Volitional Action Items

Written on March 17, 2013. Written by .

When working on self-improvement, I often come across advice that sounds really good, but after reading it, I realize that I don’t have any practical ideas for how to incorporate the advice into my life. For example, if I hear “try to focus more on the present”, I recognize it as good advice and maybe I’ll be more mindful of the present for a few minutes, but soon thereafter I’m right back where I started.

The problem is that this kind of advice only has a lasting effect if it changes you in some way. Just thinking a thought could change you, but usually you just forget about it as soon as you return to your normal life. However, since your consciousness recognizes that you want to make this change, the solution is to find some way of allowing your consciousness to control the process of change. You can do this through volitional action, or action with a conscious intent.

The act of meditation leads to heightened mindfulness, so you may be able to will yourself to meditate and achieve the change you sought. But it is also possible that meditation itself is not volitional. You may be in such a frenetic state that your will-power isn’t strong enough to enable you to meditate at the moment. In this case, you may have to find an easier action item that is volitional that can calm you down enough to meditate, perhaps some physical exercise.

But perhaps your will-power is lacking and you are having trouble sticking to your exercise schedule. In this case, the first step may be to find an exercise partner who will encourage you to exercise every day. Ultimately, it may be that your root action item is to make a post on craigslist advertising for an exercise partner.

Effective self-improvement advice requires volitional action items. It is important to realize that will-power is limited and variable, so “volitional action item” is effectively a relative term in the sense that what is volitional at one point in time for someone may be non-volitional at a different time or for someone else. Thankfully, almost any shortcomings of our will-power can be overcome by a sufficiently sophisticated breakdown of objectives and action items into volitional action items.

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