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Enemies of Sustained Action Published: Sunday, April 13, 2003 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

Inertia is the human tendency to put off the problem-management action. That is why I often told to my students and clients that the action program they have come up seems to be a sound one. The main reason action programs don’t work, however, is that they are never tried. You have to encourage people, but don’t be surprised if you feel reluctant to act or tempted to put off the first step of an initiative. This condition is very common. Ask yourself what can you do to get by the initial barrier.

Entropy, on the other hand, is the tendency to give up action that has been initiated. People start diets or exercise programs, and they can fall apart or trail off. This other condition points to the “ubiquitous decay curve” as the negatively accelerating, declining and decay curve that is based on attrition, noncompliance and relapse. The decay curve is part of life and as human being we have to deal with it.

Every sound action program begun with the best of the intentions and energy tend to fall over time, so don’t be surprised when your initial enthusiasm seems to wane a bit. Rather ask yourself what you need to do to keep yourself at the task. Moreover a fine line must be drawn between preparing a person for mistakes and giving permission to occur by suggesting that they are inevitable. One can make also the distinction between lapse and relapse. A lapse is a slip or mistake in an action program, while relapse is giving up the program entirely.

Action programs need to elaborate strategies and tactics for keeping them from falling apart. Getting frequent and healthy feedback from close friends, partners or colleagues is one of these wise devises.

What seems easy at the planning stage can seem very difficult at the implementation and the operational stage. People become discouraged, flounder, recover, flounder again, and finally give up, offering to their selves rationalizations of why they didn’t want to accomplish those goals anyway.

In order to avoid this condition it is important to master the principles of effective implementation of programs and the skills of putting them into practice. These are: 1) Modify the environment to make action easier. 2) Simplify the action-strategy sequence needed to accomplish the goal. 3) Disrupt automatic responses so that the habit does not always win. 4) Find substitution for unwanted behavior. 5) Engage in self-monitoring. 6) Set your own behavioral standards. 7) Build mini-success into the program. 8) Find mentors and models. 9) Readjust the time frame of action programs. 10) Learn to relax and enjoy life.

If we don’t deal with inertia and entropy, they will deal with us.

Copyright 2003 QBS, Inc.
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