All of us have goals. But despite our best efforts, we don't achieve all of them.
In order to achieve our goals, we must make the right decisions and stick to them with consistency and self-discipline. Self-discipline is an important and necessary thing. But it does not always work.
Because we are humans, not robots, programmed to standard actions and reactions. Humans cannot always be rational. Often we are subject to emotions and impulsive behavior. Sometimes these irrational actions negate the results of weeks and months of hard work and effort. It seems to me that I act irrationally much more often than I do the right thing.
For many people the main obstacle to life change is not a lack of desire to change, but an inability to cope with temptation, a manifestation of weakness and inconstancy.
So many of our most trouble some problems, from overeating to lack of savings, have something in common: lack of self-control. Self-control is what enables us to give up choices that are immediately satisfying but disadvantageous in the long run, like a piece of chocolate cake (instead of an apple) on the couch in front of the TV (instead of going to the gym).
But it's hard to resist the temptation. As the nineteenth-century English economist Nassau William Senor said, «To abstain from pleasures that are within our power, or to strive for distant rather than immediate results, are among the most painful efforts of the human will.»
So what should we do if we lack self-discipline and willpower?
Let's consider some options.
When scientists analyze people who seem to have impressive self-control, it turns out that these people are no different from those who are not very good at it. It's just that "disciplined" people are better than others at structuring their lives in such a way that it doesn't require heroic willpower and self-control.
Usually people change in two ways.
The first. People change from within, under the influence of a strong inner insight or deep dedication of the whole self to self-improvement.
The second. People change if only external conditions require it. And such people are the majority.
So the best way to change is to put yourself in conditions where it's impossible not to. And the stronger the need to change, the stronger and more insurmountable the conditions must be.
The Odyssey Method
Recall the story of Odysseus (Latin name Ulysses) from Homer's poem The Odyssey.
Odysseus returns home after the Trojan War. Near the island of Sirens, Odysseus addressed his crew: «Now we are going to sail past the island of Sirens. None of the sailors can resist their singing. The sirens' singing lures sailors who pass by and puts them to a cruel death. Therefore I will seal your ears with soft wax, so that you will not hear their singing and not die. And you will tie me to the mast. If I, fascinated by their singing, ask you to untie me, you will tie me even tighter.»
And so they did. And when Odysseus, having heard the sirens sing, began to ask his sailors to untie him, they only tied him tighter. Only then did they take the wax out of his ears and untie Odysseus from the mast when the island of the Sirens disappeared.
This story shows two important tools that man uses to solve the problem of self-control. Odysseus wanted to listen to wonderful music, but also to stay alive to tell about it. To do this, he devised a two-step plan.
The solution for the crew members was to remove temptations that would provoke them to reckless acts - to turn the ship toward the rocks.
For himself, Odysseus chose a strategy of his own limitation -- he limited his choices so that he could enjoy the spectacle, but also avoid giving in to temptation.
Tying himself to the mast is perhaps the oldest written example of what psychologists call a commitment device.
A commitment device is a decision you make to bind yourself and not do something wrong, at a time when you are emotionally unstable or prone to irrationality and cannot correctly assess the consequences of your actions. In fact, temptation is an unequal battle between the «present self» and the «future self».
First, the «present self». It is like Odysseus when he wants to listen to songs. He is simply reacting to the opportunity to enjoy the «here and now».
However, he realizes that this could lead him to unfortunate consequences, and it would greatly affect his "future self". So he orders himself to be tied to the mast.
Such methods for tying yourself to the mast are called commitment devices - methods of self-restraint, involving making a decision in the present that will determine and control your behavior in the future.
The "cashew phenomenon" and the self-restraint method
Richard Thaler, author of The New Behavioral Economics, once had friends over for dinner. While the guests waited for the main course to be prepared, the host brought out a large vase of cashews. In five minutes the friends ate half the nuts, and so that they did not interrupt their appetite, Thaler had to take the vase back to the kitchen. Strangely enough, the guests were grateful to him, because they knew they would have eaten them all, and would not have been able to fully enjoy the main course.
We are guided by the same motives when we put the alarm clock in the far corner of the room, set ourselves deadlines, or buy sweets by the piece, even though a pack would cost us less. Often our choices reveal not rational preferences, as economists believe, but help us control ourselves.
Sometimes the secret to success is not following good habits, but not following bad ones. So the best way to break with a bad habit is to set up barriers, to make it uncomfortable and hard to get to, to reduce the likelihood of misbehavior.
For example, the LeechBlock NG service is like a self-monitoring tool, whose job is to help the user overcome the habit of being distracted by extraneous surfing on the Internet. Leechblock can control social networking sites, and timed switches turn off the TV for the times when you don't plan to watch it. To reinforce the barrier - give your Leechblock password to a friend so you can't remove the restrictions yourself.
Or your relationship with money. If you know you're prone to overspending - you need to consciously have a limited amount available to spend. When there is less, you will automatically spend more wisely and frugally, and you won't spend more than you have.
For example, a well-known businessman and coach Grant Cardone said that he tries to keep as little money in his account as possible, so that he always has a feeling when he looks at the account that he is about to go bankrupt. Every time he checks his balance, he gets a feeling of anxiety, which he uses to motivate himself to work harder and make more money.
Sometimes people can do things differently - they say, «I'm going to take out a mortgage loan now, and then I'll have to figure something out to make more money. That way I'll have an incentive to work harder.» It's a trap because you're committing yourself to the future to work off past commitments. In addition to external motivation, this is a direct path to anxiety and burnout, a loss of peace and enjoyment of life.
The same pattern of behavior is observed in the case of fitness club memberships. In fact, some people buy a season ticket to solve problems with self-discipline regarding exercise. If you bought a gym membership and don't attend, you have to admit that the purchase was a loss, a financial loss. And then this realization will help you overcome laziness and inertia. After all, we feel the loss stronger than the joy of an equal gain.
Help from the outside
Ralph Waldo Emerson once remarked, «Our chief desire in life is to have someone to make us do what we can.»
And if such a person is not around, there are other ways to do this.
For example, the goal-setting platform stikK (www. stickk.com), created by behavioral economists and professors at Yale University, where anyone can tie their hands behind any mast. StickK users pay a certain amount of money (e.g., $100) and enter into a «commitment contract» in which they state a specific goal they want to achieve - for example, to lose weight, exercise more, or quit smoking. If they do well, the money is refunded. If they don't meet their commitment, the amount paid will go to a charity of their choice or, alternatively, to a political party they don't like.
Or another option. The manager of a casino in Las Vegas made the decision to quit smoking. He realized he didn't have the willpower to do it alone, so he came up with the following: on a main street in Las Vegas, he put up a billboard with his picture and the words, «If you catch me with a cigarette, I'll pay you $100,000!». Did he succeed in quitting smoking after taking such a step? Of course he did!
This is how extrinsic motivation applies. You use your willpower once to set in motion a mechanism that will make you keep the commitment you've made in the future.
In the summer of 1830, French writer Victor Hugo told his publisher that, despite a promise he had made a year earlier, he could not meet the deadline. Instead of writing, he spent an entire year doing other things and hosting guests, constantly putting off writing the novel. A disappointed publisher set a new deadline: the book had to be written by February 1831 - sooner than six months later.
Hugo devised an unusual plan to overcome his procrastination. He gathered all his clothes and had a servant lock them in a huge trunk, leaving himself only a large shawl. With no suitable clothes to go out, he stayed in his study and wrote intensely throughout the fall and winter of 1830. As a result, Notre Dame de Paris was published two weeks ahead of schedule.
I don't like all kinds of goal-setting and planning. I have a complicated relationship with time. I'm a proponent of inspiration and I like it when my internal processes and moods lead me to either one activity or the other on their own.. But when working on articles for the POB Word of the Week contest, a couple of times the deadline set by the contest organizers seriously boosted my productivity the last night before publication)..
Burn the Ships
In his book The Art of War, Sun Tzu notes that soldiers fight most fiercely when they know that retreat is impossible and they have only two choices: win or die.
There is a popular story about Julius Caesar's campaign to conquer the British Isles. After crossing the English Channel with his army, Caesar landed in Britain. Then he ordered the ships to be burned in front of the soldiers. Caesar thus prevented the possible flight of the army and made it clear to the soldiers that they could only return home if they were victorious. Undoubtedly, the soldiers were now well aware, without any words, that the bridges were burnt, and must go only forward and by all means win. Which they did.
If you don't burn ships, you let your subconscious know that retreat is possible. And when the situation becomes tense (which will inevitably happen if your goal is serious enough), you will simply give up. If you really passionately want to achieve your goal, you need to burn all the ships and scatter their ashes in the wind. If you think such a step is excessive for the average person, you're right-that's why it remains average.
Take the step
Knowing your personality traits, think through situations that are important to you ahead of time, anticipate temptations, and take steps to minimize the number of mistakes and their consequences.
Use your irrationality to your advantage: deceive yourself in order to achieve your goals. Use nudge in relation to yourself.
A single difficult choice requires some effort, but its value increases over time. Let it inspire you to think that a single decision can bear fruit over and over again.
Tie yourself to the mast. Burn ships. Focus on a key goal. Make a public promise, do anything to cut yourself off from retreat.
Yes, it's scary, this step takes determination and courage, but it works. If your goals are really important to you, you need to do something hard and extraordinary to achieve them.
Don't be saddened by the word «limitations».Believe me, the results you get can be more gratifying and satisfying than you think.
As Khalil Jebran said – «We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them.»
I wish you luck and success in achieving your goals!