Years ago I heard a radio story about a woman hopelessly addicted to cigarettes. Although she tried numerous times to quit, the temptation always won out. So she devised a plan. She told her best friend that if she ever caught her smoking again, she would have to send $5,000 to the Ku Klux Klan. Her best friend, acting as the enforcer, would hold her to it.
There's a name for this. It's called a Ulysses pact.
As the story goes, Ulysses wanted to hear the song of the Sirens, but he knew that doing so would cause him to crash his ship into the rocks. The song was just too irresistible; it would drive any man mad with desire. So Ulysses struck a deal with his men. They would tie him to the mast and put beeswax in their ears. By doing so they would be unable to hear Ulysses' commands. As they approached the island Ulysses became transfixed, but try as he might he couldn't escape or convince his men to drive the boat to the shore.
He made a decision in the present which (literally) bound his future self.
Know Your Sirens
I wanted to elevate my career and push myself to be a better developer. I knew that one of the best ways to do this was to start writing. But the fact of the matter is, writing a blog post to explain a technical topic is just not fun. It's a struggle! You feel like an idiot most of the time. And at the end of it all you look at your work and realize that you sound like a robot.
It's very easy to get bogged down and to not do it consistently. But consistency is key to forming any good habit.
To overcome these obstacles I made a deal. I publicly announced that I would give $500 to a politician I was not fond of unless I published a blog post every day for 60 days. I've come to refer to this as Fear Blogging.
I made a decision in the present which (figuratively) bound my future self.
I'll admit that those 60 days were hard. There were numerous times when I would come home late, exhausted from work, and I still had to put out a thoughtful blog post. Some of them are not so good.
But when it was all over, I emerged on the other side and the goal was completed! It felt amazing. I had judo-ed one of my biggest character flaws—my desire to quit—and turned it into a strength! What else could I use these new found powers on? Could I force myself to go to the gym or learn Mandarin? Maybe I could take up photography with the goal of taking 100 pictures every day. The possibilities are endless. It feels, in many ways, like I've finally found a loophole in my own lazy personality.
Choose one thing and stick to it.
I've tried doing pacts where I'm writing, going to the gym and learning a new language all at the same time. Typically those end up being too stressful. You're trying to form a habit so make it something that you really want to do and focus on just that one thing.
Find a buddy.
Making a public declaration that you're going to do something on Facebook and Twitter is a great start but in reality nobody on those sites is going to hold you to it. They read your post, Like it, and move on. It's better to find a friend you trust and make them act as your enforcer. When my buddy P.J. Onori tried Fear Blogging I promised him that if he didn't do his work I was going to force him to pay the penalty. Not only did this give me a ton of sadistic glee but it also made P.J.'s contract all the more binding and real.
Don't decorate the house.
I've noticed a lot of my friends say they want to blog but first they need to "update their site." Or, if they don't have a site, then they need to get one and it needs to be really spiffy. I like to say that's like decorating a house before you've decided to live in it. You're going to waste a ton of effort on fixing everything up and that's time that would be better spent accomplishing your goal. My advice is to write 10 or 15 posts, then worry about how things look. Get into the habit of jogging before you spend a bunch of time picking out the most perfect shoes. You get what I'm saying :)
Whatever It Takes
I've found that once you complete a big goal, it gives you a little more self confidence and next time you don't have to do the whole production of making a pact with harsh penalties. Today I don't need to Fear Blog because I've established the habit of writing. But the option's there if I ever need it to help me achieve a new goal.
Now, dear reader, it's your turn.
What are you going to accomplish?