Locking Yourself In

Most people fantasize about mastering certain skills, or changing their life; most take halting steps towards bettering themselves. But for each decision to change, very little action is taking: people give up for a variety of reasons – poorly defined goals, life circumstances, being overly ambitious, or simply laziness or lack of motivation. I’m certainly guilty of this.

One way I’ve found to prevent reneging on my promises is to lock myself into a commitment. There are two ways to do this, a right way and a wrong way.

Photo by Stebulus

The wrong way is this: You decide you want to work out. So you sign up for a gym membership and show up a few times. And then you stop going, and then you feel guilty and have a monthly expense that you don’t want to give up, because it means you’ve given up on your dreams. Furthermore, the expense not only represents your goals, but it also represents the daily toil necessary to accomplish them. Toil that exhausts you and keeps you from frivolous entertainments. Going to the gym becomes your goal, and you begin to forget why.

The right way is to set the goal and make a definite commitment that other people can see, and then to work towards that goal. The commitment is not drudgery or something you can’t do: it’s an exciting reward that stretches your capabilities.

For instance, I’d talked about traveling outside the country for literally years. Then, I promised a relative that I would visit her in Germany within 12 months. I wanted to weasel out of it – after all, planning the trip would be a lot of work. But I couldn’t take back my promise. A month or two later, I bought a plane ticket – then I was definitely locked in. Anyway, it wasn’t a sentence, it was an opportunity to see some cool museums and experience a new culture.

I’ve done the same thing this year. I wasn’t sure whether I would travel, or if I’d keep dallying on the dates. So I bought the ticket, and now I have no choice – my past self decided and I’m simply carried along for the ride. Furthermore, because I know that my German is good enough to communicate but bad enough that I’ll feel embarrassed, I have a reason to continue studying each day. My reward will be some awesome times traveling, and a feeling of comfort while communicating in a foreign language, in a foreign country.

You can apply this anywhere. If you’re a competent musician, sign up for an Open Mic – now you have a reason to practice, and the reward is showing off on stage. If you want to get in shape, don’t think about flat abs or checking off each gym day on a calendar – sign up for a Tough Mudder or a triathlon and picture what a badass you’ll be. Be creative.

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