What it Means to Decide

Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elemental truth
the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:
The moment one definitely commits oneself, the Providence moves too.

- Goethe

Willpower is a creation of the Psyche and can be gained or lost according to your performance. Honoring each commitment strengthens it; giving in to temptation weakens it.

Thought Experiment: Earnest Promises.
You announce that you need to move some bulky furniture. Ernest, who owns a pickup, offers to help. You point out that he often makes such promises and has let you down many times. He replies, “But this time I really mean it.” He seems sincere, but he seemed sincere the other times too. The objective world demands that the furniture gets moved. Should you count on Ernest showing up or make your plans assuming he won’t?  Events in the objective world have not happened yet so we don’t know for sure whether or not Ernest will show up. However, your expectations will be based upon what you have learned about how seriously Ernest has taken his previous commitment to you.

When you make commitments to yourself, are you earnest?

Failing to honor your word weakens subsequent commitments. Telling yourself, “But this time I really mean it,” is not an effective rescue. On the other hand, each victory, no matter how small, enhances the power of your will.  

Once you decide, you must permit no exception! Don't Be Reasonable!!!

Typically, one decides to control an impulsive behavior when its costs are more salient than its benefits. Your commitment is your promise to adhere to the plan in all circumstances. Willpower is the measure of your ability to deliver on that guarantee. Willpower is not static, and your capability of overriding the influence of the PIG can increase or decrease according to certain lawful principles. Local conditions such as negative emotional states or exhaustion can deplete this power. So, like an athlete, it is important to train hard to develop your strength and be vigilant for circumstances that would deplete it.

Understand this: Once you make a commitment there can be no exceptions, even if you come up with a creative loophole. Even the possibility of an exception diminishes the power of your word and increases the influence of the PIG becomes more influential. Looking for loopholes or entertaining thoughts of moderating your commitment is destructive to your will, and it is essential that you interrupt this kind of thinking as soon as you notice it!

Willpower Enhancement Notes

  • Making a commitment is like betting your willpower. Acting as intended  enhances your willpower, but failure to do so diminishes it.

  • There is a difference between a goal and a commitment. A goal gives direction; if you lapse you can still benefit from what you learned. A commitment is not a learning exercise; by making a commitment, you are forswearing all excuses and explanations for violating it.

  • Since you cannot guarantee outcomes, do not commit to outcomes. A well-formed commitment is procedural. For example, you cannot guarantee that you will not lapse, but you can guarantee that you will review your tactics within 24 hours of such an experience.

  • Avoid bets you cannot win in your lifetime. “I will never again search the internet for porn” is such a bet: You don’t get to win it until you are on your death bed. Better to go for one day at a time—even better is one hour at a time..

  • Make the commitments short and manageable, but once made, permit no exceptions to occur! Go for what you really want but be aware that more ambitious goals tend to come at a higher cost. So be careful about over-committing: Remember, whatever you promise, you will have to deliver.

  • Go for little wins. If you have had a history of violating commitments, you are starting out in a hole. Be especially conservative and make sure you honor every commitment without exception. If you do, you will over time re-establish the power of your word.

  • People often do pretty well in the beginning, because their commitments are fresh in their mind and hence are salient. However, with the passage of time, the salience of the original commitment decays. So periodically review your commitment and your reason for making it.

  • As a rule of thumb, once the crisis that originally motivated the commitment recedes into the past, your motivation becomes more a function of local circumstances than of the now distant commitment. The PIG, which at first supported the commitment—when you wanted immediate gratification of the desire to be free of the problem—must be overridden when the commitment is far away and the incentive is near.

  • Be aware that you are free to specify any commitment that you choose, so never make commitments unless you are certain that you will be able to adhere to them under all circumstances. You are free to specify the details of the commitment, so you have no excuse not to adhere to it.

  • Remember, when you make this bet you are giving long odds; one loss overcomes many victories. It is critical that you adhere to every commitment you make. So specify clearly what you are committing to, and don’t accept a commitment unless you are serious enough to bet your reputation that you will adhere to it on every occasion.

Recommended Commitment Format

A commitment uses the following syntax: Whenever I encounter condition X, I will execute response Y. For example, “Whenever I experience an urge, I will visualize the penalties of lapsing.” Note: coding the intention as a negative (e.g., “I will not think about sex”) is poor form (see Perverse Motivation).

Good long-term outcome can only result from changing your default path. The Impeccable Path is the most straightforward and direct way to accomplish this.  Conceptually it is simple, and for some individuals this direct approach is an excellent option: Do the right thing and permit no exceptions!  With practice, your path of greatest advantage will become your default path.

The problem with this approach becomes apparent if there is a single lapse. This is a brittle method! Once a commitment is broken, the ability to honor future commitments is compromised, and there is no longer a defense against complete loss of control. The alternative to the rigid path of no exceptions is a more flexible, OPEN path. At each point, you are free to make decisions on the basis of local circumstances and what you consider to be in your best interests at the time. This seems to be quite an advantage over the rigid, Impeccable Path. Although, anything as desirable as freedom comes at a price


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