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The road to business hell: Why your good intentions don’t get you anywhere

The road to business hell: Why your good intentions don’t get you anywhere

Imagine if you followed through on every good intention.

Wouldn’t life be incredible? We’d all be Calvin Klein model billionaires. We’d be the most dutiful, giving partners to our spouses. We’d eat more greens. We’d probably meditate, daily. Life would be amazing.

The human condition makes this impossible. We don’t do the things we want to do, because we’re conflicted. We also want to eat hotdogs, vegetate in front of TV and avoid working on that scary big business project. Despite our best intentions to the contrary.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”, the saying goes. Successful entrepreneurs are different – they transform their good intentions into real world actions. Wannapreneurs dream big without follow-through.

Become someone who transmutes intention into action.

The secret lies not in trying to increase your willpower or beat discipline into yourself, as many proponents of personal development technology would have you believe.

My experience, both client-based and personal, suggests that understanding the ebb and flow of your psychological power (figurative go-juice) is the key. 

We all have a continuum. A scale. Our “highest self” is the entrepreneurial champion -eating healthy, being kind to others, working out and generally living out our best intentions. Our highest self implements huge ideas and makes the bucks. Our lowest self orders pizza, acts selfishly and procrastinates. Between the two, we have varying shades of grey. Our ability to live up to our best intentions waxes and wanes between each end of this spectrum.

Nevertheless, you are in control. Your emotional state dictates where you are on this continuum, at any moment.

This is the explanation for the “break up ice cream” phenomena. In moments of extreme emotional stress, we’re far more likely to fall from our “highest selves”. We’ll make bad decisions and suspend our commitment to our good intentions. Bring on the cookie dough!

When your emotional state is low, you act as your lowest self. Your grand intentions are forgotten while you succumb to the desires of the reptilian brain. Pizza companies know this – they buy TV advertising slots late in the day when your exhaustion from work is more likely to result in you making a decision you’ll regret.

Entrepreneurs experience an amplification of this effect in their businesses.

When the first sales call goes badly, plunging you into a depressed state, it’s likely you’ll quit make calls altogether – despite your best intentions to commit to ten per day. When a new project is overwhelming, you’ll spend days avoiding beginning it.

On the flip-side, an intense meeting or even an inspirational TED video might spring you into an empowered state. This will result in hours of high intensity action as your highest self – where you get in “the zone” and make huge things happen.

But this is problematic. If you’re waiting for the will of the fates to throw you into a good state so you can get things accomplished, you’ve already lost the battle. The power to achieve your good intentions won’t be in your hands – your business will be like a sailboat becalmed, while you pray for wind.

The secret is preparation. 

When the fates do throw an amazing day your way and your emotional state is fizzing, think differently. Instead of focusing on pure achievement and frenetic activity, take a few minutes to put together a future game plan for your lowest self…. who is going to slink back into the picture, sooner or later, no matter how good you feel.

When you’re feeling incredible, start planning for when you WON’T be!

By creating structures in your life and business in your peak states, you can effectively set snares for your lower self … so that when it arrives, it can’t sabotage your intentions.

Here are some suggestions for gaming your lowest self, to be actioned when you’re in your highest form of awesome:

  1. Throw away the ice cream. Remove the unhealthy foods from your home/office – your lowest self is also lazy, so making bad stuff hard to get really works!
  2. Book commitments into your schedule. Interactions with other people (meetings, coaching, whatever) tends to bring out your best, no matter what state you start the day in. Break up your day with interactions you know are going to exhilarate you.
  3. Fill your sales funnel. The part of selling your lowest self hates is early-stage prospecting and cold calling. Do this in your peak state and then do the follow up when you’re not feeling so good. Make sure your lowest self never has to deal with anything less than warm leads.
  4. Do important, creative stuff first. If you have to do accounting and creative writing in the same day, do the accounting in the PM and writing in the AM. The urgency of the accounts will still be there when you’re finished writing. Your creativity won’t be there if you subject your mind to spreadsheet hell beforehand.
  5. Make contractual obligations. Hire a personal trainer (just do it) and think about how you can promise more, on paper, to your customers. Making serious, documented (and paid for) obligations will force your lowest self to deliver, even when you don’t feel like it.

What other ways can you prepare to snare your lower-self, when you’re being your highest-self in the present? Sound off in the comments with your suggestions, questions or thoughts!


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  1. “intention into action”. Very well put.

    “The secret is preparation”. I couldn’t agree more.

    Thanks for sharing these gems. I should focus on preparing to transform intention into action.

    One personal ‘mind trick’ that i do when i am low on energy & enthusiasm is to pep myself up with a self written ‘mantra’ that goes something like, “Right now i am full of energy & life. I am full of enthusiasm. I am radiating positivity. I am focused. I am creative. I am ready. And i can do anything right now. And this is [the task here] nothing. I can do that just like that. And right now i am going to finish this because i feel so energetic, focused & creative.”

    So far it seems to work.

    One thing is quite sure… being unproductive, unenergetic, lethargic etc. is more about the mind than about the body.

    Thanks again for this wonderful article. I think ‘intention to action through preparation’ is definitely going to be one of my ‘mottos’ from now on.

  2. I love this article. Couple this with the advice you gave me recently to figure out the difference between urgent and important, and to spend my will-power on what’s important. I’ve been able to accomplish much more each day.

    Thanks Peter for all you’re doing.

  3. I like what I think you’re saying here… we all have good intentions for our business, but those intentions aren’t enough. We need to move things to ACTION and actually keep going forward with that action, even when the shine on our Great Ideas And Good Intentions doesn’t look so shiny.

    The gold at the end is plenty shiny indeed! (But yeah… good intentions won’t get you down that road. Action does.)

  4. “Do important, creative stuff first” is my mantra. When we did our EOY accounting, my partner and I started at 7 p.m. after we were flush with a sense of accomplishment and past the creative stuff. We also started with wine. Just don’t tell my accountant that.

    But on days when my lower self is the only one showing up to work, I also subscribe to the, “If you can’t get important stuff done at ALL, get every little less-important thing done and go to bed early” philosophy. Works when you’re not on deadline. You get a quick burst of momentum from crossing tasks of the to-do list, and can at least start fresh the next morning. Sometimes we all need days like that, I think. I think of it as letting the higher-self do some filing and spring cleaning, while I eat Cheetos and respond to an email backlog.

  5. Thanks for the post. I have seen this in myself – when im on a high everything is easy but then you tire out and the fact that you slowed down alone kinda makes you blue. Planning ahead and making the slower times easier or non-negotiable makes sense.

  6. I love that instead of thinking about it or looking for inspiration somewhere or relaxing, all these tips require action and changing your environment (something I have to get better at)

    One thought I had, similar to contractual obligations, was make a bet with a friend, peer, colleague and automate it so if you don’t take the prior agreed upon action, you lose the money.

    Also I love the direction these websites are going for fitness. I wonder if the same idea could be used to incentivize other personal or even work commitments.

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