Self-Control is a Scarce Resource

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Self-Control is a Scarce Resource

“A man who can’t bear to share his habits is a man who needs to quit them.”

― Stephen King, The Dark Tower

The Idea:  I have a love/hate relationship with structure and discipline in my life.  I hate it when others place controls on me, yet I personally coach others on the positive benefits of structure, routines and rituals. Maybe like you, I deceive myself when I disregard the structure others impose on me.    Executive coach, and change management expert Marshall Goldsmith reminds us “structure is how we overcome depletion.  When we have structure, we don’t have to make as many choices; we just follow the plan.”  

Goldsmith believes many of us think we’re above using a simple check list to stay organized, as though “only complexity is worthy of our attention.”  Goldsmith continues, “We discount structure when it comes to honing our interpersonal behavior.  We do not get better without structure.  The act of giving and receiving feedback is vital, making us more mindful.”   When we have structure and ritual we take control of our agenda.  

More structure and control, ironically gives you more freedom   Yet our environment and our history can hinder our rituals and focus.  Goldsmith says we forget that our “self-control is a limited resource.”  Epiphanies can occur but, typically they are short lived because they are based on “impulse” rather than strategy and structure.     

Goldsmith teaches top leaders the power of utilizing “Daily Questions.”  I dare you to try this in your own life.  Each day begin with an honest look in the mirror, followed by three questions.

  1. How are you progressing in your area of focus?
  2. What’s getting in the way of progress?
  3. Who can help you this week?

The more we practice daily questions, the more it becomes a ritual or routine.  Daily questions slow you down, force you to pause and encourages you to get help.   If you want to truly change a behavior, create a ritual, and allow others to question you.

Change is always difficult.  Goldsmith’s work reminds us all, “If we do not create and control our environment, our environment creates and controls us.  Good behavior is not random; it’s logical, it follows a pattern, it’s within one’s control.”

We can’t improve without structure.  It is how we seize control of an unruly environment.  There is no “one size fits all.”   Answering your own daily or weekly questions offers a scorecard to track progress.  The process of having someone you trust ask three questions, helps you monitor and control your attention. It creates a winning structure.

We are reminded that the goal is to “establish a set of habits and practices that allow us to respond gracefully to new inputs and to instinctively place our attention where it will do the most good. With that kind of trust and clarity, priorities become irrelevant – we will naturally work on whatever task is most meaningful for us right now.”      

“Sow a thought, and you reap an act;
Sow an act, and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.”

― Samuel Smiles, Happy Homes and the Hearts That Make Them

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