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Patrik Edblad

How to Stick to Your Goals By Raising the Stakes

in Habits

It’s 6:00 am and your alarm goes off. As you fumble for your alarm clock you try to make sense of the situation.

”Why is the alarm going off at this freakishly early hour?!” And then you remember; you promised yourself to hit the gym before work.

The next second you’re negotiating with yourself; ”Hmm, I’m actually really tired. I wonder if it’s even healthy to work out when I’m this tired.

I could go to the gym after work. Wait, there’s probably no time for that. But I could go to the gym tomorrow instead, when I’m better prepared.

Now, let’s see how cool the pillow is on the other side.”

… And then this routine repeats itself every morning until you’ve forgotten about your gym membership altogether.

Put Your Money Where Your Butt Is

Yup, that’s the clever name of a research article (1) by development economist Dean Karlan and his colleagues.

These researchers had surveyors approach people on the streets of the Philippines with an offer of opening a bank account that paid zero interest.

Not very appealing, right? Well, it gets a lot worse. Anyone who chose to open an account would lose all the money in it if their urine showed any evidence of smoking six months later.

Doesn’t sound like much of an offer, right? Zero interest, a good chance of losing the money you deposit, topped off with the discomfort of taking a urine test.

Still, more than 1 out of 10 people approached agreed to sign up for an account.

The experiment worked surprisingly well, too. About 30 percent of the people opening an account quit smoking because of it.

That’s a higher success rate than is generally the case among people who try to quit smoking using nicotine patches and similar traditional aids.

Raise the Stakes

Having something at stake is a powerful way to get yourself moving.

Lets say it’s 6:00 am again and your alarm clock goes off. You have your usual inner dialogue and you’re just about to convince yourself that going back to bed seems like the most rational thing to do.

Then you remember that you’ve promised a friend to meet up at the gym at 7 am.

Or, that you’ve committed to your workout plan by sending a friend 50 bucks every time you fail to get to the gym before work.

Or, that you’ve committed publicly to your family/blog readers/Facebook friends to stick to your workout plan for 30 days.

Or, if necessary, all of the above.

Suddenly, going back to bed won’t be all that easy.

For most people, promising ourselves to do something simply doesn’t provide enough weight to it. But as soon as you involve other people, suddenly your identity is on the line.

No one wants to be the kind of person who commits to something publicly and then fails. That’s why one of the best ways to change your environment to promote your desired habit is to raise the stakes.

How to Stick to Your Goals By Raising the Stakes

To use the immense power of accountability you need a system consisting of three parts:

  1. A goal – This is the desired behaviour you want to make habitual.
  2. Something at stake – Your reputation, cold hard cash or something else that would suck to lose.
  3. A referee – Someone that holds you accountable to your goal. Choose someone who you know will be tough but fair.

Installing these three parts into your habit forming is possibly the most effective way to change your behaviour in the way you want it to change.

I know this from first hand experience as my gym presence and writing has skyrocketed since I put this technique to use.

Let’s Do This!

If you’re truly serious about whatever change you’re trying to create in your life, stop thinking and start doing.

E-mail this article to a tough but fair friend, explain what you want to accomplish and get moving right now.

If you can’t think of a friend that fits the description you can use stickk.com for this exact purpose.

Don’t procrastinate on this. Take the powerful first tiny step right now and let me know if you have any questions.

Let’s raise the stakes! 🙂


  1. Put Your Money Where Your Butt Is: A Commitment Contract for Smoking Cessation