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Tips & Tactics for Personal Development

Tag Archives: Planning

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.

Beware the “Can Do” attitude

While I am all for enthusiasm and drive, I’m suspicious of people who are too “gung-ho.” I’ve seen too many situations where someone was too quick to take action to solve a problem, and their actions actually made the situation worse.

A recent example was a situation I observed where a customer service agent was so intent on helping a customer that she never actually listened to what the customer was saying. Her solution not only failed to satisfy the customer, it also upset them, since what the customer really wanted in this case was to have someone listen to their complaint and assist them in choosing the best option for resolving it. Instead the customer was left feeling run over by the agent’s good will and drive.

I think that this attitude is often driven by our desire to solve problems as quickly as possible, because we can’t stand the discomfort that an unresolved problem causes us to feel. In addition, if we don’t take the time to properly assess a situation, we are unlikely to come up with sound solutions. Good problem-solving requires time and planning, and experienced people know this and make time for it.

Ask yourself how you would react to the following situation:

You have been given a task that needs to be completed in 30 minutes. How many minutes would you use to plan how you are going to solve the problem, and how many will you use to actually do the work involved?

“Winging it” rarely leads to success

Many people would like to believe that they don’t need to make plans for how they will succeed in life. They simply take events as they come and make the most of them.

While this may work for some people, I doubt you will find many high-performing people leaving much to chance. They know what they want and they deliberately plan for how to reach their goals. They also know that with a plan in place they can handle the unexpected things that always happen along the way. And the unexpected always happens.

As a case example, I think we all admire the Navy Seal Team that captured Osama Bin Laden. It’s exciting to imagine the soldiers secretly flying into Pakistan and dropping out of the sky in their surprise attack. And even their plans did not go perfectly. Despite the flaws, the mission succeeded.

What we don’t see is the work behind this success: the thousands of hours of planning and drilling. the raids that were carefully planned and then abandoned at the last minute due to outside events, and the emotional toll of waiting for OK to start the mission. We don’t see that the Seals’ success here had a very high price – we see only the glamorous results.

Our lives work the same way. Success always has a price, and it must always be earned. Our lives and the experience of the successful people we know will confirm this.

This confirms our first rule of success: success in any area requires discipline, and this means taking the time to think through what we want and then making a plan for how to get to our goal. Understand the time commitment required and invest in planning for success! Don’t leave success to chance.

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