The promises they make give you goose bumps. “Just follow these 7 simple steps,” one program insists, and “you will reach heights of confidence, satisfaction and success you never imagined possible. Guaranteed!” How can you possibly resist? Why wouldn’t you invest your time, money and hope to get juicy benefits like these?So, invest you do. But if you’re like most people, there’s a good chance you’ll end up with disappointing results. Of course, you probably won’t stay discouraged for long. That’s because there’s always another self-improvement program eagerly waiting for a chance to whisper sweet nothings in your ear. Again you succumb. Again your hopes soar and your spine tingles. And again you hop aboard knowing that THIS is the one.And so it goes on the Self-Improvement Merry-Go-Round!The self-improvement industry both feeds and feeds off our wishful thinking. It sells programs by making promises that essentially ignore an undeniably robust feature of human nature: Poor Follow Through! Even though we’re truly motivated to do what we know we need to do to get the results we want, we humans often do a lousy job of actually doing it. Of course, we usually start off with a bang. But more often than not, we fizzle out long before the job is done. The self-improvement industry knows it. And we know it, too.Take dieting for example. What does someone really mean when they say “that diet program didn’t work for me?” Well, they rarely mean “I followed the diet to a tee, but I didn’t lose any weight.” It’s more likely they mean “I didn’t actually do what the diet required me to do.” In other words, they didn’t really follow the diet – at least not as long and consistently as it would take to get the promised results.Please don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not scolding us for failing to follow through. Far from it. As a psychologist who has devoted much of his career to studying how normal people really treat their own good intentions, I know that failing to do what we know we should do – and doing it consistently for as long as it takes to actually get the results we want – is just part of the normal human landscape. Like it or not, it’s the way we are. It’s the way we’re wired. Sure, there are some people out there who consistently do a fine job of following through. But, frankly, they are as rare as people who are double-jointed, can play the piano with their nose, or can spell “backwards” backwards without any hesitation. The rest of us – the “normals” – at best, have spotty follow through records.So, here’s my point. Poor follow through is a reality, and it’s a reality that causes self-improvement programs to deliver much less improvement than they promise.If you were an architect designing a building, you wouldn’t think of ignoring gravity even though gravity makes your work challenging. Pretending that gravity doesn’t exist wouldn’t make it go away. Would you set foot inside a building that was designed by an architect who pretended that gravity doesn’t exist? Why, then, do we allow self-improvement programs to pretend that poor follow through doesn’t exist when they know – and we know – that it does? Why do we accept promises that are based on a totally make-believe assumption?So, before you hop aboard the next self-improvement program, ask yourself, “Seriously, how well am I likely to follow through?” Then ask yourself, “What benefits can this program realistically promise given my own actual record of follow through?” Remember, programs that only benefit people who follow through perfectly benefit very few real people.Copyright 2009 Steve Levinson
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