Lots of us want to change our habits — get healthier, procrastinate less, write a book, save some money, get fit, read more, get good at something.

And when it comes to changing habits, we know what doesn’t work.

What doesn’t work: saying you’re going to make a change, intending to, and then failing to do it.

You’ve done this, and so have I: you say, “I’m going to start eating healthier and exercising!” And you truly mean to do it. And you start out trying your best. And then things just kinda fade away, fizzle out, flop.

That’s what we all do, repeatedly, and it absolutely doesn’t work.

So what does work?

Holding your own feet to the fire. Making it happen. Really committing to it.

How to Hold Your Feet to the Fire

What does holding your own feet to the fire look like? Here are some examples from my own life:

  1. When I wanted to quit smoking, I signed up on a smoking cessation forum online, promised people on there I wouldn’t smoke without posting on the forum first, had an accountability partner, made a promise to my wife and daughter, publicly logged my successes. I didn’t back down, for the first time in my life.
  2. When I wanted to run a marathon, I signed up to write a column every other week in my local newspaper. Everyone on Guam knew I was running my first marathon, and they didn’t let me weasel out of it.
  3. I wanted to get into better running shape a couple years ago, so I let my friend Scott talk me into running a 50-mile ultramarathon. That motivated me to actually train, and I got into probably the best running shape of my life doing that.
  4. I wanted to get leaner, so I asked my friend Dick to coach me. He gave me a nutrition and workout plan, and kept me accountable for about a year. It worked, and I became noticeably leaner.
  5. I wanted to go deeper and learn more about mindfulness, so recently my friend and coach Toku created a mindfulness lesson plan, and now I’m meditating, reading Buddhist texts, eating mindfully, every day. And reporting to him weekly.
  6. I wanted to learn more about chess, but I always seem to quit learning after a couple weeks. So I signed up for a tournament, and even though I knew I would lose, I studied harder and learned more that ever before, preparing for the tournament.
  7. I wanted to break the habits of snacking on my kids and eating mindlessly when I ate out at restaurants, so I made a 6-month commitment to my friend Tynan, where he promised to throw a pie in my face and post a video of it online if I failed. I didn’t fail.

If you want to get better at something, sign up for a race or tournament.

If you want to stick to something, make a big commitment. Tell people you’ll do an embarrassing consequence if you fail.

If you want to do something daily, ask a friend to hold you accountable. Report daily. Get a trainer. Sign up for a class.

Most people are reluctant to take that big step, which is why they keep doing the same thing over and over: the way that doesn’t work.

Instead, take that big step today. Hold your feet to the fire, and don’t let yourself back down when things get tough.

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