Stick or Slip: What’s Different When We Keep Our Promises to Ourselves?

What is it that makes us stick at something when the going gets tough, when at another time we may give up on exactly the same thing?  Think diets, smoking, exercise or a career goal.


I ask this questions because it is one I have been asking myself.  25 years ago working in a Business School, I could not have had better conditions for doing a PhD.  My fees were paid, I could study in work time, I had easy access to potential participants – but I gave up.  Roll forward and I have just finished a doctorate.  This time I paid my own fees, I did it whilst working fulltime, I gave up my weekends and holidays, and I had to find my own participants, and yet I got through.


The answer to my question is a simple one – I had purpose.

In my first attempt, I did not know why I was doing the doctorate – other than it was what my colleagues expected of me.  I was expected to approach it in a way which met with my boss’s approval, but which had little appeal to me.  I was uncertain of my focus, and as a consequence I was easily distracted into doing things which made a plausible case for not working on the research.

This time, I knew why I was doing it. I knew how I needed to do it in order for it to be motivating and valid for me.  I had a personal vision of what I wanted to do with the outcomes.  As a result my energy flowed easily towards the project.  There was no reason to procrastinate, every reason to keep going when the going got tough, and no difficulty in prioritising my activities.


So the learning is – if you want to move from I want to  . . . lose weight, get fitter, get promoted, change my career, be a better leader, then start by defining your purpose.  What is it you want by achieving your goal, because once you own that, the rest will follow.

Once you know why something is important to you, then you have started the process of succeeding.



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