Remember that scene in Fight Club where Tyler Durden holds a gun to the head of the guy working in the convenience store?
Tyler asks the terrified guy (Raymond) what he studied in college. When Raymond admits he wanted to become a veterinarian, Tyler tells him that if in three weeks he isn’t well on his way to becoming a veterinarian, he’ll find him and kill him.
After Raymond agrees, Tyler lets him go and says:
“Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel’s life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted.”
Willpower is often not enough
I consider myself pretty good at sticking with the commitments I make to myself. I’ve written about the Boston qualifying thing plenty, as that’s the goal I’m probably most proud of achieving because of how much work it took.
And yet, for all of that willpower (if that’s what it was), I’ve not been able to give up coffee for more than about a month at a time. And I have a horrible habit of chewing around my fingernails that is seemingly impervious to any lame attempt I can make to stop it.
But creating change isn’t really about willpower. Willpower works for a while. But eventually, if at the deepest level you associate more pain to changing than you do pleasure, then the change is not going to last (even when you know it’s what’s good for you).
This is when you need Tyler Durden to hold a gun to your head.
The new way to change
Willpower is old school. It’s a brute force approach that rarely works. The smart way to change is with leverage — recognizing your own fallibility and taking an action now that makes it inevitable that you change in the future.
Buying an alarm clock without a snooze button (or far better, this one) is a simple example. You know that when 6 a.m. rolls around, getting up early won’t seem like nearly as good an idea as it does now. So by taking this action now and making things rough on your future self, you’re actually helping yourself to make a better decision when push comes to shove.
When you sign up for a marathon before you’ve trained for it, you’re doing the same thing. Investing money, even just the 100 bucks to register for the race, changes the game. Now, when you feel like eating a donut instead of going for your run, all of a sudden it’s not quite so easy to be content in your laziness. Now your money is at stake, as well as the feelings of guilt and foolishness that we associate with wasting money. And as a result, you run.
But what about when the action isn’t so obvious?
The alarm clock example is easy. But what if it’s losing weight that’s your goal? Or any of a mess of other things where there’s no obvious action you can take now to make success in the future inevitable?
Enter stickK.com. I found it today after it was mentioned in a book I’m reading (more on that later).
So what’s stickK?
It’s a free site that allows you to enter into commitment contracts. You specify the terms of your commitment, along with appointing a referee to keep you honest. And then you put your money where your mouth is — you enter your credit card info.
So you might commit to paying 50 dollars for every week that passes after a certain deadline without your having, say, run a half marathon. Or every time you drink a cup of coffee. Or whatever. And you can appoint your spouse or friend or enemy or blog reader to decide if you’ve done it (or just use the honor system, though I’m sure that’s far less effective).
Even more powerful is the fact that you can designate this money to go to an “anti-charity,” one who you’d absolutely hate for your money to go to. (There’s no pro-animal-cruelty charity on the list, but there is one that’s considered anti-environmental.)
The site (and the science behind why it works) is actually based on a relatively new branch of research in economics, which is described in the book Carrots and Sticks, which I’m currently reading. (The author is one of the founders of stickK.com.)
Pretty cool stuff, I think. Nerdy, sure, but cool. And, quite possibly, extremely useful for achieving some pretty awesome stuff.
I’m going to try this soon. Not quite sure with what commitment, or what the “gun” that’s motivating me will be. But I’ll keep you posted.
And speaking of commitments…
Somebody in the health blogosphere has decided to become vegetarian! My friend Ryan at No More Bacon, as a result of reading my ebook, Marathon Roadmap, has decided to go vegetarian for 120 days!
Ryan started yesterday, and you can read his post all about it (as well as a review of my book). And — bonus — if you head over there and congratulate him, you’ll be entered to win a free copy of the book and the interviews. And while you’re there, don’t forget to check out Ryan’s transformation…pretty amazing.
So what do you think of the idea behind stickK.com? Gimmicky, or a serious way to make real change?