How You Do That Thing You Do

When people talk about change, they often emphasize affective factors, which shape our feelings, and cognitive differences, which influence thinking. They overlook patterns that relate to doing. According to Kathy Kolbe, a specialist in learning strategies, conation is the aspect of human consciousness that determines how we tackle any task. She has identified four conative styles:
  • "Quick start" adherents swing directly into action, making creative discoveries—and mistakes—through trial and error.
  • "Fact finders" need information; they're the friends who'll research every relevant factoid about any task they're preparing to undertake.
  • "Follow through" people naturally use methodical systems: They set up files for every receipt and alphabetize their refrigerator contents.
  • "Implementers" focus on physical objects and environments; they figure out things by building models or grabbing the appropriate tools. They respond better to bricks and mortar than castles in the air.
If necessary most of us can tap into and use all four conative styles, but we tend to favor one or two of these behaviors. Yet conatively, as in every other area of life, too much of one style can be a weakness. For instance, consider the "failure modes" of the four dieters I mentioned earlier:
  • Marlene, who favors quick-start action, leaped straight into an organic raw-food diet. Two weeks into her regimen, her hunger and disgruntlement triggered a backslide to a menu of cupcakes and beer, which Marlene maintains today.
  • Ellie, who prefers the fact-finder conative style, never actually began dieting or exercising. She's still researching and evaluating fitness programs, using a process so detailed she'll finish her analysis next July (at the earliest).
  • Karla, as a follow-through, has a zest for systems, so she joined a reputable weight loss program, which was perfect—except that she hated it. The weekly weigh-ins terrified her, and the prescribed food had all the epicurean appeal of bat guano. After a month, she began sleep-eating peanut butter.
  • Chip, with his love of the concrete implementer strategy, drastically cut his food intake while quadrupling his level of exercise. Back spasms soon landed him in bed, where he began inhaling polymer-based foodlike products from the minimart to ease his frustration.
They each failed because their closest friends share their conative preferences, which means they had no one to help them in the areas where they were weak. But if these four very different people linked up as a Fellowship, things might have turned out differently. Marlene's dynamic quick-start energy could have pushed Ellie past her analysis paralysis. Ellie could have researched a weight loss system more suited to Karla's taste. Karla's methodical approach could have pointed Chip toward a sustainable exercise program, and away from the weekend warrior syndrome. And Chip's enthusiasm for three-dimensional places and processes could have inspired the women to hit the gym more often. (There are many more benefits this Fellowship might have discovered, but you get the idea.)

Next: Forming Your Fellowship


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