Know Better – Do Better – Get Better

Tips & Tactics for Personal Development

Tag Archives: Good intentions

Don’t count on it – willpower vs structure

Many people believe that if they had enough willpower they could change whatever they wanted in their lives. And to some degree this is true. If you truly want to change something in your life, you will find a way to do it. But very often we count on using willpower alone to bring about change, and we know from sometimes painful experience that willpower has its limits. Relying on willpower alone is often not enough to bring about lasting change.

Many factors can limit your willpower. If you are tired you may give in to things that you normally would resist. If you are in a group you may find yourself doing and saying things that you would never do on your own. And if you are under stress or pressure you may decide that doing what you initially planned is not worth the effort or risk.

So willpower by itself is never enough to guarantee success. So don’t count on it.

Instead, build structure into your life so that you don’t have to rely only on having enough willpower. Get enough rest and eat properly so that you don’t get run down. Avoid groups that appear leaderless or that have agendas and ideas that don’t align with your values. And if you are under stress consciously choose to put off making choices that you may later regret. And if you need help making the right choice, get help.

The best medicine is prevention, and this requires that we think through the situations we may face, and decide beforehand how we will handle them. Once we are in a bad situation it is very hard to get out. So don’t allow yourself to be tempted in the first place.

As a personal example, I keep the same routine every weekday. I get up at the same time, and start working promptly at 8 am. Even on days when I don’t feel like working, this structure gets me started, and once I’m started it’s much easier to continue. I take my lunch at the same time each day, and finish up by 5.30. This simple structure makes my days much more productive.

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Good intentions are not enough

Good intentions are cheap. We can have any number of them for free. We can brag about what we are going to do, especially to people who are in no place to evaluate our future performance. And we do. Or, at least I do. Brag, that is.

But when it comes to getting better at something, be it a job skill, your ability to negotiate, or your talent for finding a bargain, good intentions are not enough. In fact, they can be a trap. Feeling good about having good intentions is dangerous, because the good feeling disguises our lack of willpower.

I’m not a big believer in willpower. I’ve seen it fail way too often. Sure it has its place, but don’t rely on it.

I do believe in accountability, that is, in sharing your good intentions and goals with someone who will encourage you to remain committed to following through on them.

I believe in keeping score. If you can figure out a way to record your progress in some visible manner that motivates you, go for it.

And I believe in follow-up, that is, in going back to the people with whom you have shared your committment to see how you are doing.

So if you want to progress toward your goal – any goal – get a partner, keep score and follow-up. And save your good intentions.

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