When I started running, I ran a 5K race, and it felt amazing. The day I finished the 5K, I got it in my head that I was going to run a marathon a year later. After all, if I could run a 5K then I could run a marathon, if I just kept training, right?
I decided to set the goal of running a marathon and to continue my regular habit of running. But I knew that I’d lose motivation when the training got harder, so I decided to create a big commitment: I signed up to write a twice-monthly column in my local newspaper about training for my first marathon.
Tens of thousands of people were reading this column, and so I knew I wouldn’t back out. I did struggle with training at times, but I couldn’t weasel out of the commitment, and neither could my Childish Mind. I ran my first marathon (slowly, with difficulties) a year after the idea entered my head.
I learned the power of public commitment from this. It was a huge motivator, and this large commitment didn’t let me off the hook when I wanted to quit.
By contrast, the times when I unsuccessfully tried to quit smoking, I would make absolutely no commitment. I’d just say to myself, “I’m going to quit smoking today,” and then throw away my cigarettes. But later in the day, when the urge got really strong, I would buy a new pack, and I’d be smoking again. The problem was that I wasn’t committed — in my mind, this attempt at quitting smoking wasn’t a big deal. It was as small a thing as taking out the trash, something that could be put off until later when other things came up.
I’ve used big commitments to form many habits now:
- I committed to changing a few diet habits, and told my friend Tynan he could throw a pie in my face if I failed and put the video on the Internet (unfortunately for Tynan, I succeeded).
- I committed to my friend Jesse that I’d write and publish this book by the end of 2014, or I’d have to eat a burger (I’m vegan, so this is a big motivator).
- I blogged about getting out of debt when I first started Zen Habits.
- I created my blog as a public accountability tool for a bunch of habits I was trying to form.
- I once made a list of all my personal possessions as a way to motivate myself to simplify.
- I’ve publicly shared my workout and eating logs in the past.
- I signed up to run my second marathon to raise money for a good cause.
- I’ve had online accountability groups, habit trackers where friends could see my progress, and other tools that would make it obvious if I wasn’t doing the habit.
- I’ve had competitions with friends, including my friend Toku, to try to stick to a habit we’d committed ourselves to.
The Greased Slope
In the last chapter, we talked about creating a groove in the snow. Let’s switch metaphors now, and think about a slope that keeps you on a certain path. If it’s easier to stay on the path, you’ll probably do it, and having a hill or slope on either side of the path makes it likely you’ll not stray.
But what if that were a greased slope? Even if you wanted to get off the path, climbing up a greased slope would make it really difficult. By greasing the slope, you are taking away your escapes — or the escapes of the Childish Mind.
So grease the slope that would allow you to get off the habit path.
How? By creating a big commitment — create accountability and consequences for not doing the habit, so you’ll be much more likely to stay on the habit path. This is a much more powerful tool than most people realize.
Types of accountability & consequences
Here are some ideas for accountability and consequences you can create for yourself:
- Publicly commit to doing a habit every day, on social media, to your friends and family.
- Write a daily blog, with short updates.
- Commit to friends and family via a mass email, and promise them weekly updates.
- Create a public log of your habit, and share it with people.
- Join an accountability group and commit to them.
- Find an accountability partner and create consequences for each other if you fail.
- Make a big pledge to do something embarrassing if you fail.
- Make a pledge to give money to someone or to a political candidate or non-profit organization you don’t like.
- Pledge to ban yourself from your computer, or cell phone, if you fail; or not eat sugar or drink coffee or drink wine, or whatever would motivate you most.
- Issue a public challenge to friends to join you in a month-long habit (like writing every day, or exercising each day).
- Get a coach or join a small class.
Mission: Make a commitment to others
Add your commitment to your habit plan: what kind of accountability and consequences will you set up to grease your slope and keep you on track? Many of you might be tempted to skip this step, but that would be a mistake. Don’t give yourself an escape. Be all in.
Now actually make that commitment to others today, online, via email, or in person. Don’t start on the habit yet, though. That’s your next mission.