Does it ever puzzle you that you can’t (or, rather, that you don’t) uphold commitments to yourself, even when you really want to do the thing you’re committing to? It doesn’t really seem to make sense! I mean, if you committed in the future to prying off one fingernail at a time, and then, when then time came, you didn’t do it, it would make complete sense to me. You probably didn’t even want to do it when you committed, and certainly didn’t want to do it when the time came.
But how about those things that we really do believe are best for us? When, on January 1st, we commit to meditating 3 times per week, and we actually really enjoy meditating and really really want to feel less frantic and more centered … but still don’t manage to do it?
Believe it or not, this has a name. It’s called akrasia, which means “a lack of self-control or the state of acting against one’s better judgment.” It has been mentioned as far back as Plato, Socrates, and some versions of the Bible, so it’s been haunting us a long time.
There’s an interesting study to show that we assume we’ll have more “willpower” (or less akrasia) in the future. The study shows that people placing online grocery delivery orders for delivery tomorrow order more “want” items like ice cream, and fewer “should” items like vegetables. But those placing an order for delivery in a week order far more vegetables and less ice cream! It’s like we’re saying “oh, surely next week I’ll be able to stick to the foods that make me feel great. I want the ice cream now, but I’ll bet in the future I’ll want the veggies!” Does that ring a bell?
If so, today I’m sharing my tips for how to reduce akrasia and actually stick to the commitments you make to yourself. There’s something for everyone here, so pick and choose what you think might work for you, try them out, and then come back for more if needed. Here’s to sticking to our goals!
Here are 10 ways to stick to your commitments to yourself:
- Set reasonable commitments. If you haven’t been to the gym in a year, committing to going 5 times per week is not reasonable – yet. Be sure you’re setting DREAM goals (more on that here) that are specific, energizing, and realistic. Be sure you are committing to something that you CAN achieve, because saying “yes” to yourself is a contract.
- Build credibility with yourself. Are you the kind of person that regularly stands up coffee dates with friends or appointments with colleagues? Likely not. Of course, it happens to all of us on occasion, but in general, we live up to our commitments to other people because we want to retain credibility with them. I savor credibility with myself just as much. When I make a commitment to myself that I know I won’t keep (like, “I won’t have chocolate for the next 6 months!”), I remember that if I commit to this and don’t do it, I’m losing credibility with myself. Not only will I not believe in the chocolate commitment, but I likely also won’t believe that I will wake up at the time my alarm goes off, or that I will get the laundry washed and folded on time. Credibility with yourself (and with others) is like a deposit into a bank … every time you add in, even if it’s a small amount, you’re building the pile. If you take a small withdrawal amidst several deposits, that’s fine, but if you withdrawal continuously, you’ll be in trouble.
- Play calendar Tetris. Everything – EVERYTHING – is in my calendar. My food prep. My exercise. Sending invitations for my sister’s bridal shower. Folding laundry. In fact, I’m writing this on October 13th, and earlier today I had a meeting with a Lyons’ Share teammate who asked me about a project that’s upcoming. I said, “oh yes, my piece of the deliverable is on my calendar for Thursday November 5th at 11am.” I think her eyes about popped out of her head because it’s not an appointment with someone else, and it could be done at any time. So why do I know precisely when I will do it? Because when I say I’m going to do something, I put it in my calendar immediately, and treat it as any other appointment. Otherwise, we all have infinite responsibilities and potential to-dos, and it’s likely to get lost in a sea of others, or to stress me out unnecessarily later.
- Stack post-its on your desk. When I have several things to get done amidst many other appointments or commitments, I’ll write each one on a post-it note and spread them out across my desk, so they’re staring at me all day. As soon as I complete a task, I’ll remove the post-it note and recycle it. I promise – removing post-its is even more gratifying than crossing things off a to-do list, so if you’re one of those who loves the cross-out, try the post-its!
- Keep a recurring to do list. Speaking of to do lists … I keep one section on my to-do list for long-term items. Every single week, I make a new to-do list (a topic for a new post is my 4 quadrant to do list system!), and every single week, I carry over every single one of those long-term items. This year, I bought one of my good friends Christmas presents at Christmas time, and didn’t actually exchange gifts until August (yep). Literally every single week, I had written on my to-do list “exchange Erica Christmas presents.” This got so annoying that I eventually just dropped them off at her house, and we found a time to meet up! Sometimes, as I write things over and over and over again, I’ll eventually realize that they’re better off getting scratched, which is a win in itself. Otherwise, I keep on rewriting and keep on remembering.
- Use a commitment device. A commitment device is a system that makes it easier to do what you say you want to do. If you want to go to the gym regularly, you could hire a personal trainer to meet you, even if you don’t need the instruction. If you want to limit social media time, you could use an app that blocks it during certain hours. If you want to limit unnecessary spending, you could cut up your credit cards and only use your debit cards. Honestly, I prefer working on intrinsic motivation via the other 9 tips on the list, but if a commitment device works for you, use it!
- Measure progress consistently. Those of you who follow me on Instagram know that I track my yearly goals every Sunday. I have a big spreadsheet that has dozens of goals, and I track my progress each week. I do not hit every goal every week, and I’m totally Ok with that. Measuring consistently reminds me of where I am, and where I need to refocus, so I’m sure I hit the long-term goals.
- COMMIT … don’t just “want to.” When I make a commitment to myself, I COMMIT. I don’t just say “I’d like to get fit” or “I really want to meal plan this year.” I either commit, or I don’t. And when I commit, I use strong language when talking to myself. I will, not I want to. I act, I don’t The language you use with yourself matters!
- Think about your why. Your “why” is your deep-seated, emotional, powerful, hit-me-where-it-hurts reason behind what you’re doing. Going to the gym because “I should” isn’t motivating. Eating healthily because “Megan said vegetables are good for you” isn’t motivating (even if it’s true!). We need a deeper reason to stay motivated to do these things – something that feels energizing and inspiring and empowering. See this old but still relevant post for more on finding your why.
- Have a non-negotiable back-up. Look, you’re human, and I am too. And even when we lay the best plans, sometimes they don’t work out perfectly. For every commitment, I have a non-negotiable back-up. I aim to do my morning routine daily, and I do it 98% of the time, but on some mornings that don’t go my way, I stick to my non-negotiable of several deep breaths and three things I’m grateful for. I have aspirational monthly business goals, but I also have a non-negotiable goal to hit that I know keeps the wheels on the bus. Whatever your goal, make all possible plans to achieve it, and then also have a non-negotiable back-up to ensure you don’t throw in the towel.
Now it’s your turn … Do you ever slack on your commitments to yourself? Which tip do you think will help you best? What usually helps you stick to your commitments to yourself?