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Akrasia May Be Holding You Back!

Akrasia May Be Holding You Back

First, have a definite, clear practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.


So many people have trouble reaching their business and personal goals, no matter how much they plan for them. Just consider how many times you set a goal to increase sales by a certain percentage or lose 20 pounds only to fail. For most of us, if we have done this once, we have done it many times.

In his blog, James Clear talks about how Victor Hugo struggled to finish writing a book in 1830. He just kept letting his time waste away until the publisher finally gave him only six months to complete the manuscript.

To break the cycle of procrastination, Hugo put all his clothes away, keeping only a blanket to keep himself warm, so he could not go outside and would be forced to finish the book. His strategy worked, and now we have the classic tale The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

What Hugo realized was that he would not get the book written unless he let go of having fun and focused on writing.

Just like Victor Hugo, we are all afflicted with the tendency to procrastinate. And this is far from a modern problem. In fact, ancient philosophers like Socrates coined the word “Akrasia” to describe the tendency of people to put long-term goals on hold in favor of doing something that brings immediate pleasure (like having that last piece of pie).

You can also define Akrasia as the act of putting immediate self-interests above your long-term goals. Doing so rarely serves our best interests, but we do it again and again.

Scientists have also proven that the human mind is programmed to do those things that bring instant gratification. This explains why we choose to eat dessert rather than pass on it in the interests of our long-term health and why we are inclined to deal with urgent but not important tasks before we focus on our strategic vision.

Clearly, Akrasia is in us all, but we do not have to succumb to it. One thing we can do to counteract Akrasia is make it easier for ourselves to start a project. When you reduce the resistance or friction at the beginning of a project, the easier it is to put off the need for instant gratification and focus on the important goal.

One technique that seems to work for most people—myself included—is to break projects down into smaller bites. Instead of saying you have a whole book to write, set achievable intermediary goals and concentrate on one at a time rather than the nearly impossible goal of writing an entire book.

Having written eight books, I can tell you from personal experience I would never have gotten a single one done if I had not taken it one small step at a time. Rather than focusing on the fact that I had to write a book, I set goals to write three pages every day. I was usually able to accomplish that goal.

To share another example, regular readers of my columns know I recently walked the 500-mile Camino de Santiago in Spain. There was never a day that I thought about having to walk 500 miles. That was so overwhelming, and I guarantee I never would have been able to do it. It would have been too easy to do something that brought me instant gratification instead—like spending time exploring Madrid. I was successful because every day I thought, “Today, I just need to walk 15 miles.”

No go out and make sure you are not falling into the Akrasia trap. Stay focused on your long-term goals rather than giving in to those things that provide instant gratification.

You can do this!

Published: March 7, 2016

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Jerry Osteryoung

Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses—he has directly assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His latest book, coauthored with Tim O’Brien, “If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book,” is a bestseller on Amazon. Email Jerry @ jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com

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