Develop Healthy Habits by Blackmailing Yourself

If you've failed to stick to healthy habits, maybe you haven't had enough leverage

Credit: Flickr/Ben Gertzfield

Use whatever leverage you can to adopt healthy habits

The hardest part of developing healthy habits is sticking to them

Anyone can follow a diet for a couple of weeks or go to the gym a few times. But breaking habits that are holding you back and sticking to new healthy habits is tough to do.

Changing Behaviour with Pain or Pleasure

Anthony Robbins is fond of saying that people will change to either gain pleasure or to avoid pain. What he means is people will change their behaviour if the reward or punishment is great enough to force them to change.

Often the avoidance of pain is a greater motivator than gaining some reward. But whichever method you choose, the reward or punishment must hold enough leverage to get you to change your habits or the behaviour won’t stick.  

Blackmail Yourself into Keeping Healthy Habits

A great trick to change your habits is to blackmail yourself. I heard of this method a few years ago when I read the story about a university professor who wanted to lose a lot of weight.

The Blackmail DietJohn Bear had struggled with obesity most of his life but he finally found success with a unique method. He wrote a book about his experience called The Blackmail Diet.

After getting a seriously bad prognosis from his doctor, Bear decided he was going to lose 70 lbs. in one year. To do this he put $5,000 into escrow and wrote a legally binding contract with his lawyer that stated if he didn’t follow through with his goal the lawyer would donate the money to the American Nazi Party.

This would be motivating enough for anyone but the fact that Bear is Jewish added more weight to his leverage. In the end he succeeded in his goal and lost the 70 lbs.

But even though he did lose the weight, Bear knew he needed strong motivation to keep the weight off. So he put the $5,000 back into escrow and wrote another contract. This time he needed to maintain his new weight for one year or else the money would be donated to the Ku Klux Klan. And once again Bear achieved his goal and got his money back.

I took Bear’s concept and applied it to my own life this year.

Run a Marathon or Else

Over the Christmas holidays I was enjoying a few Heinekens with a couple of lifelong friends. The conversation got around to resolutions and backed with beer bravado the three of us agreed to run the Vancouver marathon on May 1. We even wrote out a contract that hangs on the wall of my friend’s man-cave. It states that we all agree to complete the marathon race or face the punishment of becoming the man-cave butler for eight visits.

The underlying motivation for my friends is to get into shape and lose a bit of weight. My own motivation is I hate to run on roads for very long but I want to run another marathon to see if I can improve my time. I’d much rather run 8 hours on a trail than 3 hours on the road so I knew I needed extra motivation to do the road training necessary to prepare for the race.

So far the technique has worked. Everyone has stuck to the training plan. Last week we did our longest run in training yet — a 21-mile route that took us over both the Second Narrows and Lions Gate bridges. No one wants to back down and face the humiliation of being the man-cave butler. Each of us would rather endure the pain of running 26.2 miles than having to endure the heckling and verbal abuse while serving the other guys.

Though the blackmail method may seem extreme, I have to say it gets results. If you’re trying to develop some new healthy habits try it yourself.