Incentives

Willpower has never served me well. Not that I don't know how to work. I was raised on a farm, summers were spent working. But it is easier to do work when someone is saying that if you don't then there will be consequences. These are called incentives. The world mostly runs on them. 

For some reason I long carried around an arrogance toward incentives: that using them meant you were somehow inferior, lazy, lacking in self discipline or willpower. Consequently when I was going to school and working for myself, if no one was expecting me to be out of bed before 10:00 AM, there was almost no way I could get out of bed before 10:00 AM. No matter how much willpower I applied to the situation at seven or eight in the morning, there was no movement.

Then one day I got an idea and made a deal with Courtney, "If I am not out of bed by 7:30 tomorrow, I have to give you $50 of my spending money." The next morning, the decision about what to do at 7:30 was not difficult. The pain of losing $50 was greater than the pain of getting out of bed.

Incentives work, so I use them all the time now. Mostly in the moment I will use the $50 deal to curb any short term bad habits. Courtney has jumped on board as well. If there are any sugary treats in the house, and she has had a lot of them recently, she will make a $50 deal that she can't have any sugar-based food for a few days. 

I've seen this work well with guitar students as well. A few of my students enjoy practicing at the get go, but I have seen parents who straight up bribe their kids to practice for the first year or so. They complain all the way just like the other students, but they lean into it because they really want that pretzel from Jojo's, their reward for accomplishing their weekly goals.  They've been given an appropriate incentive long enough that the task required to get the incentive has become a habit, automatic, requiring no willpower once started. Habits are where incentives compound and pay off. 

So what have been my results? About five years ago I was in the situation I described above where I could hardly get out of bed before 10:00. Now most mornings I am rarely in bed after 7:30 and many mornings up and exercising by 7:00. I don't go crazy on exercise, just 10 to 15 minutes. But compound that over several months, and I have more energy, I feel better, and my stress levels have gone down significantly.

Whatever your incentive is, it has to work for uniquely you. It has to be either rewarding or painful enough to you  in order to make sure you do or don't do the thing. Also I'd recommend that you make shorter goals and keep recommitting to them. Making a $50 deal for something that lasts more than 24 hours just makes me obsess about the thing that I can't or have to do, whearas under 24 hours it just works like a little buzzer to wake my brain up when I start to act on the bad habit. In any case, experiement with what works for you.