Friday, April 30, 2010

Following Through

Following Through book cover

Do you promise yourself you're going to get organized - but then not follow through on your promise to yourself? If so, you might find this book useful.

Following Through provides seven strategies for ensuring we follow through on any type of good intention: to eat better, exercise, do our paperwork, actually act on those ideas we got at a conference, etc.

The authors say that our intelligence leads us to decide what to do - but our "primitive guidance system" that controls behavior pays attention to our immediate needs, wants, threats and opportunities. So we need strategies to help us actually do what we intend to do.

One of these strategies, called Spotlighting, involves providing cues to remind us of our intentions. There are many ways to do this; one involves using a device called the MotivAider (or any similar device) to keep our intentions in front of us. The MotivAider vibrates however often we set it to; each time, we're reminded to "practice good posture" or "drink water" or even "put things away in their places" - whatever we've chosen to associate with the cue.

Another strategy, called Willpower Leveraging, has us make one not-so-difficult choice instead of many harder choices. For example, when trying to eat better, we can rid the houses of all the sweets we don't want to eat (and not buy more when we go shopping) - which is easier than deciding to ignore the call of the cookies once they are in our homes. I'm working on improving my eating habits right now, and I know this is a strategy that works for me!

In the realm of organizing, you could make an appointment to have someone you respect come to your home or office - that gets many people to do the cleaning up they intend to do. (Or, of course, you could make an appointment with a professional organizer.)

When discussing yet another strategy, Leading a Horse to Water, the authors give the example of Jesse, who intended to clean up his garage. "For weeks, every time he thought about getting started, he could hear his soul moan."

But then Jesse decided to do just as much as he could with feeling no reluctance at all: putting on his grubby clothes, going to the garage, and stacking up the old paint cans. But he found that once he was in the garage, he did a bit more than he "had" to do. The next weekend when he went out to his garage with an "easy requirement" in mind, he wound up working for two hours. By the third time, he had totally completed the job.

The book begins with some information on how the brain works, and why intention doesn't always lead to action. I would have liked this part to be more scientific; there is no mention of any studies that show what the authors are claiming.

But the book ends with a section I really liked, on taking our intentions seriously - making sure we really want to commit to making a change, and ensuring we aren't overcommitting.

And there's more information on author Steve Levinson's Habit Change web site. I watched the narrated slide show, and I loved the example of how one man got himself to exercise: he kept his only bottle of deodorant at the gym! So he could either be stinky all day, or go to the gym - and he'd feel silly going to the gym and only using the deodorant. While this might seem extreme, it's also a good example of how you can think creatively to ensure you do indeed follow through on your commitments to yourself.

Noted added on May 1, 2010: I believe I heard about this book from Margaret Lukens at New Leaf + Company. Thanks, Margaret!


newleafnews said...

Jeri, I love this book. And the MotivAider is one of the tools I use to help clients make the habit changes they want. I use it myself to silently and effectively improve my public speaking and teaching.

If someone wants to dig deeper on this subject, as a next step I suggest the book "Change or Die" by Alan Deutschman. The book is not nearly as scary as the title ;^)

Jeri Dansky said...

Newleafnews, I bet I heard about this book from you; I've just added a note to the post, acknowledging that and thanking you!

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Oh, my, that expression, "he could hear his soul moan," has such resonance for me. I've found that some challenges can *feel* that overwhelming, even when logically that's not the case at all. The primitive brain surely can be powerful. -- Looking forward to checking out the habit changing strategies!

Jeri Dansky said...

Cynthia, I'm so glad someone else loved that line!

The book explains that some things we don't do, even though we intend to, are small things, like taking a vitamin pill - where we don't have any real resistance, but don't follow through, anyway. But others are indeed the things that feel overwhelming. Different strategies can work in each case.