I have seen transformation in my children over and over again. It goes like this.
Setting: I enter the living room in the evening and see my children watching TV, with a mess around them.
Me: Please clean up the living room.
Kids: (no response)
Me: You guys, it’s a mess and it’s not okay and you aren’t supposed to be watching TV before it’s cleaned up.
Them: (sigh) Okay. (no movement)
Me: I mean it, there is going to be a consequence.
Them: (Inching toward turning off the television, eyes 1000 percent focused on screen.)
Me: If you are not cleaning up this room by the time I count to 5, the TV will be off limits for the rest of the night. 1, 2, 3, 4…
Them: Fine. (TV is turned off at “4” and first piece of “out of place matter” is attended to.)
Yes, the cleanup is efficient and thorough because they want the TV time.
The fourth tactic, a clear, simple consequence attached to a requested action, worked. It transformed them from zombies into responsible family members. I bet I could have even skipped some of the preliminary steps, which they ignored and only frustrated me.
Okay, pop quiz: Have you seen this phenomenon in children? Adults? Yourself?
Do you have trouble getting yourself to do what you know you should? Most people do, no matter how convinced they are that things are good for them. Even the most indisputable things like drinking water, quitting smoking, eating veggies, getting good rest, playing with your kids, cleaning up, showing up on time, going on dates when you want to find “the one,” all seem to be very challenging! Don’t lament; life would be very boring if we all just easily did the “right thing.” We like a challenge, and our minds do surely present that over and over by feeding us lame excuses.
The problem is that while we are buying our excuses, they really do not seem like excuses. They seem logical and even helpful. “It really isn’t a good time to talk to the boss,” “We really don’t have time for exercise,” “Our friend really should apologize first.” And so on. We forget that even though our reasoning has some logic to it, it’s not good logic and it doesn’t lead us to our dreams. So how do we get ourselves to act in accordance with our highest ideals? Same way I got my kids to act in accordance with my highest ideals! By using appropriate, annoying, artificial consequences.
If the real consequences of our choices were present and annoying enough, we would make different choices, but because really negative results don’t usually happen until after a lot of accumulation, we don’t notice and we may not even attribute the ultimate consequence with a series of choices we made over time. Slow all this down and deal with each choice that’s inconsistent with your dream by making and keeping promises and paying a “made-up” consequence when you don’t.
The power of a consequence is incredibly underutilized because people mistake consequences for punishments, and because we all have the occasional belief that if it’s good for us (or the family) we’ll eventually naturally desire it. I’m afraid the biggest plight of humanity is that we do not “naturally” desire to act in accordance with our own highest ideals or the high ideals of the environments we choose to enjoy. So, consequences are both necessary and useful. They are not supposed to be harmful, just annoying enough to make you think twice before you break your word/promise. This is a incredible way to break the cycle of excuses and disempowerment.
Consequences actually force your brain to look for ways to solve your problems and keep your promises with the energy it would normally use to justify flaking. You will be amazed at how effective and creative you become with the right promises and consequences. But you will not know until you find the right ones for you and practice for at least two weeks. (Wanna try?)
P.S. If you need help designing the right promises and consequences come to How to Keep Your Promises teleseminar about the best way to get you to take action.
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