I just came in from getting my stuff ready for the gym tomorrow–packing my bag, loading up my gear, leaving it in the car. It got me thinking about one of the most useful books I’ve ever read, Dr. Robert Cialdini‘s Influence. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.
In the book, Dr. Cialdini lays out seven proven ways to influence other people–in other words, to get them to do what we want them to do. One way, for example, is the Principle of Reciprocity. If Joe does X for me, I will feel an obligation to do the equivalent-of-X for Joe. That’s one principle.
The Principle of Public Commitment
Another in the Principle of Public Commitment. If we can get someone to commit publicly to do X, there’s a very strong likelihood that they’ll actually do it. Dr. Cialdini cites the following (true) example …
A restaurant was having trouble with “no-shows”–diners who made reservations and then didn’t show up. It was a problem that was costing the business serious money. The owners tried charging a fee for no-shows, but that only alienated their customers. Then they implemented the following change:
Up until then, when the restaurant took a reservation over the phone, the hostess would say to the reserving party, “If your plans change and you can’t make it, please let us know.” Now they inserted two extra words:
“If your plans change and you can’t make it, WILL YOU please let us know?”
Then the hostess would pause and wait till the party replied, “Yes.”
No-shows plummeted by 40%.
All it took was the verbal commitment from the reserving party, “Yes, I will let you know.” Even spoken over the phone, to a hostess whom the person didn’t know … it still worked.
The emotion at work here is shame. We feel ashamed to break a pledge we have made publicly.
This is the reason why weight-loss programs will often insist that the dieter make a public commitment before the group. She must stand up and declare in front of everybody, “I’m going to lose twenty pounds in the next three months.”
Using this trick on myself
According to Dr. Cialdini, this principle is a powerful tool toward influencing other people. My twist is that I use the principle to influence myself.
I’m not trying to get someone else to do what I want them to do, I’m trying to get myself to do what I want me to do.
In other words, I’m trying to outfox my own Resistance.
Which brings me back to my gym bag. Going to the gym is an activity that elicits for me major Resistance. When the alarm goes off and the sun isn’t even up, I’m either moaning and groaning as I drag my butt out of bed or I’m falling back to sleep and blowing the whole gym thing off.
But I know I have to go. It starts my day great, gives me tremendous momentum for working; I feel a million times better when I go.
Beating Resistance tomorrow by committing today
Here’s my trick:
Knowing that I will feel tremendous Resistance tomorrow morning when the alarm goes off, I make a public commitment to myself today. I put that mind-set into my brain now, at two in the afternoon, Tuesday, that tomorrow bright and early, I WILL get up no matter how much it hurts. I WILL hit the gym–and I WILL do it the day after, and the day after that.
Then I reinforce that commitment with a physical act, i.e. packing my gym bag and putting it in the car. If tomorrow I roll out of bed two hours late, missing the gym, and then see that bag sitting there on the front seat, the sight will act as a powerful reproach to me. I can become very sarcastic with myself in moments like that.
Put it in the book
I was listening to another tape (I listen to a lot of these things) that was talking about the difference between what’s Important and what’s Urgent. Visiting your aging Uncle Charlie is important, but it’s not urgent. We say to ourselves, “I can always visit Charlie; I’ll put it off for today.” The next thing we know, poor Uncle Charlie gets sick and we wish like hell we had gone to see him when the idea first occurred to us.
The answer is scheduling. Putting it in the book. Scheduling is a powerful tool, even if it’s only happening inside our own head. Again, because we’re enlisting shame.
When I schedule something (even if the act involves no one else), I’m making a promise to myself: “Steve, I pledge to perform Act X at Time Y.” The element of time is critical because it stops me from procrastinating. I can’t say to myself, “Yeah I’ll do it, but I’ll do it tomorrow.” I have to do it when I said I would.
Another way to look at it is that we’re splitting ourselves in half, in a good way. If we train with a partner, we always show up at the gym because we say to ourselves, “Joe is waiting for me, I can’t let him down.” We can enlist that same principle by mentally splitting ourselves in two. “I’m meeting myself there, so I have to go; I can’t let myself down.”
These are all mind games, I know. But they work. I can beat Resistance tomorrow by publicly (even if it’s only in my own head) committing today.
Of course the gym is just a stand-in for real work. It goes without saying that I put the same mind-set in for doing that horrible stuff too.
I use the same method Dr. Cialdini says will work to influence other people–only I’m using it to influence myself.
I beat Resistance tomorrow by committing today.
After making a commitment to writing years ago, I trained myself to wake up at around 3:00 a.m. I set my alarm back in increments of 15 minutes until my mind and body got used to the new time. I think it took about a year before I could rise at 3:00 a.m. When I think I can’t open my eyes, I ask myself: “Is your dream not worth it?” I can’t bare to say No to my dreams (it feels like surrendering, a defeat). I turn on my lamp and get up.
I have a full-time job outside of my writing dreams. If I am going to write, I need to meet my muse early in the morning.
Intentional scheduling of my day, linking each activity to my primary goal, is something that I am implementing into my day. I have not yet mastered it. Sometimes I am a leaf in the wind with a mouth. But I know when I do become intentional my daily life improves and things are accomplished.
Great post! I train for Dr. Cialdini and wrote a post at the end of 2010 on how people can have a better opportunity to make New Year’s Resolutions become reality by using the principle of consistency on themselves.
Keep up the great work. Brian
Brian – just read your post on resolutions – liked the PAVE distinction. You’re right, none of what you wrote was new, but having all the steps in play is critical.
A thing I heard about why most resolutions don’t work is that they are focused on the past, usually something you don’t like that you want to get rid of … I need to lose some weight caus I hate being fat …. better to imagine/create a future of what you DO want … I see myself a trim 160lbs eating great food and comfortable in my own skin … rather than a focus on what you don’t want.
I have a calendar where I keep track of the hours I spend each day on writing or writing related activities. In one corner I list up to 4 writing tasks I want to accomplish that month, and tick them off as I achieve them. It helps me to stay focused.
I also found that by allowing myself a certain amount of time each morning to do chores, make calls,run errands and then start writing from 11 until around 4 pm (sometimes it works out to be longer) it is like a ‘job’ committment.
When you’re a full time writer mostly working from home it’s so easy to dick away your time.
Steve, great post.
When we speak we hear with our inner-ear. When others speak we hear with our outer-ear.
What we hear with the inner ear goes strait subconscious – unfiltered. What we say to ourselves has great impact on our psyche, and we should never forget that our subconcious cannot take a joke.
It was so easy to schedule my time around seminars and thesis research as a grad student. It’s harder now, as a writer with a day job.
However, I’m going to try this mindset: “I’m meeting myself there, so I have to go; I can’t let myself down.” It just might confuse my brain into complying!
Amen to the Cialdini endorsement. Although using it to gain compliance from oneself is a relatively new twist. Thanks for that, Steve. A similar point was made by Dan and Chip Heath in their book, Switch. They talk about pre-scripting your actions to increase the odds that you’ll follow-through with your plans – very similar to the idea of “public commitment.” If you’re trying to make some hard changes – and, really, who isn’t? – it’s a more than worthwhile read.
So, Steve, we are all wondering … did you make it to the gym? 😉
I did, Contrarian. Although I tweaked my back! (But I’m back again.)
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