The Importance of not Overcommitting to a Strategy

by Mark on April 28, 2010

Yesterday I talked about The Importance of Committing to a Strategy. An equally important point to remember is to avoid overcommitting to a strategy. You overcommit to a strategy whenever you stick with an ineffective strategy for an extended period of time. It is understandable why we might not commit to a new strategy for which we don’t have a track record and for which no immediate results are apparent. We begin to second-guess ourselves for persisting with the unknown, and we even fear looking foolish.

It’s a little more difficult to understand, on the other hand, why we persist with strategies that aren’t particularly effective when we have plenty of data to confirm the ineffectiveness. Why do we do this? We might not want to admit that the strategy isn’t working. It is difficult to admit – even to ourselves – that we made a mistake. Or we have fallen for the sunk cost fallacy. Or we see other people using the same ineffective strategy and assume that it must work. Or maybe we just haven’t thought enough about it to realize that it isn’t working very well. There are all sorts of reasons why we might stick with an ineffective strategy.

Diets don’t work… but I am going to go on one anyway.

One common example of a strategy that doesn’t work is the diet. Most of us have gone on a diet at some point in our lives, and I’m no exception. When I talk about a diet, I’m not talking about a change to a sound nutritional plan that we expect to continue for the rest of our lives. I’m talking about a temporary restriction of calories where we essentially starve ourselves to lose weight rapidly. We even go into a diet with the intention of only doing it temporarily. If we thought that we were going to diet for the rest of our lives, we wouldn’t even bother to try. It’s too painful!

Before you tell me that diets do in fact work, I will agree that they work. However, it all depends on what you mean by “work.” You can obviously lose weight on a diet. Sometimes it is possible to lose weight very rapidly on a diet. I know because I have done it. I lost 32 pounds in less than 6 months back in 2003. The biggest problem with diets is that they very rarely lead to sustainable weight loss. This is what I mean when I say that diets don’t work. There are a few reasons for this. One reason is because our bodies lose muscle mass when we restrict our calorie consumption too much. During a diet, our bodies obviously use up our stores of fat as a source of energy, but the lesser known fact is that our bodies also draw on the protein from our muscles for energy. It’s no secret that muscle mass helps burn calories.

Another problem with dieting is that it causes our bodies to go into “starvation mode.” Our bodies evolved during a time when sources of food were quite unstable. It wouldn’t be unusual to go through periods with very little food. Our bodies developed adaptive mechanisms to conserve energy by reducing our metabolism. When we diet, we are conditioning our bodies to burn less energy. A third problem with diets is that we don’t develop sound long-term eating habits. Significant calorie restriction is painful, and we begin to associate this way of eating with pain. We are pretty much doomed to returning to our old comfortable eating habits.

So what’s the solution? The solution requires finding a sustainable way of eating that keeps our weight down. Anything that is not sustainable will not be sustained. Burn this idea into your brain. It might sound obvious, but it is something that is too often ignored.

Search out your ineffective strategies.

What strategies are you currently using that really aren’t working? Maybe it’s a weight loss strategy. Maybe it’s a time management strategy. Maybe it’s the way you interact with people. We all have strategies that just don’t work well. What are yours? What are the flawed assumptions behind these strategies? What is causing the strategy to be ineffective? Once you figure out what might be causing the problems with the old strategy, you can begin to develop a new and more effective strategy.

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