How to force yourself into action

You are not making progress on something important. A big project, a big decision, an important habit. Procrastination reigns. You need to move forward. Here’s how to force yourself into action.

Stuck = indecisiveness + procrastination

Recently I’ve found myself stuck. I’ve been frustrating myself and others by what is, quite frankly, dithering on an important question. A couple of people even called me out on it (procrastination? surely not) and challenged me to move forward.

Now this was a complicated decision with quite a few variables, and I realised my indecisiveness was down to a lack of information. I had some gaps in my knowledge and so felt unable to confidently make a choice. The answer of course was to get the necessary information. However, that would involve quite some work and I’d been procrastinating on doing just that. Hence my ‘stuckness’.

However, I found a way to regain forward momentum. I created an ‘inciting incident’. I made a financial investment in a process to move me forward (a coaching programme/course), with a real risk of loss if I don’t follow through. I made a deal with my wife: I make the investment and commit to making it a success. Result: immediate motivation and focus.

This can work for you too.

You need an ‘inciting incident’

Donald Miller, in his writing on story-telling, explains that every good story needs an ‘inciting incident’. This is simply something to get the hero off the couch and into the adventure. It is a forcing function, a way to get the story moving forward.

Think of Gandalf turning up at Bilbo Baggins’ home; R2-D2 playing Princess Leia’s call for help to Luke Skywalker; Harry Potter receiving the invitation to enrol at Hogwarts school. An inciting incident is a one-way ticket into the story: there is no way back.

burn bridge avoid procrastination move forward

You are stuck? You need an inciting incident to get you ‘off the couch’, beat procrastination and get on with your story.

The magic of an inciting incident is that it can be so easy to arrange. You can force your inciting inside when you are feeling motivated. Then, when you are less motivated, you now have the pressure of the inciting incident to make you take action and do the work.

For example, you want to lose some weight. You email all your friends that you will be having a weigh-in in two months time and ask them for a commitment to donate to charity if you hit your target. You also ask them to hold you accountable and remind you about this. That email was easy to write, but suddenly, you are on the hook for action!

(If you are interested, Dan Cumberland has an interesting article on the inciting incidents that lead us to a fresh search for calling).

How to set up your inciting incident

Here’s how to use an inciting incident to get yourself moving.

  1. Know where the story needs to go. In other words, be clear on what you actually want to achieve. Your goal may be very clear (lose 20lbs) or pretty vague (get in shape).
  2. Be clear about a specific scene to work towards. Choose a milestone that would force you to achieve your goal. If you want to get in shape, you could sign up to a next year’s marathon. If you want to learn photography. If you want to find a new job, decide to get three concrete offers in the next three months (or whatever). Be specific.
  3. Raise the stakes. Now you can create your inciting incident. You can do these by using a combination of the techniques below. However the basic idea is to raise the stakes so as to create a real risk of loss.
  4. Put credibility on the line. Risk your reputation. Example: tell your friends that you hate your job and your number 1 goal is to find another one in 6 months.
  5. Partner up. Make a commitment to achieve your goal together with another person. Now if you fail, you’ll let them down. Example: Agree to run that marathon with a friend and train together.
  6. Burn a bridge. Create a moment of no-return. Example: You want to find a new and more interesting professional role? Quit your job (but only if you are confident that you will be able to find another one once you put your mind to it). Another example: You want to watch less TV and read more books? Give your TV remote to a friend.
  7. Put money on the line. Make a financial investment in the outcome you desire. Make failure expensive.
    1. Option 1 is to make a commitment contract: give a friend some money and tell them they should only give it back to you if you hit X goal by Y date. You can also use services such as Stickk.com for this. Stikk’s data suggests having a financial stake increases likelihood of success threefold.
    2. Option 2 is to invest in something, such as a course or coaching programme, to force you forward. This is what I did recently, and it is working.
  8. Set up an accountability mechanism. Make sure you have somebody who is aware of your goal and who won’t accept your lame excuses for not advancing. Stikk’s data shows this doubles the chances of success.  Make sure that person is checking in with you regularly.

Your turn

What is the area where you need to get unstuck, beat procrastination or indecisiveness, and move forward?

Rebalancing your life? Career change? Relationship issue? A new project? Establishing a new habit?

Take a first step by leaving a comment below.

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