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Overwhelming Force, Courtesy of Steve Pavlina

March 29, 2011

I know it’s been some time since I posted, and I’m sorry about that. Technical difficulties and time constraints have weighed heavily on me lately, but I hope that I can remedy that with some posts in the near future.

This could be called the counter-post to “The Benefits of Being Balanced”. While in that post I argued for balance and moderation in the different areas of one’s life, the larger point was to advocate against extremism in any form: religious, political, educational (though that is hard to avoid), physical, and other aspects.

However, I am taking a cue from Mr. Steve Pavlina here in talking on the concept of overwhelming force.

As stated in his 2005 article at , the term is of obvious military origin. In the face of resistance, such resistance is rendered powerless by an overcommitment of force.

Overwhelming force isn’t a technique that applies to any specific area of life. Any endeavor you undertake, anything which you attempt to do, can be aided by taking this alternative approach. It’s simply the willingness for a person to not only prioritize, but to expend sufficient effort in attaining his or her priorities.

The logic of overwhelming force is rather easy to understand. By attempting to attain a goal and failing, one expends an initial investment of energy and must therefore make a choice: to continue expenditure of energy, or to give up pursuit of the goal. The problem inherent in this is that most people will undercommit their resources in attaining a goal. Too often, pursuing a goal is “too time-consuming”, or “I just didn’t feel like it”, or “I had other things to do.”
And so, in continuing to pursue the goal with an initial undercommitment, one continues expending energy. However, this small incrementation of commitment is almost always ineffective, and in the end is extremely time-consuming as one goes through the repeated process of attempt, failure, attempt, failure, attempt.

Overwhelming force, then, seeks to save both time and energy by using a massive initial investment of energy to attain the best results on the first attempt. By committing this massive amount of effort initially, one serves to use a fraction of the unsuccessful energy and time which would be spent long-term in the more traditional approach.

An excellent example of a situation in which overwhelming force is useful is in the category of exercise. In seeking to lose weight, it is more effective to spend a large amount of time each day exercising for a long period of time. Not only will this large investment each day give a more pronounced effect in weight loss, but exercise becomes an integral part of one’s day. Exercise is no longer a chore, it’s a habit. Then it’s no longer a habit, but a lifestyle. In this way, the person makes the intended change, achieves the desired results, and had a minimal waste of time and effort. It’s the stand-by advertisement in commercials, “Real results, fast!”

The problem with overwhelming force is that most people aren’t willing to make an overcommitment of resources. This isn’t so much due to a problem with the strategy as it is with prioritization. When a person judges a goal of significant importance, they assign a high priority to that goal. The higher the priority, the higher the maximum effort a person will expend. In this way, it’s necessary to correctly recognize the value of a goal and where it should lie among others.

Overwhelming force isn’t always the best strategy. Sometimes it’s more important for a person to be meta-cognitive– that is, to be able to think about their own thought processes. At other times, the more important factor is to rely on the experience of others. In many situations, though, it is beneficial to create a massive response and attempt to render resistance meaningless. In these cases, use overwhelming force, and enjoy the swift efficiency it brings.

If you have questions, comments, complaints, or concerns, I would love to have you leave a message in the comments section below. Thanks for reading, and have a great day.

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