The Fight Club Method of Achieving Your Goals

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  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

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  Gimmicky, or a serious way to make real change?



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  1. I’m a big fan of committing to something like a marathon or big mountain climb to motivate you to do the work to get there. All of the examples where change works, however, including the Fight Club example, involve adding to your current life, not taking away. We are notoriously bad at stopping bad habits. Negative reinforcement might work for some, but I think it’s far more powerful to find something positive to add to your life that is incompatible with the behavior you are trying to stop that you want more.

    • Definitely a fair point, Carry. And I like what you say about finding something that’s incompatible with what you want to change; I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before.

  2. looks like a pretty sweet tool. I’m actually stoked for my experiment, but I also know that 120 days is a long time. I’m going to need some of that leverage in the days to come.

    Thanks for the shout out!

    And of course any Fight Club reference is badass 🙂

    • Ryan, I hope your 120 days is not torture. Fat Tuesday 2010 was the last time I ate meat. I only meant to go till X-mas but I never again got a desire to eat it. I hope the same goes for you.

  3. I think it sounds great. Especially for those of us that don’t have any friends in our lives that have the spine to help hold us to our commitments. My closest friend sucks worse than I do at keeping hers.

    As a response to Carry, my understanding is that both sides are necessary. Adding in a positive replacement is part of long-term change, but sometimes even that needs a big push to get moving. Plus, if you are doing absolutely no exercise, just sitting on your tail, you simply have to find a way to add in the exercise habit if you want to do it for health.

    The idea of having enough pain associated with habits you want to be rid of (as well as enough pleasure associated with new habits) is one I have been reading about in a book by Tony Robbins. He tells a really amusing story about 2 women who had always failed in holding to their exercise and weight loss goals and their health was suffering for it, UNTIL they made a pact with each other that if they didn’t succeed this time, they would each have to eat a whole can of Alpo dog food. They kept a can in a prominent place in their kitchens. Tony reports that just a brief glimpse at the ingredient list was enough to keep them on target. They reached their goals at last and never looked back. Those ladies were lucky they both reached a tipping point at the same time, and neither one backed down. So, as I said earlier, if you have someone like that in your life, maybe you can avoid entering your credit card number and do it in a more low tech way. I’m glad you clued us in to this website. I look forward to hearing how it goes if you choose to do it yourself.

    • Mindy, I pretty much agree with everything you wrote. I do agree somewhat with what Carry says, but like you say, a big push is often necessary, and that’s what external motivation can give.

      I like that Tony Robbins example. Awaken the Giant Within, right?

  4. I can’t believe you brought up Fight Club. The first rule of Fight Club is that we do not talk about Fight Club.

  5. Interesting concept in the website, but I can’t imagine using it personally. I guess different strokes for different folks.

  6. Jon Weisblatt says:

    Hey Matt,
    Good idea I guess but I’m cheap by nature so no friggin’ way for me. In the end true change has to come from a desire within and no external assistance is going to permanently change that. I completely agree with Carry. Besides, why you gotta give up coffee?! (I chew my nails too and I know it’s gross. My co-workers call it recycling yourself) You gotta have SOME vice dude! You don’t want to be too boring.

    • Being cheap by nature makes it that much more powerful! Then you’ll definitely stick to anything that’s going to cost you money if you don’t!

      I’m not sure about the idea of external assistance permanently changing something. I agree that more is needed; however, I do think that sometimes an external motivator can break the habit initially and give you a chance to get control of it. So for example, if I was so addicted to coffee that I simply did not have the willpower to skip it for a week, an external motivator could help me do that. And then perhaps after a week or a month, once the withdrawal symptoms are past, you might find that your internal desire to change is finally enough to make it last. (Not what happened in my case, but feasible.)

  7. matt, this is awesome. i’m looking into signing up right now. any interest in being a referee? :p

    • Jul, I’d be happy to be your referee, except I won’t make a good one because I have no way of knowing if you’re meeting your goal! Of course you could just tell me, but isn’t that the same as the honor system?

  8. I love this, but my only goal right now is losing weight. I’ve been reasonably successful so far, but I really don’t want to end up losing money if I plateau, since that seems like something I don’t have much control over.

    Still, that’s totally the coolest thing ever. I love finding ways of making myself accountable for things and this is pretty much the most extreme one yet. Amazing.

    • But then perhaps the money will be the thing that makes you get past that plateau… although I don’t want to be the one to encourage any sort of eating disorder. They actually have some rules about weight-loss goals, like you’re not allowed to make it a one-time goal. It needs to be ongoing, or something like that.

  9. I think the real motivator is giving to a charity you dislike. If it was for Big Cat Rescue I would say oh well.. I’ll try to stick to my goal a little harder next time but if it went to a charity I am very much agianst (and I can think of several) that would really hurt. And if they sent a Thank you that would be a real stinger! Intersting concept.

    However, no amount of motivation, positive or negative is helping me lose weight 🙁 I thought staying active (I run marathons and triathlons) eating right (I am a watchful balanced vegetarian) and never eating beyond the point of being full would be enough to tip the scale… but that is a topic for a differnet forum.

  10. An alternative to StickK is Goalfinch. We just launched, and I’m currently using it as motivation while I train for a half marathon. Goalfinch aims to be much easier to use than StickK – if you’re on Facebook, you’re already set to give it a try. I’d be curious to get your take on how you think the two sites compare.

  11. Annabananabomb says: is along a similar vein for weight loss. They talk a lot about the research behind why money incentives work, and it is a HILARIOUS site, I highly reccomend looking at this page: Although I don’t recommend all the tips.

    To be honest, you don’t need a website, just a supportive friend. My supportive friend is currently holding $100 in trust for me which will go to charity if I don’t reach my goal. If I do, I get the money!

    He is also the official arbitrater of the final goal. So for example, if I “plateau” but he knows how hard I’ve been working and the only way I could punch through the plateau is to engage in seriously unhealthy behaviours (ie: starving myself), then I am free to make a case that I should still receive the cash.

    Also, money doesn’t just go to charity if I don’t reach my goal, I’m also obligated to participate in a “nudie run”. While in principle I’m happy for my money to go to charity and not to me, I’m really really incentivised not to do the “nudie run”.

    I think it will work for me in the short term, and then I’ll look at a way to incentivise maintenance.

    So in short, it’s a gimmick but it just might be one that works, because willpower alone is totally weak arse.

  12. Suggesting more products and websites for your readers is not in the Fight Club spirit. If you need leverage how about you give your word to people who you respect saying that you will achieve your goal?

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