The Law of Diminishing Intent
The longer you wait to take action, the less likely you are to take action.
The Law of Diminishing Intent, originally coined by Jim Rohn, is one of my favorite concepts that I have come across in my reading. It argues that the further away we get from our original spark, idea, or energy surrounding a goal or plan, the less likely we are to achieve it. Actually, forget about achieving it. As we wait longer and longer, the odds continue to decrease that we will even do anything.
Maybe you are saying to yourself, "No kidding. I didn't need Jim Rohn, or some second rate blogger to tell me about this concept." Maybe. It's not a concept that we are inherently unaware of, but it is a good reminder. And, it's a law, so...
One thing thing this can help remind us of, is that our ideas deserve our attention. I recently posted another great quote that I came across that stated,
Whatever your dreams are, start taking them very, very seriously.
When things come across our mental desk, that excite us, or poke us, or stir something up in us, we should give them more than a passing glance or excuse them away as daydreams, wishes, or "I'll never do it buts..." If we don't give these types of thoughts any attention beyond their initial appearance, they'll never gain any traction. Let me give you an example.
About a year ago, my wife and I had an out of the blue type conversation about how cool it would be to live and teach overseas. It probably happened as we were getting ready to go to sleep, and had all the makings of something that we would forget all about by the next morning. But we didn't. We continued to talk on it, but more importantly, we took some action. We both did some research online to learn more about what that opportunity might look like. We discovered that the Department of Defense has some great opportunities to teach on bases all over the world. Then I started sharing this idea with people close to me, and it turns out, I had a friend who had a friend who had been doing this for a long time. We shared an email and I was able to learn even more about the experience.
Eventually, I applied. And now I'm writing this blog from an ocean side villa in Morocco.
No. I'm not. But we gave our idea some attention, and put some action behind it, and took it as far as we can at the moment. In the process, we learned way more than we could have possibly learned if we had just rolled over and fallen asleep thinking, "That might be nice someday."
Every dream and thought and desire doesn't deserve an extended amount of time and attention. We can't chase down everything, all the time. Naturally, there are some things that will have to wait, and some things we just like to think about. Also, naturally, those things that are waiting, and that we just like to think about, will never happen unless or until we start to move on them. So when you find something that really makes you excited, or wonder, or curious, I encourage you to start to pull on that string just a little bit and see where it leads. And do it right away. Not everything, just something. Take some small actions so that your dream or goal will stay fresh, keep moving, and have life to it as you see if it is something worth moving forward on.
Another great reminder that this Law provides is the urge to dooooo something when we have an idea for a project or plan, whether it be personal or professional. Aside from our big dreams, the Law of Diminishing Intent shows up just about everywhere in our professional lives.
When we have an idea for a new project, when we return from a conference with a brand new idea, when we think about doing something cool with our kids, or when a new team is formed, we might find ourselves full of energy and optimism. We've got ideas swirling around, we are making notes in our journal, and we are having discussions with those around us about what this all might mean for our team, our school, our company, our family, or our clients in the future. And then...
You know what comes next. You've experienced this enough to know. We get back to work, and we have phone calls to make, meetings to take, and deadlines to meet. We talk about it from time to time, look back at our notes, and think about ways to implement the new idea. But there just aren't enough hours in the day to do all of the work that is already there, much less to add something new to the fray. And besides, it probably wouldn't work anyway (or so we tell ourselves). Our interest and enthusiasm fades and the chances that our plan will ever get past the idea phase decrease with each passing day. Eventually, it dies altogether.
As I was researching for this post, I came across someone else who had written about the Law of Diminishing Intent, focusing on how to make sure it doesn't trip you up. There were twelve different things you needed to remember and do if you wanted to protect your ideas from dying at the hands of this beast. My belief would be that if you have to use twelve different strategies to make sure you don't lose interest in something, then you are probably going to lose interest around strategy number four.
Here is my encouragement. Dooooo something. (You can check out my previous post, "He Got That Ambition Baby" about this here)
It's a one step program towards guaranteed success.*
*Not a guarantee.
Really, the best thing we can do when we want to keep an idea alive, is to just keep it alive. Our intent wanes when we don't partner it with action. It doesn't have to be partnered with Grand Poobah type action, just action. When we have an idea that one day it might be nice to fly our own plane, we don't go and purchase a plane the next day. That isn't necessary (or wise) in order to give life to our idea and fight the Law of Diminishing Intent. What is necessary, is that we keep it in motion, however small that motion might be.
We can do that by researching and learning more about our plan or idea.
Also, talking to other people about our idea is a powerful baby step, as it puts it out there somewhere other than our own hearts and minds, and other people can offer new insight, make connections, or give energy to our idea. One word of caution on sharing...be careful, in the early stages, not to talk to any energy vampires, as they may suck the life right out of your idea before it has a chance to gain any strength.
Some ideas may allow for action right away, and if that's the case, take it and run with it. If the idea fails, then at least you know, and you can either chalk it up as a learning experience and go back to the drawing board and rework it to make it better.
The next time your have a thing, or, if you have a thing now, I encourage you to give it some life, right away and consistently, in order to keep it moving forward. This does not imply that you should jump at every single opportunity without restraint or consideration. It may take some time to gain the clarity necessary to move forward. (To be clear, it almost certainly does not take the amount of time that we like to take to "think" about it.) Just make sure that while you are making sure, you are making sure that you are maintaining some momentum and life with your thing.
Don't over-ponder. Don't wait. Don't let yourself get too far away from the original spark or idea without taking some action. Dooooo something. If not, The Law of Diminishing Intent will destroy your precious idea or dream without giving it a second thought. You'll look back wistfully at your plan, and the energy, enthusiasm, and good ideas you once had will be long gone. Don't let those things die on your watch. Do whatever you have to do to breathe life into them, see where they lead, and then you can choose to either take the big action or move on to your next great idea.
I'm pulling for you.