Ladies and gentlemen, I apologize if this seems crass, but…
Sometimes, when you want to get something done, the threat of a kick to the balls is far more effective than the prospect of a shiny new toy or a trip to the Bahamas. I was reminded of that fact this week.
I don’t know about anyone else, but sometimes, even when I pick a GREAT reward as a way to motivate myself to complete a task, I can lose interest pretty quickly. There is actually good research that backs this idea up too. In one example 2 groups of participants were sent to a casino to gamble. One group had to use their own money while the other group got to “play for the house”. The second group was given an initial stake (i.e., the initial sum of money they were given) and told that if, at the end of the night, they lost all the money, no problem. However, if they won money, they could keep whatever they won over and above the initial stake. The results were pretty clear, the group who played with their own money, played more conservatively (took less risks) and some of them came out on top. Virtually the entire group that played with the house’s money lost all of their initial stake. Despite the fact there was a potentially big reward, the second group had nothing to lose… there was no stick to help motivate them, just a carrot… and the carrot wasn’t that important to them.
Back to my reminder this week. I was talking to a friend who has the classic goal of losing some weight in the New Year. He took a very interesting approach. He said” Here’s the deal, I have a list of foods that I am allowed to eat 6 days a week and I am allowed one “cheat day” where I get to eat whatever I want (Slow Carb Diet from 4-Hour Body author Tim Ferriss). However, I’ve told my wife, my kids, and my coworkers that if they catch me eating anything other than what is on the allowable food list, they get to kick me in the balls. No blocking. Just stand there and take it.”
“How’s that working out for you?”, I asked in alarm.
“Lost 7lbs this week,” he said with a smile, “the thought of having to stand there and take it is terrifying!” We laughed hard at the visuals.
Despite the unusual tactics, there is definitely a method to the madness. His choice of approach actually has several behavioural principles embedded in it that make it far more likely he will succeed rather than endure another failed New Years Eve resolution.
- He used the loss aversion principle we described above.
- He recruited his friends and family, making it public.
- He made it a game, albeit a potentially painful one.
There is one other interesting thing about his plan of attack. He didn’t make it a goal, he made it a habit. There is no deadline for when this game will stop. The rules are in play indefinitely (at least for now). He’s not going to stop operating this way once he reaches his “goal weight”. His eating plan is a healthy one and there is no reason to stop, but we as humans can often take achieving a goal as a signal to stop the behaviours that got us there. So you can target a habit rather than a goal.
Many sites already employ these strategies too… Want to get in on the classic New Years resolution to lose weight? If my friend’s strategy is not quite to your… “taste” try sites like Dietbet
These principles have, I think, obvious application to any new habit or goal you want to implement. Want to increase your productivity at work? Use the principles above to recruit friends, create fearful (but safe consequences), and make it a game. The applications really are limitless. Even better if you can combine rewards and fearsome consequences!
So get out there, get healthy, and see if you can avoid a kick to the balls in 2016.