I have some good news for you. You're off the hook. Poor follow through is not exactly your fault. You've been relying on faulty equipment. Poor follow through is caused primarily by the mixed up way the normal mind is designed.
Although we humans are endowed with impressive intelligence that allows us to figure out what we should do to make our lives as good as they can possibly be, surprisingly, there's no built-in mechanism that guarantees that our intelligence will actually control our behavior.
You can intelligently decide, for example, that you should spend Sunday afternoon studying for a certification exam that will pave the way for success in your career. Yet, amazingly, your intelligent decision − your good intention − may not prevent you from watching a football game instead. That's because the mind is actually designed in a way that often allows your behavior to be influenced more by what you feel at the moment than by what you've intelligently decided you should do.
Although it's no wonder that we often do such a lousy job of following through on our own good intentions, fortunately, we can do better despite the faulty equipment. But to do that, we have to change the way we think about and treat our own good intentions. We have to get rid of some beliefs and habits that are holding us back.
1. We expect our good intentions to work the way they should instead of the way they really do.
Frankly, we humans are suckers for logic. It's irresistibly logical to believe that the same mind that allows us to figure out what we should do would also make sure that we actually do it. We assume that all it really takes to follow through is knowing what we must do to achieve a goal we truly want to achieve. The problem is, assuming doesn't make it true.
In light of the mixed-up way the mind treats good intentions, it's a big mistake to expect to follow though just because you genuinely feel motivated to succeed. It's like driving a car with a manual transmission and waiting for it to shift on its own. If you keep waiting, you'll never get yourself in gear. When it comes to following through, to "shift," you have to deliberately make yourself do what you intend to do.
2. We treat pressure as the enemy when pressure could be our best friend.
Especially when what we have to do is unpleasant and/or difficult, more pressure rather than less may be exactly what the doctor ordered. If you've intelligently decided to do something that's extremely important, and you realize that the only way you'll actually follow through is if you have a gun to your head, really, shouldn't you get someone to hold a gun to your head?
Okay, maybe that's a bit extreme. But the point is, if you've decided it's worth doing, isn't it worth doing whatever it takes to make yourself do it? If you're willing to turn up the heat, you'll be amazed at what you can accomplish.
3. We rely too much on willpower.
Willpower is a measure of your ability to do what you intend to do when you really don't feel like doing it. Often when we need willpower the most, we come up short. If you've ever tried to quit smoking or stick to a diet, you know what I mean.
But there's no reason to depend on willpower when you can get circumstances to do the heavy lifting. If you're clever enough, you can usually create circumstances that allow you to follow through without relying on something as unreliable as willpower.
Think about it:
• You don't need willpower to stick to a budget if you see to it that you don't have access to more money than you intend to spend.
• You don't need willpower to keep from eating food that you've made a point of keeping well out of reach.
• You don't even need willpower to stick with your intention to study for that certification exam if you promise your teenage son that he can have your new car and no curfew if you don't.
Dr. Levinson is a clinical psychologist, author ("Following Through") and inventor ("MotivAider")who specializes in helping people follow through on their own good intentions.