Do you still remember the last time you truly fell head over heels in love? Perhaps this is the case now or perhaps it was a few weeks ago or months or even years. What did you do in order to see the love of your life? What did you make possible? From where did you manage to squeeze the time? Perhaps you spent money on flights, train trips or gas. You let all other priorities fall by the wayside in order to spend time with your loved one. Clearly you had an extremely high intrinsic motivation to achieve your desired goal – holding your beloved in your arms and spending time with her or him.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could have such energy at a button push for all of our life’s goals? Sadly, this is generally not the case. We may have something that we desire, such as getting our body into shape, spending time with friends, or getting in some quality family time. Or even simply enjoying some me-time. Or at work: Focused time for thinking about strategy, planning and conception.
The flawed that-can-wait-till-tomorrow thought
However: Friends and family will still be there tomorrow. And you can do some sport tomorrow, too. And the strategy won’t complain if you don’t tackle it today.
In the long term you pay a high price for your procrastination. Because in the long run you will not achieve your desired results: The fit and healthy body? Nope! Regular memorable quality time with friends and family? Only on vacation and sometimes at the weekend, but otherwise? In business, a well-thought out strategy? Time for concentrated planning? Well, no one’s got time for that. Steadily improving employees through regular coaching with the boss? Hey, they learn that stuff by themselves, don’t they?
Why is this so difficult to do?
What do we do instead? We deal with the things that scream at us: The emails, meetings, colleagues, and employees with the most critical issues or the own boss who has an urgent special task. These things are important today. However, this means that you often neglect the long-term important things as these are simply not so important today and can thus be put on the shelf. The result is a slight feeling of discomfort and the thought that, “Oh yes, I was going to do that as well” or even a concrete sense of dissatisfaction with that which is happening in your professional or private life.
What is the solution? How do you motivate yourself to do things and tackle your tasks with discipline? How do you gain new and useful habits?
There are only two forms of motivation
Let’s look at the only two basic human motivations:
First: We all want friends, we want great results, we want to enjoy doing what we do. We want to derive satisfaction from the act of doing itself, from the results and the positive consequences.
Second: We want to avoid pain. We don’t want negative consequences. We do not want to suffer for the things that we do or do not do.
In brief: We want to experience joy and avoid pain! How can we use these motivations to reach our goals? To learn new and useful habits?
How to achieve every goal
In the last few years I always entertained the idea to do exercise three times per week. I only achieved this in my younger years, when I intensively played handball, but after that I never quite managed it. About three years ago I said to myself again: Exercise three times a week!
What did I do? I said to my wife: “Claudia, if I don’t do exercise three times a week, then I will give you €100.” I didn’t actually want to give her €100 as I thought she would only go and buy shoes or something. I wanted to avoid this pain at all costs. In the second week I had to make my first payment. I had begun well on Thursday, but by the weekend I was too exhausted to do it a second and third time. My wife wanted to support me and did something very clever: She put a jam jar in my bathroom cabinet, labelled “Exercise cash”. She put two €50 notes inside. A few days later these had suddenly disappeared as she had spent them. My pain increased. This was a great way to motivate me to do more exercise. In weeks 3 and 4 I did exercise three times.
How did I continue? In week 5 I had to pay again! I was too comfortable and did not start early enough. Since week 6 I have never had to cough up again. The pain of paying, or even better the desire to avoid this pain, was so strong that I now begin with my exercise on Monday or Tuesday, and I identified a way to regularly do exercise while on business trips. Check the Adrian James App for more ideas. It has become a new habit to Adrian James twice a week and discovered Capoeira as my latest passion. I no longer need this 100 Euro pain to motivate myself to train regularly.
The joy of having a fitter, more healthy body was not enough of a motivation for me. However, the avoidance of the self-inflicted pain was enough to get me going.
Now it’s your turn!
What can you do?
Step 1: Take something concrete that you want in your life! Professionally or privately. A behavior that you want to implement regularly. Perhaps it’s strategic planning for two hours once a week, 3-4 hours per month or 1 day per year. Perhaps it’s regular one-to-one employee talks, regular exercise, or more time with your family and your children: Perhaps once a week leave the office at 4pm and do something new and exciting with the kids.
Step 2: Think about this: What pain can you give yourself if you don’t implement this behavior?
There are many examples of good pain
As a bit of inspiration, here are some of the ways that leaders who have attended my keynote speeches and seminars use to punish themselves for not doing as they had intended:
- Buying pizza for the whole team
- Weeding the gravel path at home
- Getting up at 7am on Sunday to iron the family laundry
- Cleaning two toilets in the company
- Donating €50 to a charity
- A particularly brave leader, having no ideas himself, invited his wife to define his punishment…
Of course it is also important to not make fun of oneself in the process. If the intended behavior has not been successfully implemented, then inflict your chosen pain upon yourself.
And it’s no big deal if you can’t quite manage to change your behavior at the beginning and have to take the pain. This will serve to motivate you in the near future to step up.
In this way you gain new habits. You are motivated by a combination of the joy, as you have made positive steps, and the pain that you receive when you don’t achieve the intended behavior.
Get rid of the skeletons in the closet
Of course the same principle also applies to one-off activities. I myself had to recently give €20 to a homeless person because I had been too comfortable to successfully complete a not so desirable task. Can you guess how much enthusiasm I had the next time I found myself faced with this task?
The crucial question to you
When you really have decided to take on a new behavior, ask yourself this: Do you actually want to have this new habit or do you just fancy the idea? If it’s the latter, then try something else. However, if you really have a sincere interest in developing this new habit, then write down this behavior, including time period and exact definition and at which date and time you will start doing this, NOW on a piece of paper. And on this scheduled day at this scheduled time start with your new habit.
And don’t forget, define your pain in writing!
I wish you the best of success in implementing and enjoying your new habit.
Your Markus Jotzo
P.S. If you want to increase your chances of success, then tell someone else about your intentions. Make sure it’s someone whom you would be embarrassed to disappoint with a lackadaisical implementation.
P.P.S. Please comment on this post. I’d be interested to see your viewpoint. And your successes.