As children, immediate consequences were a regular part of our lives. Step out of line at school and get detention. Step out of line at home, maybe you got grounded, maybe you got a smack. When I got busted, grounding was my typical punishment….although, my mom did introduce my butt to the wooden spoon a time or two when I got really out of hand.
It was the immediate, and sometimes painful feedback of those consequences that taught us what the rules were and made us take them seriously. And for the most part they worked.
But that’s not how it is as adults.
Now that we’re all grown up, immediate, painful consequences really aren’t part of our lives in any meaningful way. The nature of the consequences we face for making bad decisions has changed.
When you were a kid and you smoked cigarettes, you probably got grounded or suspended from school. Or maybe you had one of those crazy dads who made you smoke the whole pack to show you what a bad idea smoking was. The feedback was immediate and painful.
But as an adult, the consequence for smoking is that you may die of emphysema or get lung cancer 35 years from now.
Most consequences we face in our adult lives are severe, but they’re years or decades away.
This is a huge problem because you are here on Earth to do something. You have a purpose. You have long-term goals.
But, because there aren’t any painful, short-term consequences for you not taking action on your long-term goals, you aren’t doing much to achieve them.
Let’s say that you have a goal to lose 50 pounds and get back to a healthy weight. The consequence for not getting serious about fitness and making real progress towards your goal is that you may die of some obesity related illness in your 60’s. That consequence is too far away to be meaningful. So, you don’t really ever get your ass in shape like you’re always thinking you need to.
Let’s say that you have a goal to follow your dream of going into business for yourself. The consequence for not doing anything about it is that someday, on your deathbed, you’ll look back and wonder what could have been. Full of regret not taking more risks in your life.
There are things YOU want in your life. But because there is no urgency to your long-term goals, you get distracted by all the busyness and noise of life. Your dreams die on the vine.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
You can create artificial urgency around your most important long-term goals by setting painful, short-term consequences for yourself. Great speech by Tim Ferriss on creating stakes (video starts at the stakes talk).
Here’s how it works.
I have wanted to write weekly blog articles for years, but I never really got in the rhythm of it. There were always a million other things that demanded my attention and I always put writing on the back burner. As a result, I’ve written many fewer articles than I intended to, and my business has suffered because of it. See, the less content I put out in the world, the fewer people find Forging Leaders, the fewer clients hire us, which means more financial stress for me. The ultimate consequence for not writing articles is that maybe someday I have to stop coaching leaders and resort to getting a real job again.
So, I decided that some short-term pain was in order.
I made a commitment to my digital marketing manager, Ryan, that if I didn’t have a new article to him by 5:00pm each Friday afternoon, I would pay $100 to my anti-charity.
Since I made this commitment and set this consequence, I haven’t missed a single writing deadline.
Before the consequence existed, I could rationalize why I didn’t have time to write. Now, I can’t do that. Regardless of why I don’t send him the article, I am stuck paying the fine.
So what is the goal that you’ve put up on a shelf? Going back to school? Getting fit? Writing a book? Getting a better job?
Grab a ladder, take your goal off the shelf, and dust it off. It’s go time.
Here’s how to get started
Step 1: Find an accountability partner. This is someone you trust and respect, who is willing to check in with you on your progress, and won’t fall for your lame excuses.
Step 2: Choose an appropriately painful consequence. Your consequence should be proportionally painful to amount of resistance you have to taking action on your goal. If the consequence is too easy, you’ll let yourself off the hook.
Here are a couple of ideas to get you started on coming up with a consequence that will work for you:
- A physical consequence like doing 100 burpees in 5 minutes or running 10 miles.
- A shame consequence like sending an email out to all your friends and co-workers and posting on FaceBook that you failed to keep your commitment.
- A financial consequence like paying a painful amount of money to your anti-charity. You can even use www.stickk.com to manage this.
- An abstaining consequence like not being allowed to do one of your favorite activities for three weeks.
You get the idea. Immediate. Painful. Consequence.
I know it seems like you have forever to fulfill your dreams and accomplish your most important goals.
The truth is that you don’t. Life passes in the blink of an eye. And unless you take significant action, you will end up years down the road, looking back at your life and wondering where all your time went. Regretting that you didn’t do more with the years you had.
You are the hero of your own life story. And sometimes the hero needs a kick in the ass to start their adventure. Use consequences to create the artificial urgency you need to take action.
What is a consequence you would use? What other techniques would you find useful that aren’t mentioned here? Comment on our Facebook page.