviors with Smaller Projects
We learned a few ways to find Vital Behaviors with smaller projects:

  • Determine your crucial moments.
  • Find the behaviors in those moments that affect your results.
  • Conduct mini-experiments.

Testing for Vital Behaviors
You can test whether you identified Vital Behaviors by asking yourself the following:

  • Can you go and “do it”?
  • Do they stop self-defeating and escalating behaviors?
  • Do they start a reaction that leads to good results? (the domino effect)

During our training, we got to see some simple examples of Vital Behaviors:

Vital Behaviors Result
Make 10 cold calls a day to keep the pipeline filled Hit $2 million in sales by the end of the quarter
Do 30 minutes of cardio exercise daily Lose 3 inches from my waist by December

3 Vital Behaviors for Weight Loss
What are the 3 Vital Behaviors for losing 40 lbs and keeping it off?

  1. Weight yourself daily.
  2. Eat breakfast.
  3. Workout at home.

3 Vital Behaviors for Diabetes
What are the 3 Vital Behaviors to successfully manage Diabetes?

  1. Improve diet.
  2. Exercise.
  3. Monitor.

Knowing the Vital Behaviors improves your focus and your results.  You can maximize your impact by spending your time and energy doing the right actions that lead to the results you want to produce.

My Related Posts

Photo by Malkav.


  1. […] the right chest workout exercise and if one will follow the system religiously and diligently Vital Behaviors – 07/01/2009 One of my favorite take aways from my Influencer Training […]

  2. I have a folder on my GTD system where I put things that I need to do everyday. I think they reflect what you call vital behaviors. I like the idea to add a label ‘must’ to each element to condition our thought.

  3. What are three vital behaviors to write a book?
    what are critical resources to back the behaviors?

  4. I wasn’t familiar with the idea of vital behaviors before reading this post but I’m excited about them now. I’m going to spend some time thinking about what MY vital behaviors are. Thanks!

  5. Hi J.D.,

    The part that really resonated with me was, “In fact, change efforts often fail because they either focus on the results but don’t identify the specific actions to get there….”

    For me, it’s one thing to set a goal, but I know if I don’t commit to the actions (to get to the goal), all will be for naught.

    Thank you for the great questions we can ask ourselves, as well as the graphics. It puts it into proper perspective.

  6. So in essence it’s breaking a big goal down into achievable daily tasks, correct?

  7. @ Oscar

    As simple as it sounds, MUST really helps me whittle things down to the bare minimum. Remember though that Vital Behaviors are in the context of change, so they are beyond To Do items. That said, it’s great to identify your Vital action items 🙂

    @ Alik

    Your Vital Behaviors will vary, but I bet if you did the following, you’ll get pretty close:
    1. Block out 1 hr each day, M-F to work on your book.
    2. During the hour, exclusively write and edit your book.
    3. Share weekly progress of your book with a small team you trust.

    3 critical resources would be:
    1. a list of problems you want your book to solve
    2. a mentor to help you through the process when you get stuck
    3. a sounding board to bounce ideas off as you go

    @ Positively Present

    That really is the key — identifying your Vital Behaviors that make the difference for whatever change you want to make happen.

    @ Barbara

    Commiting to the right actions really puts a fine point on what makes it work. It’s so easy to dream up great results and even think your way through things, but the real test is how well you execute the Vital Behaviors at the Crucial Moments. The beauty of Vital Behaviors really is their cascading impact, for better or worse.

    @ Vered

    The distinction from daily tasks is they are the high-leverage actions, primarily around sticking points or Crucial Moments directed toward some change you want to accomplish. For example, let’s say that I’m getting in shape, and I have a great exercise routine to do each morning. The Vital Behavior is that when my alarm goes off in the morning, I get up and do my workout. It’s that Vital Behavior at that moment that is the gatekeeper to the rest of my results.

    @ Melissa

    Vital Behaviors are really more about change efforts, but distinguishing your high priority items is a good thing. One comment I’ll make on To Do lists is that I start a new To Do list each day. It gives me a fresh start. Each day, I first identify my 3 outcomes (using The Rule of 3), and then I list any supporting tasks. I do use my previous To Do lists to create my new list and I carry the good forward. The beauty of the fresh start is it both let’s stuff slough off, as well as forces you to ask the question, what are the next best things I can get done today? While The Rule of 3 might seem arbitrary, I’ve tested it on myself and many others, and teams large and small with amazing results. It’s part of my results system, that I’m in the process of writing up as a guide.

  8. […] the book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything by Kerry Patterson,  I learned about the vital behaviors. So I was trying to think about what are the vital behaviors to create an online learning […]

  9. I’m involved with IT services. Anyone willing to share their list of vital behaviors for service delivery especially as it relates to IT.

    Would it be appropriate to equate best practices with vital behaviors (e.g., ITIL’s framework of best practices)?


  10. @ Philip — I think it’s important to distinguish between best practices and vital behaviors. A vital behavior is a crucial action directly tied to the outcome — a deciding factor in the critical path.

    Best practices are collections of good ideas, and while they may be relevant, useful, and potentially game changing, it’s putting your finger on the precise few vital behaviors that really makes the difference.

    I think it’s also important to connect the vital behaviors directly to the crucial moments where you action actually is a deciding factor.

    That said, you draw from your best practices as input once you’ve identified your vital behaviors and crucial moments.

  11. […] students for success at school. Afterwards I did a bit of reading about vital behaviours. (Here are two posts that helped me.) The phrase is from a book called Influencer: The New Science of Leading […]

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