Overwhelming Force

September 22nd, 2005 by Steve Pavlina

When you want to make a change in your life, especially a big one, you’ll typically meet resistance along the way. An effective strategy for rendering such resistance powerless is the strategy of overwhelming force. This is a military strategy of course, but we can co-opt it for our own personal development as well. Instead of merely dipping your toes into the change you’d like to make, you dive into it headfirst. Instead of undercommitting resources, you overcommit.

Too often when people attempt a big change, they undercommit their personal resources. Instead of a quick victory, they end up with a quagmire akin to Viet Nam, where they have to keep putting in more and more energy just to maintain the status quo.

For example, suppose you want to lose 50 pounds. You make some moderate dietary and exercise changes. For a while they work well, and you lose the first 10 pounds. But then you get stuck at 40 pounds overweight. You keep maintaining the same diet and exercise levels, but because you’ve undercommitted your resources, your total long-term effort is much greater than it needs to be. Exercising while 40 pounds overweight, month after month, perhaps even year after year, is very hard and takes a tremendous effort and discipline to maintain, especially when your results are minimal. Simply going through your daily routine with that much weight on you will make your life much harder than necessary. My daughter weighs about 45 pounds, and to carry her around for any length of time would be very difficult. I couldn’t even imagine going for a 5-mile run with her on my back. So even though the strategy of overwhelming force requires a greater up-front investment, in the long run it can save you a great deal of time and energy.

Think of all the personal resources you can use to apply overwhelming force to one of your goals — your intelligence, intuition, skills, talents, time, money, family, relationships, reputation, assets, environment, etc. If you find that you’re stuck in a stalemate vs. the resistance working against you (whether internal or external), then perhaps it’s time to apply to the strategy of overwhelming force and just get the job done. Bring enough of these additional resources online until you reach the point where you not only feel you’ll overcome all resistance — you feel certain you’ll squash it.

Ask yourself, “What would it take for me not only to achieve this goal but to absolutely dominate it?” What would you consider overkill? Imagine your goal as if you’re planning a battle that you MUST win, regardless of the cost. Write down what you think it would take to be certain of success.

If you think you have an effective kill strategy for your goal, but it isn’t working too well, perhaps you’ve underestimated the resistance. Don’t feel bad if you find yourself in this situation — great military leaders have been punished by this mistake as well. Accept that your kill strategy may in fact be underkill, and what you think of as overkill may be just what you need.

Once you see your overwhelming force strategy written down on paper, you may be thinking, “Wow… this would work, but it would take a lot of work to get it going.” The goal may be more “expensive” than you first realized, and some sacrifice may be required. So this is when you have to decide whether the goal is actually worth doing. Is it worth the price to you, or is it truly too expensive and not worth the effort?

Once you figure out what it will really cost to achieve your goal, you can then decide whether you’re willing to pay that price or not. Often we fail to achieve goals quickly because deep down we feel the price is too high, but we don’t want to accept that. So we try to cheat by undercommitting resources, hoping the goal can be achieved with far less effort. In a handful of situations, we get lucky and achieve the goal more cheaply. But in most situations, we waste tremendous time and energy pursuing goals that never get achieved.

Imagine what your life would be like if you could achieve most of your goals on the first try because you applied overwhelming force. Your first diet took you quickly to your goal weight. Your first attempt to quit smoking lead you to become a permanent nonsmoker. Your first attempt to find a fantastic job succeeded. No rework, retesting, repeating, recommitting, revamping, re-anything. Applying the strategy of overwhelming force can even be fun too, such as when you have the goal of getting pregnant. ;)

You might recognize that this is another application of the principle of facing reality as explained in the previous podcast.


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