We commonly think of temptation having the upper hand when people are down, weak, and fragile. In this state our emotions seem more powerful than the muscle of our conscience and willpower thus making us more vulnerable to the temptation of making regrettable mistakes, or giving up whatever work we are doing.
A mentor of mine once told me that there is another state of mind in which temptation can easily usurp us: when we’re strong. This may sound like a paradox, but you’ve heard it before. It’s the classic hare and tortoise fable. Get too far ahead and you become lazy.
I’ve been going to the gym recently, in an attempt to complement my relatively inactive lifestyle. One week I went to the gym several times, each for a substnatial workout. Felt pretty good about myself too. Can you guess what happened the next week? I didn’t go at all. I succumbed to laziness because I felt like I had achieved a lot the previous week.
Another example. I was working last year on an app for myself. Since this was a side project, the time I spent working on it were irregular and squeezed between the rest of my daily schedule. Some weeks I worked on it consistenly, others not at all. The same scenario was at play as the gym example: after a week of solid investment in the app, the subsequent week (or two, or more) was lazy at best.
It’s also not just in human lives we can see this dynamic. In business strategy, there’s this concept of leapfrogging, in which a new entrant to a market overtakes the incumbent leader in market share. One of the main reasons the incumbent fails to maintain their position is essentially arrogance. They becoming too comfortable with their success and ignorantly dismiss the new entrant as a threat based on their current position. Rather than give an example of a company who fell to this sword, I’ll do the opposite. IBM is a company who dominated hardware in the 1980s, largely thorugh an (initially) exclusive agreement with Microsoft. They were able to carry this success forward in the 90s as well, even after they lost exclusivity with Redmond. Toward the end of the 90s, however, they realised that the future of the hardware industry would not remain the cash cow it had been for two decades. So they sold off their consumer hardware business to Lenovo to become primarily a software and consultingbusiness.
What’s the solution? “Don’t hold on to your achievements” comes to mind. “Slow and steady wins the race” is another. But as all wisdom it’s easier said than done and most of the time we know the right thing to do already. We just choose to do otherwise in the moment.
So choose differently.