Not Making Progress? Raise The Stakes - Happier Human

Not Making Progress? Raise The Stakes

If you were sufficiently motivated, you could become a multi-millionaire. So could I.

So why aren’t either of us rich? The small, intermediate steps involved in getting there are so far removed from the grand prize, that they need to stand up on their own merit to be motivating.

The visit to the gym needs to stand on its own – its connection to a future where I am super healthy and super sexy is too weak.

Last week, you were introduced to mental contrasting, a technique which helps motivation flow backwards, from the ultimate reward to the mundane crap along the way. Unfortunately, it’s only partially effective.

What to do?

Raise the stakes.

Think of one sub-goal that you’ve been putting off for a while. It could be going to the gym, writing a blog post, going to the dentist – anything.

Now imagine that you’ve made a bet with an all-knowing, all-powerful, impartial observer – someone who is omniscient, omnipotent, and incorruptible. If you don’t complete that sub-goal you’ve been putting off within the next week, this impartial observer will burn your entire life savings – all the money you have in the bank, your house, your car – anything, anywhere of value will burn.

What do you think? Would that motivate you?

It would motivate me.

Of course, setting up a situation like that is a bad idea. Talk about stress. And what if something unexpected happened and you failed?

But that’s the basic idea. Raise the stakes. 

I’ve found two effective methods for doing so – social accountability, and commitment contracts.

Social Accountability

I’d been putting off creating my first for-profit product for months. Then I made a public declaration that I’d have a sale-ready version within a week.

What I’d been putting off for almost a year I got done in five days. Social accountability worked.

I’ve never seen a supportive accountability partnership reduce motivation. Usually I see the opposite – rapid progress replacing what use to be slow stagnation.

We are social creatures. The reason culture is so powerful – the reason it can transform a baby of almost any ethnic origin, any color, any gender, almost any intelligence and almost any personality into a functional citizen and success is because of just how much we care about what other people think about us.

If we didn’t, we’d go off and follow our primal desires – we’d become hobos, sex addicts, and druggies. But we don’t, because we’ve internalized the values of our culture.

You care what other people think about you. So pretending otherwise would be ignoring a potentially large source of motivation. Tell someone that you want to do something – and do it, you’ll receive their approval. Don’t do it, and you’ll look bad. It’s a double whammy of motivation – we want to appear consistent with our word.

So get an accountability partner. Ask a friend or family member you trust to check in with you a few times a month. It’s best to have someone who needs accountability themselves – that way you can help each other, rather than having a nagging partner who’ll just grate on your nerves.

When you meet, discuss progress. If there’s been no progress, discuss roadblocks and potential countermeasures. Ask for suggestions. Discuss your intentions for the upcoming days or weeks ahead of time – that way you’re forming a concrete goal which you have to complete in order to appear consistent.

I’ve been able to perform herculean acts of effort due to accountability. I’ve seen the same happen for other people. If you care what other people think, you’ll be able to do so as well.

A life coach once told me that the most valuable service she provides is accountability. You can spend hundreds of dollars getting accountability from a coach, or get it for free from a friend or family member. It may take you some time to find a partnership that works. But it’ll be worth it!

Seriously! Don’t just read this and think, “oh that’s a good idea.”

Do it! Get accountable! If that’s still not enough, raise the stakes one more time.

Commitment Contracts

Right now, the part of you that is logical is in control. Naturally, you assume that in the future, that part of you will also be in control. But that’s not how the brain works – the part of you that wants to eat healthy gets shut out the moment your brain sniffs desert; the part of you that wants to work on your business gets shut out the moment you get home from work tired and mentally depleted.

That’s where commitment contracts come in.

Despite having no intrinsic value, money is one of the most motivating forces in the world. So if you want to raise the stakes, put your money on the line.

Tell a friend or family member what your goal is, and then tell them what you’re putting on the line. This is just like having an accountability partner, except this time there’s money on the line. You’ll want an impartial observer – someone who’ll ask you for proof of completion and won’t buy any of your excuses.

I use StickK.com. Give it your credit card information, and it’ll take your money if your referee says you didn’t complete your goal. Even better, if you want, if you fail to complete your goal StickK will donate your money to an anti-charity, an organization whose cause you actively reject and oppose. I use that option.

Talk about stakes! Not only will failure cause me to lose money, a cause I identify as evil will be getting it instead!

The higher the stakes the better – the more you’ll care, and paradoxically, the less likely you’ll lose money. I routinely create contracts worth hundreds of dollars.

You can bet they motivate me!

If you’re not willing to put money on the line, maybe this goal isn’t as important to you as you thought it was.

Can you think of someone who’d be willing to help keep you accountable? If so, reach out to them. Do you think it’ll be enough? If not, create a commitment contract.

Inspiration Box


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That’s it for this series on goal setting! All the posts, in order:

1. The World’s Best (free) Guide to Goal Setting
2. Now, Not Later
3. Difficult, Not Easy
4. The Myth of Inspiration
5. Performance or Mastery?
6. Approach or Avoidance?
7. Raise The Stakes

I hope it helped!

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