Since 2005, I’ve had an annual ritual where I don’t drink alcohol for a month. I’ll also work out a ton, eat healthy food, read at least a few books, and generally have a super-productive month. I’ve done this “month of prohibition” eight times, and not a single time have I failed, i.e., had a drink during the month.
Every time I’ve taken this month off of drinking, my productivity goes off the charts. It’s such an overwhelming boost that when I’ve needed a jumpstart in my life, I’ve tried to recreate it on a smaller scale. I’ll try to take just a week off of drinking, sugar, fast food, etc. And I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded.
Why does this happen? If I can exercise that kind of discipline for a month, why can’t I pull it off for seven days? Why when I pick a goal that stretches me and I more likely to see it through than when I pick a goal I should be able to easily accomplish?
There are three reasons why it’s easier to achieve a big goal than it is a small goal.
With a big goal, the good feeling you will get from achieving the goal keeps you in line. Getting to say “I did it!” is motivation by itself.
If you drink regularly, eat ice cream daily, and eat Taco Bell every weekend, it’s a big deal to give up alcohol, sugar and fast food for a month. Your friends will try to tempt you into failure, but when you pull it off, they’ll be impressed. You’ll have something you can brag about for at least a year.
With a small goal, like no alcohol or working out for a week, most people will respond with “So what? I’ve done that on accident.” It’s not big enough to trigger your own excitement or the excitement in others.
If you’re looking to solve the motivation problem, you have to choose a goal that makes your own brain say “Wow!”
Shooting for a huge goal forces you to invest more into it. And, as any homeowner or investor in stock can tell you: once you’re heavily invested in something, it’s much harder to walk away.
Say you decide to become a painter. You buy some watercolors and a few brushes and paper. You spend about $25. If after a week you decide that you’re bored with painting, you can drop it and it won’t hurt too much.
On the other hand, say you set a goal to become the next Michealangelo and changed an entire room of your house to a painting studio. You’ve bought tons of expensive paints, brushes, and easels, and dropped thousands on professional instructors. Even if you’re just as bored after a week, you’re probably going to stick with it much longer, because of the investment.
This happens in all sorts of arenas. People who go to three years of law school will take the bar exam 10 times to pass it, because they’ve invested years of their life in that career.
Huge goals like becoming a lawyer can stick so well that it can even become a negative thing – many people stay in careers that are wrong for them for their entire lives because of their previous investment. What if you could create that kind of stickiness for a goal that’s undeniably positive?
If you want a goal to stick, look at how much you’ve invested in achieving it. Go all out.
The bigger a goal is, the more likely it is that other people know about it. The more others know about it, the more pressure you feel to stick with it. The more pressure you feel, the more likely you are to complete the goal.
When you try not to drink for a week, there’s no reason to tell anyone else. You can just avoid the happy hours during the week and come up with an excuse not to go out over the weekend.
If you’re going from drinking every weekend to not drinking for a month, however, you’ll probably have to admit it to your friends. When other people know your goal, your pride gives you an extra push to follow through.
No one wants to be the person who proclaims they’re going to do some ambitious and then fizzles out after a few days.
Announce your huge goal publicly, and your likelihood of success skyrockets.
I’m not just sharing this strategy to preach. I’m betting on it for myself.
This month, I’ll be doing another no drinking, no fast food, no sugar, lots of working out, and generally being awesome month during June 2012. Michael is joining me. You can join us too. What is your big goal?