Last year, I stuck to an eating habit challenge because my friend Tynan put on some pressure to keep me accountable: if I messed up with my challenge, he would throw a pie in my face … and we’d get it on video, and he’d put it on his blog. And he would be free to give any reason for my lapse that he wanted (and he could be creative), and I’d have to publicly acknowledge that reason.
Obviously, I was motivated to stick to the challenge. We kept a shared online spreadsheet where I had to log my progress and he could check on me. We had a rule where I could ask for exceptions in advance, to account for kids’ birthdays and anniversaries and things like that.
One day, I opened the spreadsheet, and my heart sank at the message I saw: “FAILURE! You’ve violated the rules!” I couldn’t believe it for a second, because in my mind I hadn’t violated the rules. But in truth, I had. I’d taken one of my exceptions (my daughter’s birthday) and split it into two half days … but I’d forgotten to ask if that was OK.
I bowed my head in defeat, and said I’d take my punishment (while protesting that I hadn’t meant to violate the rules). Tynan, though, asked a panel of friends to make a ruling, and they ruled in my favor. I was spared!
I’ve had other fun challenges like that, and they’re quite motivating. I’ve had group challenges with Eva and the kids, where we all get a big reward if we succeed as a group. We all did multiple sets of pushups — even our daughter Noelle, who was seven at the time — three times a week for a couple months, collapsing on the floor after our final set each time. We did it because group challenges get your butt in gear.
One habit game I really liked is one I did with my friend Toku (a mindfulness coach and blogger at MindFitMove), that he called HABITS. It’s based on the basketball game HORSE, in which players get a letter of the word HORSE if they can’t match a shot by another player. So if you mess up, you get the letter “H” the first time, then “O” the second time, and so on, until you spell the word “horse” and you lose.
HABITS is a similar game for creating a habit, where you commit to a habit partner or group to doing a habit for a month. If you miss a day, you get a letter from the word “habits” (so “H” for messing up once, then “A”, and so on). You lose if you spell the entire word, and you have to do an embarrassing consequence like posting a video of yourself singing country music on Youtube.
The twist is that if you miss two straight days, you get two letters instead of one on the second day. And three letters on the third day if you let the streak of missed days continue. So if you missed one day, you get the letter “H” … but if you missed the next day (your second in a row), you get two more letters, so you’ll have “HAB”. And of course, if you miss three straight days, you’ll have the whole word “HABITS” spelled out, and you lose.
This twist that Toku created is great, because we all miss a day or two of habits in a month, but with this game we’d put some extra effort into not missing a second day in a row. I played it for a month with Toku and it was fun, and apparently he’s played it with several accountability groups he’s in.
Putting these ideas together with the Habit Sprint we talked about earlier in the book, I’d like to propose a new habit game.
The Zen Habits Game
Here are the rules of the Zen Habits Game, best played with a group of friends or family:
- Commit: At the start of each week, make a commitment to at least one other person, or a group of up to 10 other people, to do a Habit Sprint. Commit to a habit, create a Habit Plan, with rewards and an embarrassing consequence, and share it with them.
- Track: You start with five points. During the week, if you miss a day, you subtract one point. If you miss two days in a row, you lose one point for the first day, and lose two for the second day, so you’ll lose three points total if you miss two straight days. And three more points if you miss a third straight day. Keep a shared online document or spreadsheet, or use a group on a forum or your favorite social networking site, to keep track of how everyone is doing.
- Streaks: If you do five straight days, you get a bonus! Add one point. If you get your streak seven straight days, add two more points.
- Review: On the seventh day, after doing your habit, do a Habit Review and share it with your habit partner or group. How many points did you lose? What got in the way? What will you do next time to overcome those obstacles? Put the solutions on your Habit Plan, and the plan will get better with each sprint. You get two points for doing the review.
- Score: So the best possible score is the original five points, plus three for a seven-day streak, plus two more for the review — for a total of 10 points. If you do that, you were perfect! Give yourself a reward and bragging rights. The worst possible score is 0, if you missed a few days in a row and didn’t do the review. If you ended up with 0, do the embarrassing consequence.
- Level Up: Do the Habit Sprints each week, and start your score back at five each week. Aim to get a better and better score each week. If you get better this week than last, or remain at 10, give yourself a reward. If you get two or more points worse than last week, give yourself the embarrassing consequence.
So basically, you get points for keeping a streak going and doing the end-of-the-week review, and you lose points for missing days, especially if you miss two or more straight days.
You get rewards for having a great week or for improving each week, and you get embarrassing consequences if you miss a lot of days and don’t do the review.
This is a fun game to play with a group. You can each have a different habit, but hold each other accountable. Try to encourage each other to stick with it — if you can all average a score of 30 after four Habit Sprints, maybe give yourselves a big group reward, like a group day trip somewhere or some kind of party.
Final mission: Set up a Zen Habits game
Today, pick one or more friends to join you in the Zen Habits Game. Share the rules (also available at zenhabitsbook.com/game) and challenge them to do this with you. This could be a great way to finally stick to those habits you’ve all been wanting to form!
This is the final mission of the book, so if you’ve done all the missions through today, consider yourself a winner of the challenge I issued at the beginning of this book. Congratulations!