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Being myself by nature a completely disorganized and weak willed person, I have never been too keen on the idea of depending on willpower to make changes in my life. My experience is that if I leave something up to willpower alone it will sooner rather than later come crashing down around my ears – however sincere the resolutions which I have made!

My coaching clients often start off by saying that they need to have more self-discipline. What they usually mean by that is that they think they ought to be able to keep to a set of rules by exercising their will power. If they fail to do so they will accuse themselves of lacking self-discipline. For them self- discipline equals “good” and the lack of it equals “bad”. If they fail they will beat themselves up by saying things like “I’m absolutely hopeless at this sort of thing” or “I’ve got no will power at all”.

However ideas of “good” and “bad” aren’t really much help to the person who wants to be more organized. Willpower on its own will never make anyone organized if they aren’t already. Think of something you are really good at – did you achieve it by willpower alone? I suggest it’s most unlikely that you did – there would have been all sorts of other factors in play.

Basically human beings tend to follow the path of least resistance. So if it’s easier to do the right thing, then the right thing is what you will do. If it’s easier to do the wrong thing, then the wrong thing is what you will do. This means that the secret to doing the “right thing” (however you define that) is to look at how you can arrange things so that it is easier to do the right thing rather than the wrong thing. To do this you need to pay attention to the way you are structuring your life and work.

Let’s look at a simple example of this. When you are working in an office as an employee, you will usually succeed in getting up and traveling to work more or less on time. But imagine that you leave this employment and decide to set up your own business as a home worker. Is it easy to get up and start work at the same time each day? For most people the answer is “No it’s not!”

What’s the difference between the two scenarios? In both you are the same person with the same talents, skills and failings. The only difference is the structure. In order to start work on time as a home worker you have to replicate some of the structure that you had as an office worker. Remember what you are aiming to do is to make it so that starting work at the right time is easier for you than starting at the wrong time. There are many ways in which you can achieve this. An example would be to always make your first appointment for the day at your official starting time. Then the embarrassment and inconvenience of being late would make it easier for you to be on time. Remember I said “make it easiER”, not “make it easy”!

Think of something you habitually fail to do the way you would like to do it. Examine why it is easier for you to do it wrong. How could you change the structure so it would be easier to do it right?

Reader Comments (1)

Dan and Chip Heath in thier book "Switch" present convincing theory on sources of resistance to a change and practical advice on overcoming it. I wonder if one can effectively apply those to oneself. Firsthand experiences, anybody?
May 11, 2013 at 0:49 | Unregistered CommenterMisha

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