Today is the first day of your new exercise plan. You had decided you wanted to start going to the gym more regularly and decided to start today. You go to work and there is an accident with one of the computer servers and you realize you have to remake a document you had already prepared. When you go to the Java Hut to get your daily caffeine fix you bump into someone who spills coffee all over you. Coming home exhausted, you decide maybe to start your exercise plan tomorrow.
Do you ever have problems keeping commitments to yourself? It is easy to suggest that the problem is simply a lack of willpower, but this doesn’t really do anything to fix the problem. Finding ways to force yourself to do the things you’ve decided to do is a powerful step in building your self-discipline, motivation and ultimately your own self-image.
Maintaining your personal commitments can be difficult in the face of life’s constant challenges. When you find that simple exertion of willpower isn’t enough, you need to utilize the power of leverage to push you that extra mile.
What is leverage? Leverage is simply any constraint that makes backing away much more difficult. Although rational people often think it is foolish to put unnecessary constraints on their action, it may be necessary to use leverage to overcome those psychological barriers that prevent you from staying focused.
There are many different ways you can create leverage, and in this article I’ll cover the seven major ways of asserting it. Whenever you are worried about slipping on a commitment, an added bit of leverage can reinforce your willpower and ensure you follow up on those decisions that are important to you.
1) Make a Written Commitment
One of the easiest ways to create more leverage on yourself is to make a written commitment. Writing down your goals instead of just thinking of them is so critical because unless you write them down, you are liable to change your mind when the going gets tough.
It may not seem like much to just write down a goal, but I have found it often doubles or triples my effectiveness towards a specific objective. A written goal serves as an ever-present reminder of the commitment you’ve made. A piece of paper with your own handwriting also provides you greater clarity towards exactly what you are trying to achieve.
If you aren’t already writing down your goals and keeping them stored in a place you refer to frequently, then make this your first objective. The first time I started using these written commitments, the time it would take me to achieve similar amounts of work was halved. That is an incredible productivity boost from a simple piece of paper.
Writing things down creates far more leverage than a simple mental commitment. Every boost in leverage reinforces your willpower and pushes you onwards.
2) Define Your Motivation
Another easy method of creating leverage is to simply define your motivation for achieving something. Enough why will almost always create the how. Defining exactly why you are going to do something reinforces the rewards and consequences of that decision.
If you decide to lose weight by going on a diet, defining your why’s sets up in your head the consequences and rewards for following through with that decision. Although creating additional rewards and punishments can enhance your motivation, in most cases all that is necessary is simply tapping the intrinsic motivation that is already there.
Once your goals are written down, take out a piece of paper and write down exactly why you are pursuing them. What do you expect to gain compared to if you don’t follow through on this desire? Just like the first method, this may seem like a rather obvious way to get leverage, but it is surprising how few people ever actually do this.
3) Commit to a Friend
Now that you’ve written your objective down and created your motivation, you can create more leverage by making a commitment of your goal to a friend. Choose a friend that you believe will be supportive of your goal, but also one that won’t let you off the hook if you abandon it.
I find it is always good to get a couple close friends in your life that will facilitate your own growth. These mutual relationships can allow you to encourage each other and keep you from quitting. For myself, I have a friend I exercise with, another that I discuss relationships with, and a few others that provide support. These relationships allow me to make much stronger commitments than I could otherwise.
What if you don’t have any supportive friends? This could very well be the case as there have been times in my life where my friends were far from supportive of my self-improvement efforts. The simple answer is to leave anyone who discourages your growth and make new friends. Join supportive organizations to meet these people and bond out of the principle of mutual support.
I’m always willing to provide some supportive feedback to anyone who wants to take a positive step in their own growth, so if you want to post your own commitment to everyone via the comments panel or send one directly to me through the contact form, you can get some reinforcing leverage on your decision.
4) Create Short Term Commitments
In some cases the most difficult part of a commitment is the initial period. Once you’ve become habituated to that commitment, less willpower is required. By making a shorter commitment you can focus all your willpower to get a sufficient momentum early on.
I have created many habits in myself and have become quite skilled at the process of habituating myself. My personal suggestion if you want to work on a habit that occurs at least once per day (going to the gym, dieting, reading, etc.) is that you do an intensive thirty day commitment which you cannot break without restarting. After this period, do your best to uphold the habit for an additional sixty days.
The sixty days after are just a period to tell how well the habit has stuck. Although some habits can be successfully conditioned to not require willpower after thirty days, I have had some cases where even after thirty days this wasn’t the case. If you feel that the habit is still unstable, reinforce it with another thirty day trial.
This method of using small periods of focus is an excellent way to get more leverage. Making extended commitments is often futile because you are reserving your total willpower for a much longer period than it can sustain. This technique won’t always work, but if you are struggling with any new pattern of behavior it can work wonders.
5) Reward Yourself
There are two systems of nerves that run throughout your entire body. One of these systems suppresses action and the other system encourages it. Only when the amount of encouraging neurons overloads the suppressive ones will you take action.
Your mind as a whole functions on exactly that same principle. In each of us there are two masters, pain and pleasure. Whether you act or not is decided entirely on which route your mind as a whole feels will create the most pleasure and avoid the most pain. Any failure to act is a failure to create a compelling enough ratio of pain to pleasure.
By creating additional rewards on top of the intrinsic ones you defined in method number two, you can enhance any default bias towards action. So if you want to watch your favorite television show but you need to go to the gym, making the show your reward for going to the gym can enhance your ability to act.
These rewards are most effective if you utilize a friend. It can often be too easy to just take the reward right away and avoid the work. By using a friend you can ensure that you only get the reward if you take action.
6) Punish Yourself
The balance for pain and pleasure are not equal. We are far more motivated by pain than pleasure because it is linked more closely to our survival. While getting a million dollars is motivating, a loaded gun pointed at your head is even more so.
Creating rewards for yourself can be fun, but when even that fails, creating punishments is the next step up. If you wrote a thousand dollar check to a friend with the instructions to cash it should you fail to follow through, you would be incredibly motivated to ensure you followed through.
7) Burn Those Ships
Burning the ships involves removing virtually any possibility for failing to take action. Like the conquering army that arrives on enemy shore and proceeds to burn down his ships to remove any possibility of retreat from his troops mind, you will be burning your ships to create the largest amount of leverage.
Let’s say you want to start a business, but you are still working at the same job. Writing a letter of resignation and handing it to a friend with the instructions to mail it within thirty days if you haven’t started your business is a great example.
Burning the ships is a very extreme version of using the sixth method of using punishment to get leverage. Your aim is to make the costs of not acting so unbelievably high that they pale in comparison with any imagined costs of taking action.
As you probably noticed, each of these seven steps increases the power and severity of your leverage. Although ship burning and enforced self-punishment are a bit extreme, you now have those tools at your disposal when average techniques simply aren’t enough.
In my life I have often heard the excuse of simply not having enough willpower to get what they want. Willpower is an asset but never a requirement. By using the power of leverage you can drastically distort the pain/pleasure ratio forcing you to take action. Don’t get caught in the cycle of broken commitments and utilize leverage.