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I’ve Got The Power: Ways To Make Yourself Follow Through

Written By

Steve Levinson

PhD, President at Behavioral Dynamics, Inc.

Briefly Speaking

Find out how the "Follow Through Formula" can help you to follow through on your career goals.
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One of the most puzzling and frustrating aspects of human nature is our tendency to fail to do whatever we intelligently decide we must do to achieve goals we truly want to achieve. Although it gets far less attention than it deserves, poor follow through is a huge problem that deprives us of the full benefit of our intelligence, experience, ability and hard work.

The truth is, unless you’re able to consistently do – and keep on doing – whatever you intend to do, you’re simply wasting much of your potential. The better you are at following through, the more successful you can be in your career, your health and your relationships.

A clinical psychologist, I’ve devoted much of my career to making sense of why even highly motivated people often fail to follow through on their own good intentions, and I’ve reached some admittedly provocative conclusions that have important implications for how to follow through on goals in order to achieve greater success.

Why We Don’t Follow Through

Although we may beat ourselves up for our follow through failures, poor follow through is not exactly our fault. It’s caused primarily by a flaw in the design of the normal human mind.

  • Amazingly, the mind has no built-in mechanism to ensure that our good intentions will actually control our behavior. Our behavior is often influenced less by what we’ve intelligently decided we should do than by what we feel like doing at the moment. That’s why you can swear off junk food and be eating some an hour later.
  • It’s ironic that the same mind that allows us to intelligently figure out what we must do to achieve the goals we set doesn’t also make us actually do what we’ve decided we must do; that there’s no guarantee that the same motivation that prompts us to set a particular goal will be powerful enough to get us to actually do – and keep on doing – whatever is necessary to achieve it.
  • To make matters worse, we simply don’t get it! We assume that our good intentions are essentially self-administering, that is, that they come with all the motivational horsepower they need to get the job done. We believe that if we truly want to achieve a particular goal, we’ll automatically follow through.  But the truth is, the mind isn’t wired that way. Following through takes more than just wanting to succeed.

What It Really Takes To Follow Through

In light of the way the mind really is wired, the key to following through is to be much more deliberate and clever about making yourself act in accord with your own intentions. Instead of just having a good intention, telling yourself “I’ve got the power to follow through”, crossing your fingers and hoping for the best, you have to take a second step.

You have to use what my colleague and co-author Pete Greider and I refer to as the "Follow Through Formula." You have to make a practice of creating conditions – putting yourself in situations – that force you do what you intend to do. It’s not good enough to just think “I really should.”

To follow through, you must really feel like you have to follow through.You already use the Follow Through Formula every time you set an alarm clock to make yourself wake up at a desired time. Instead of just expecting your “I will wake up at 5 AM” intention to get the job done, you use an alarm clock to create conditions that will force you to follow through.

To follow through consistently, you have to set an alarm clock for virtually every good intention you have.  Instead of counting on your good intentions to automatically come with enough motivational power to get the job done, you have to take the bull by the horns. You have to deliberately create conditions that make you truly feel like you must do what you intend to do.

  • Jeff used the Follow Through Formula to make himself follow through with his intention to make cold calls to prospective clients.Jeff had his assistant put ten, ten dollar bills of Jeff’s money in an envelope at the beginning of each week.
  • At the end of each day, his assistant would ask Jeff how many cold calls he made that day. For each cold call Jeff made, she would take one ten dollar bill from the envelope and give it back to Jeff.
  • Here’s where things got interesting. Every Friday afternoon, Jeff’s assistant was to take any remaining ten dollar bills from the envelope and feed them to the paper shredder while Jeff looked on!
  • Once he deliberately put himself in this situation, Jeff had all the motivational horsepower he needed to make ten cold calls a week.  Of course, he still hated making cold calls, but he made them anyway because he now actually felt like he had to make them instead of just thinking “I really should.”
  • Joe found a very clever way to finally make himself follow through on his intention to exercise every day.
  • All Joe did is agree to keep his underarm deodorant in his locker at the gym and to have none at home. By changing the situation, he suddenly went from just thinking “I really should go to the gym” to really feeling “If I don’t go to the gym, I’ll stink all day!”
  • And once he got to the gym and the regulars greeted him, he felt pretty stupid about just using his deodorant and leaving, so he stayed and exercised every day.

You may not like the idea of making yourself  follow through. My advice: Get over it! Your success really does hinge on your ability to follow through. And your ability to follow through, like it or not, depends on your willingness to make your good intentions as powerful as they need to be to get the job done.

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