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  • Writer's pictureMichael Hernacki

Forget self-discipline. Try this instead.

Picture of a young businessman with a determined look on his face pulling at a thick chain between his fists. He isn't likely to break the chain by his own strength alone.

If you’re like me and nearly everyone I know, you struggle to get yourself to do things that are difficult or unpleasant. You tell yourself you’ve gotta do them—and then you don’t. You blame your lack of self-discipline.

Well, forget that. Self-discipline just doesn’t work, as we’ve all found out.

Some time ago, my friend Lee and I tried an approach that’s certainly not new, but is remarkable in its effectiveness. We decided that we would hold each other accountable to get one thing done each week, something we know we probably wouldn’t do if not for the agreement.

Every Tuesday we have a phone conversation and tell each other what the commitment is for the week. If one of us actually does it and the other doesn’t, the derelict buys lunch. If we both get it done, or neither does, that week is a “tie.” We keep score and at the end of the month, whoever kept his word more often gets a free lunch. If the whole month is a tie, we still go to lunch, but we each pay our own bill.

The beauty of this arrangement is that, even when the month is a tie, we both have the reward of a pleasant lunch. And the one who “wins” gets the added reward of not having to pay for it.

Whenever we don’t keep a commitment, we talk about what got in the way and how to avoid that breakdown in the future. We mutually coach each other so that the likelihood of keeping the next commitment is higher.

How well does this work? Well, Lee and I have been doing this for 28 years now and have no plans to stop. And when I think about the hundreds of hard things I’ve done because of the commitment, I know I would have never done them all on my own.

So forget self-discipline. Pick someone you like to be with and make a commitment pact. Be sure it includes reward and punishment.

As Lee and I have found, our little competition not only helps us accomplish more, it also makes our friendship more rewarding.

Try it and see.


Phun Phacts    Research shows that weekly, consistent check-ins with an accountability partner increase your chances of success by 95%.    In the working world, high-performance teams are always accountable to one another, and tend to be part of organizations that are productive and profitable.

Cartoon of two sheep. One is saying "You can always count on me" to the other.


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