We are now more than half-way through January and you may want to reflect on any New Years Resolutions you have made. Most of us choose goals like losing weight, giving up smoking, learning something new, and finding a better job or relationship. Studies show that only about 2 out of 10 of us will manage to achieve our goals. When we do succeed in achieving a set goal, we often feel joyful.
As Assagioli wrote:
“Since the outcome of successful willing is the satisfaction of one’s needs, we can see that the act of will is essentially joyous.”
If you find yourself far from feeling joyous, struggling instead with your longing to change, then maybe it’s time to take a closer look at how you make decisions. Assagioli has written extensively on decision making in his book The Act of Will. He describes six stages of the decision making process: defining purpose, deliberation, choice, affirmation, planning, and execution.
Our decision making process is only as strong as our weakest stage and usually we are more effective with some of these stages than others. For instance, I once had a client who skipped over any deliberation, which often caused her problems later once she realized that the action she decided to take wasn’t necessarily the best. Let’s take a closer look at each stage of any decision.
Stage 1: Defining Purpose
The first step is to identify your intention or goal. During this step, you explore your goal. Try to be honest about your motivation. Throughout this discussion, I will use myself as an example. My goal is to create more satisfaction in my life. Questions I need to explore are: What is blocking me from receiving more satisfaction? What do I need to do/feel/experience in order to create more satisfaction? Perhaps I need to spend more time alone, increase my self-esteem, garner more faith and trust, communicate my own needs more openly, or no longer fear taking a risk.
Try to narrow down one thing that you might achieve towards your goal. Pick the one that you feel most enthusiastic about, that feels most worthwhile. I pick: Write a book about subpersonalities. Finally state your goal clearly and precisely:
I use my will to … (write a book about subpersonalities).
Stage 2: Deliberation
Next you must weigh all the possibilities you have to achieve your purpose. This is the brainstorming stage where anything goes. It is not the stage where you evaluate, judge or reject any idea. Let your ideas flow, include everything that occurs to you, and play with the endless possibilities. For example, I can join a writing class or workshop (in the South of France!), I can schedule time everyday to write, I can find a class online, I can find a writing buddy that helps motivate me …
Then examine your responses and explore their consequences. Consider how willing you are to accept responsibility for them. Take your time for this process.
Stage 3: Choice
Eventually, you will have to choose one of your options. Some people never get beyond the deliberation stage. Instead they become enamored with the fantasy and, consequently, lack the will to actually perform the action needed to achieve their goal. (This is my problem! How many times, in my head, have I been interviewed about the best-seller that I still have to write!?) Write your choice down clearly and precisely:
I use my will to … (write every morning).
Stage 4: Affirmation
Next you affirm your decision. Just by sharing my choice with all of you, I am affirming it. You might think this stage unnecessary, but it helps to ground the idea in reality and protect it from your own inner Saboteur. Later, whenever you might feel discouraged, you can come back to your affirmation. Write it down:
I (name) choose to … (your choice).
Stage 5: Planning
Planning can be a key stage to establishing your success. Paradoxically, we tend to limit ourselves when we think too big. Think in SMALL STEPS. Prepare a detailed plan that specifically is directed towards your chosen option. What is the first step you have to take? Who else is involved? What equipment, material, money, space, time, do you need? How do you evaluate your success?
Consider for a moment how you might defeat yourself. How might you resist this new change. How are you going to deal with any inner resistance? Use your imagination to visualize your plan to its successful completion. Always think positively about your purpose and intended outcome.
For example, my plan includes: reviewing my notes, writing an outline for the book, starting a chapter, and looking for a literary agent.
Stage 6: Execute
Finally, you actually execute the decision. Execution of will requires you to use skillful will, feelings, imagination and impulses to constantly supervise your activities. You also have to be flexible and adopt your plan to any change in conditions and circumstances. (For example, what if my “real work” starts to demand more time from my writing? What if I suddenly feel bored with my book?)
Slowly, you begin to work towards your goal. By focusing on your small successes, you can begin to enjoy the benefits of what you have achieved. In this way, you recharge the energy you need to continue towards your goal, and are always moving towards Joy.
Wish me luck! I’ll keep you posted.