High Stakes Goal Setting

Here’s an interesting take on motivation that I heard on  Radio Lab on NPR.

When we are working toward something – weight loss, quitting smoking, etc – our present tense selves are fighting against a future tense goal. Unfortunately, it’s not a fair fight. When you really want a cupcake or a cigarette right now it’s hard to be inspired not to have one by some future amorphous potential success. “Eat now” is simply stronger than “be thin later”.

According to the Radio Lab program, what you need to do to even the playing field is create a present tense “anti-want.” This “anti-want” is something that goes head to head against the craving to stop you from giving in. On the radio program this was illustrated by a woman who wanted to quit smoking. She’d tried for years but was unsuccessful because that present tense craving overpowered any future success she could imagine.  What finally led to her success was creating something to battle that craving head on. She was involved in civil rights and declared that if she smoked one more cigarette she would have to donate money to the KKK. This gave her enough present tense incentive (smoke now and have to donate to something she hates) to actually quit smoking.

This philosophy is actually the driving force behind the website Stikk.com. According to their website:

We all need help to reach our goals – whether it’s incentives, or support from others. Years of economic and behavioral research show that people who put stakes – either their money or their reputation – on the table are far more likely to actually achieve a goal they set for themselves.

The idea is that you set a goal, set the stakes, designate a referee, and recruit supporters. Putting your money where your mouth is is optional but if you’re struggling toward success, this is one way to do it.


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