There's an old expression that warns that the road to hell is paved with good intention. That's clearly not where any of us dream of ending up. Truth be told, we mean well. We even goal set and plan. But then, all too often it seems, we set aside or flat out forget - forget our intentions, or forget to attend to the things that enable them to be realized. You know it's true (that's how old expressions come about in the first place), but why does this happen, and more, what can we do about it?
Sometimes we have to get outside our own boxes to see our way to an answer that actually works, and a daily practice from a teeny tiny village in central Portugal might help you do just that. But first let's briefly remind ourselves why we so often fail to follow through.
4 Reasons Our Good Intentions Turn Out Not So Good
There may simply be no better ground to reap insights into why is it so hard to follow through than that annual effort to do better next time we call New Year's resolutions. We've all made them. And we've all broken them. Repeated research has shown that the patterns as to why are pretty straightforward; four stand out.
- Swinging For The Fences. The first is that too often we swing for the fences, setting enormous aspirations for what we can achieve, and goals that reside a long way from where we are right now. What we forget is that we can only begin our movement forward from where we are. It's therefore vital to do more than simply decide where we want to end up, but to go further to build the steps by gradual steps in between here and there.
- Failing To Calculate The True Investment. As important and equally damaging, most often we fail to calculate the time and resources it will take to get there - and then to compute a tad more resource on top of that. In my years in venture capital, we use to say to highly ambitious entrepreneurs after hearing their plan, "Now that you've told me how much money it's going to take to get you into trouble, how much more will it take to get you out?" Be your intentions grand or every day, every single one requires investment, not just once, but ongoing.
- Trying To Be A Lone Ranger. A third common reason for failing to follow through is choosing to go it alone. Other people can help you in a myriad of ways you likely undervalue. They make you realistic. They make you accountable. Their mere presence in the effort adds incentive to push on when things don't go as expected, take longer than you estimated, or simply go to hell in a handbasket. And that's just the beginning. What they can add when you ask for their ideas or their help, or invite them to add to and share your dream of what could be, often turns out to be the most valuable asset you could possible find. Others matter.
- Failing To Plan. And then there's that fourth reason for coming up short: the absence of a plan. No, plans are not promises of success. And especially in a day and age in which uncertainty reigns and abnormal is the new normal they often change without notice. But a plans true value isn't the plan; it's the process, and the ongoing exercise of assessing what's working and adjusting what's not.
How We Can Raise The Odds Of Seeing Our Intentions Through
Frustratingly, even if you are aware of these opportunities to increase your odds of success and attend to them, there's still better than not chance you'll come up somewhere short of what you hope for one simple reason: We forget. Yup, it's that simple. And really, it's unsurprising. Today more than ever, our lives are full of to-dos. Some we create for ourselves, but many are bequeathed to us from the fast and frenetic world we all now inhabit. Raising the challenge further is the impact of technology - something that for all its benefits is increases our distractibility. But to-dos and tech aside, we humans, as a species, sometimes just plain forget.
Is there a cure-all to this ubiquitous condition? No. But in Macas de Dona Maria, Portugal, a small village in the north central part of the country with a population barely above 2,000, they've come up with an innovative solution using the simplest of technologies: the town's church bells. In the center of town, every hour on the hour the bells of church ring. And then about 4 minutes later, they ring again. In the first few days I spent in the town, I admittedly wondered if the village bell ringer might be hitting the communion wine early and often. But soon I realized the pattern was intentional. Each time the bells called out the hour I of course heard them, rotely, passively. I took note but didn't really disengage from whatever my task at hand was in that moment. Round two of the bells each hour was different. I found myself truly tuning in, not just to the time, but to everything around me - what was I doing, why was I doing it, was it really the priority right there and then? By the simplest of means, the good old bell ringer was handing me the most important tool in my or anyone's toolbox for raising the odds of following through and indeed the odds of success: a deliberate pause.
A deliberate pause is that conscious moment in which we tune into where we are and what we are doing. By so doing, we trigger those all-important questions lying just below the surface, questions about why things are the way they are, and about how they might be better, thereby creating an active connection between what is and what could be, between reality and intent. There's no magic in it, only cognizance and some simple signal that calls us to what matters, twice if necessary.