The SparkPeople Blog

Staying Motivated, Tip #5: Write Your Own Contract for Success

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
1/27/2009 6:16 AM   :  49 comments

Once you’ve made sure your goals are positive and realistic, and you’ve gotten yourself into the habit of making mindful choices, the next ingredient you’ll probably need in your plan for staying motivated is personal accountability.

You know that keeping yourself accountable to your own goals is a basic key to success in any endeavor. Even with all the information you need and all the good intentions in the world, you won’t get very far if you continuously let yourself off the hook when it’s time to actually do what you need to do—even if you do that mindfully. There’s nothing that will de-motivate you faster than frequently letting yourself down when it’s time to put your intentions into action.

That doesn’t mean you need to be perfect with every decision—perfectionism is a trap you definitely want to avoid. And it also doesn’t mean you need to have the will power and self-discipline of a world-class athlete in training. For most of us, accountability is all about having the right kinds of tools and the right kind of support to draw on when the going gets tough.

One of the most effective tools you can use to hold yourself accountable is your own individualized Contract for Success.

Your Contract for Success is literally a written agreement you make with yourself about how you’re going to handle things when the going gets tough. It has three elements:

1. A list of the specific situations, habits, and/or problems that you know, based on your past experience, are likely to cause problems again in the future. This could include problems like a spouse who likes to bring home snacks you’re trying to avoid; a busy schedule that frequently makes it hard to find the time for exercise; your own tendency to come up with excuses and rationalizations when you just don’t feel like doing what you need to do; and/or your habit of beating up on yourself verbally when things don’t go as planned, to the point that you feel like it’s pointless to keep trying. Basically, the idea here is to put any recurring problem that makes it hard for you to stick to your healthy lifestyle goals on this list—including problems that might be mainly “internal,” like negative self-talk, rationalizing, or emotional eating.

2. A list of “countermeasures” you can take to deal with each of these problems before they sabotage your plans. This is basically your Plan B document—your effort to figure out how you can best avoid, minimize, or handle the problems listed above before you actually find yourself in the situation and get all caught up in the stress and pressures it causes. Are there things you can do to keep the problem from coming up at all, or reduce its frequency? Are there people you can turn to for help with handling the problem when it does come up—someone to watch the kids for a little while so you can exercise, a co-worker you can talk to when work stress starts building up? Are there affirmations, readings, or inspirational quotes/images you can use to chase away the rationalizations, excuses, or verbal self-abuse when your mind starts heading in that direction, or ways to remind yourself how you usually feel better afterwards when you stick to your goals, and worse when you don’t? Is there someone you can talk to for a little reality-check, if you’re not sure whether you’re rationalizing or just accepting a situation that really can’t be changed or handled better?

3. Some strong incentives for actually using the countermeasures you decide on, and/or some undesirable consequences for not using them. Obviously, this Contract isn’t going to do you much good if you write it all out today, file it away and never use it again. This needs to be a real working document that you use regularly to remind yourself about what you can do to avoid problems before they happen. So, you’ll want to build in some incentives for taking your contract seriously and using it regularly to keep yourself on track.

Here’s one set of incentives and consequences that I’ve found helpful:

Pick two organizations or causes that you have strong feelings about—one that you feel strongly positive about and would like to support, and one that you feel the opposite way about. If you follow politics, for example, your groups could be the Democratic and Republican national (or local) committees. If you're a vegetarian, you could pick a local organic cooperative you support and the National Meatpackers Association. Or if causes don't motivate you much, you could make one cause a reward or vacation fund for yourself, and one a gift fund for some relative you don't like much. You get the idea.

Then, decide on an amount of money you’re willing to risk each day for this accountability challenge. Make this amount significant enough to matter to you, but not big enough to break the bank or cause financial anxiety. If you don’t want to use money for this project, you can use your time—a certain number of minutes you’ll volunteer to do some work for each cause.

Set up two jars, one for each of these causes. Then, at the end of each day, take a few minutes to think about how things went with your goals during the day, and if you ran into some problems, decide whether or not you did your honest best to anticipate the problem and use your countermeasures. Then put your money or work-commitment in the appropriate jar--if you did well, the money goes to the cause you support. If not, it goes to the bad guys. At the end of each month, settle up your “account” by sending in the money or scheduling your work hours with each organization.

Remember that what counts as success here is not whether you actually stuck to your eating or exercise plans, or whatever goal you're concerned about—it’s whether or not you used your Contract for Success to try to solve or avoid problems before they happened. Your Contract for Success is all about getting yourself to be more proactive in managing your time and your resources, instead of just reacting to whatever happens, as if you had no control over that.

There will be times when unpredictable stuff just happens and you really don’t have much control over events, so you don’t need to reward or penalize yourself in those situations. But, if you want to stay motivated, you do need to be honest with yourself about whether you’re doing everything within your power to make things come out the way you’d like them to. The alternative is feeling powerless to manage your own life, which is death for your motivation.

If you think you might have problems sticking to your Contract, enlist someone whose judgment you trust, tell them about your Contract for Success, and ask them to help keep you honest when it comes to reviewing your day and, especially, actually handing over the money at the end of the month. I think you'll be surprised at how hard it is to give money or time to someone you don't care for much--and how motivating it can be when you know letting yourself off the hook is going to lead to that.

There are also lots of things you can do to boost accountability through social involvement and support, and we’ll look at those in the next tip.

What predictable problems often get in your way? What countermeasures do you think would help you avoid these problems before they happen?




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Comments

  • BLAIRCD
    49
    Very helpful. Having a lightbulb moment myself. Will definitely do this. BlueJem's additions were great also! - 3/21/2010   10:56:11 PM
  • KAITLYNSNAMMY
    48
    Sounds like a plan. - 2/25/2010   9:00:20 AM
  • OAKDALE41
    47
    I wish this would work for me. Alas, I have no guilt when I ignore the contract. - 2/8/2010   2:49:57 PM
  • KMERCKY97
    46
    Great idea! - 2/8/2010   2:10:01 PM
  • 45
    Thank you and I think I need to make a contract to myself. - 2/8/2010   10:03:20 AM
  • 44
    Great idea of a blog entry. And I know from experience this works. It is worth it to take the time & write it down. - 10/15/2009   9:02:22 AM
  • 43

    Makes since. - 7/20/2009   8:49:17 AM
  • 42
    I think I should definitely give this a whirl. I like the part about preplanning how to deal with potential pitfalls. I attended a workshop on Project Management recently and when they were talking about 'Risk Management' it got me thinking about applying the same principles to my weight loss plan. I then promptly forgot all about it, but I'm going to do it today!! I think I'll post my contract on my SparkPage and make myself report there on my jar tallies every week as well. I'm going to think about it while I'm at the gym (going right now) and then put it altogether this afternoon. Thanks Dean =) - 2/11/2009   1:27:13 PM
  • LAILAS1
    41
    This is a really great article and would help me if I would not break the contract easily. I am trying desperately late in life to lose the weight. Health is good actually very good but weight is dragging me down. Thanks for a good article. - 2/8/2009   12:40:35 PM
  • TAMMYK007
    40
    I just ate a glazed do nut - 2/6/2009   4:24:21 PM
  • BJPETER
    39
    Thanks for the freat contract idea.
    BJ - 2/1/2009   11:33:35 PM
  • CALNOTES1
    38
    Sounds to me like this is the best way to gain control of your own actions. - 1/30/2009   7:44:37 AM
  • 37
    This is a wonderful idea, I will be drawing up a contract first thing in the morning!!!! Thanks - 1/29/2009   10:11:17 PM
  • 36
    Thank You for sharing some great ideas on ways to help all of us to achieve our goals. Even if I don't use these ideas ,exactly, I'm going to think about them and might use these ideas in a different way, that works best for me. - 1/29/2009   10:04:47 PM
  • 35
    I see that the BIGGEST LOSER group has a contract. Sounds interesting. - 1/29/2009   12:35:49 AM
  • 34
    I’m using my blog in part as an ongoing tool to assess my problem areas and possible solutions. I’m trying to focus right now on establishing the habits of sticking to a schedule, getting proper sleep, and getting my exercise done. But once I feel like I’ve had enough time to focus on that and get a handle on what I’m working on now I might start adding other things.

    I can see myself adopting some form of contract at some point. The thing is… if you’re truly passionate about a cause I don’t see how you could possibly donate money or time to the ‘enemy.’ I know I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

    I’ll have to think of ways to adapt the idea.

    ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ jars would be simple enough. If the ‘good’ jar wins I get to spend it all on something fun, like new clothes, music or a game. When the bad jar wins I have to use it for something dull and practical, like spring cleaning supplies, resealing the bathtub, or a new piece of exercise equipment.

    Or to adapt Japonicab’s idea about dropping a note into your jar every time you fail to make the right choice instead of money… On the note I’d write what I did ‘wrong’ and why. Then when it’s time to use the reward money my ‘punishment’ is to read all the notes and tally up how much more money I would have had if I had made more ‘right’ choices. Or to carry it further, if I succeeded in living up to my contract more than I failed, I can spend the money now, If not I have to leave the money to try and win next time or put it into savings or some other practical thing and start over at zero. Doing that, I’d be delaying my reward in the same way I’m delaying attaining my goal. The bonus too is that all those notes will help to identify exactly what is tripping me up most so I can hopefully address it and do better on the next round. Maybe a big thick pile of proof that I’m using a particular excuse too much will be just the thing to make it really click and I’ll realize it really is an excuse I can live without. Each round I could add the tally, positive and negative, to my contract to give a running account of how I’m doing long term.

    Or like Helgarazor, to avoid using money at all, I could make a public commitment to do one of the big dull chores I never do like cleaning the basement or garage if I fail to live up to my contract more than I succeed. I’m still doing something I despise but I’m not helping a ‘cause’ I despise. And wouldn’t it just serve the enemy right that my basement is shiny clean and they have to clean theirs up all by themselves?
    - 1/28/2009   11:53:55 PM
  • MARSOLAND
    33
    Im new in the program n this contract sounds intresting im going to try it. - 1/28/2009   9:49:29 PM
  • 32
    These are really great ideas. So far I am loving this series of posts . I am looking forward to implementing all of them. I think you will have me right on track in no time at all! Thanks a million:) - 1/28/2009   5:14:32 PM
  • ICHOOSE2CARE
    31
    Thanks, Dean. The exact words I needed to figure out what I did to lose motivation on Sparkin'. Just needed a fresh shot of rewards to look forward to. - 1/28/2009   2:10:06 PM
  • 30
    This is a great idea! Planning ahead for pitfalls is great motivation to prevent them from happening in the first place. I also love the two jars idea. I already have a lot of personal ways to save money for different projects. This will be just one more. Thank You! - 1/28/2009   1:28:17 PM
  • 29
    I have to do this.. If i want to get to my goal - 1/28/2009   11:31:14 AM
  • HELGARAZOR
    28
    I love this, you just lit the light bulb in my head.... my good is a vacation for me ( money saved) and the bad ( since I will not give money to causes I don't like) is to make myself do something I refuse to do....lol... And either my son or best friend will be my watchers, because they won't let me not do it, they have been pushing me to do it for a looooong time. I think this might just help me stay on track... THANK YOU - 1/28/2009   5:48:30 AM
  • 27
    I love this idea and wanted to save it as a favorite for my sparkpage, but I can't see how. Well, I'll just bookmark it then! Thank you for the great ideas! Because I really lack personal accountability in my plans and it's a big goalbuster. - 1/27/2009   9:59:37 PM
  • 26
    Thank you for the great ideas. I am new to this and these tips will come in very handy when I am trying to be over indulgent in goals for myself. - 1/27/2009   6:33:57 PM
  • 25
    Thanks Dean. Wonderful blog - 1/27/2009   4:35:02 PM
  • 24
    Thank you Dean once again for coming up with winning ideas. - 1/27/2009   3:41:22 PM
  • 23
    I really need to do this. Thanks, Dean. I look forward to all the tips. - 1/27/2009   2:25:34 PM
  • BLUESKIESAHEAD
    22
    This is an interesting idea... I might try it later. - 1/27/2009   1:50:27 PM
  • 21
    Great ideas here. Thanks, Coach Dean, for once again giving us some good direction in building motivation to reach our goals. The jar idea is going to lend itself to some interesting challenges! - 1/27/2009   12:17:09 PM
  • 20
    I really appreciated this article. With a written contract, especially if I share it with others, will be very helpful in maintaining my focus to become a healthier person. - 1/27/2009   12:15:39 PM
  • 19
    This is so helpful. One of my downfalls is not making lunch the night before and sometimes going out the door without one. Buying lunch is expensive and open to to many temptations. Excellent articles. Really helps me put things in perspective. - 1/27/2009   11:56:30 AM
  • 18
    What a great idea! I need to spend more time reading but I am interested in adapting some of it. - 1/27/2009   11:55:22 AM
  • 17
    I once had to hand over my money to a stranger and decisions too because I had a guardian. It worked out good for me because I became a more responsible adult that could handle my own money better than I had in years. I can relate to that part. - 1/27/2009   10:46:12 AM
  • 16
    What a GREAT idea! I know it helps me when I find ways to take ideas and turn them into useable hands on actions. I can see this plan being very helpful. Thanks, this is definitely a keeper! - 1/27/2009   9:57:44 AM
  • 15
    Great idea. Have to figure out a cause I don't like. - 1/27/2009   9:37:35 AM
  • 14
    Once again, a great post and a great idea for helping me along this journey. - 1/27/2009   9:22:25 AM
  • AMBUYNAK
    13
    I actually find that writing the contract with myself, and then sharing it with one person (i.e. my best friend), it helps to really keep you accountable as you continue on your path to sucess. This approach can help in several other area's of your life as well and this is the one way I can keep myself motivated with anything!

    Great idea! - 1/27/2009   8:56:48 AM
  • VALLY13
    12
    Great post - I have already done this for a different, yet food related issue. I made a contract with myself (printed, signed, dated, and sealed) to stop my self-destructive eating behaviours, which included binging and bulimia.

    I am now on the longest bulimia free period since the problem began (4 years ago). Anytime I get 'nasty thoughts' on my mind I instantly SNAP myself out of it and focus on the CONTRACT, which I signed and committed to. Its here in real tangible paper in my office drawer, and it makes that crucial difference in difficult times.

    I strongly recommend this approach - but you have to mean it. I waited a day and thought about it before actually signing it...to make sure I understood what I was committing to. - 1/27/2009   8:36:18 AM
  • 11
    This is FANTASTIC! Thanks Coach Dean!
    After reading the blog, I started a word processing document to BEGIN creating my own Contract for Success. One page for each item.

    Last year I set aside a looseleaf binder for 'special' articles and journal-type notes from the site and about my journey in general; I print from the computer (articles, notes on progress, etc), use the hole-puncher and plop the pages into the binder in appropriate (tabbed) sections. Sometimes I just flip through this for motivation; sometimes I add progress notes or comments to the pages. Now I'll add my contract because it can serve as a game-plan. And like all game plans it will evolve as my journey evolves.

    In my case, I'm using your basic format while listing each habit/issue/challenge. One challenge per page!

    SITUATION #:

    DESCRIPTION:
    ____ (here I'm briefly describing it)

    LIST OF COUNTERMEASURES:
    ____ (whooooaaa... each item will have lots of entries in the list probably!)

    INCENTIVES and/or UNDESIREABLE CONSEQUENCES:
    ____(this may be the hardest part for me! Finding consequences is easier than listing incentives sometimes!)

    ======
    So. Tip #5 gave me a useable project that goes far beyond my general listing of goals and general approach. Specifically targeting issues this way is a great idea. I'm optimistic about how it will add extra ooomph to my journey. THANK YOU, Coach Dean! - 1/27/2009   8:03:04 AM
  • 10
    Thank you for this. It really got me thinking about a "predictable problem" that I've been dealing with. I didn't really think there was any way to avoid it until i started thinking about what i could do as a countermeasure to avoid it before it happens. Now I have a great solution to try. So thanks for helping me think outside the box! Let's see what happens. - 1/27/2009   8:02:14 AM
  • 9
    Ha ha ha - I LOVE the good jar/bad jar idea! What a great way to make every decision more concrete!!! - 1/27/2009   7:45:50 AM
  • 8
    I believe that having a contract for my weight loss program is a good idea. If I were to use it like I was paying my bills or for looking forward to something such as a goal, it would give me an encitive for keeping this such contract. I will do this contract, but I will have to change somethings. Like according to the weather and sickness.
    gabby - 1/27/2009   7:42:09 AM
  • 7
    I love the cartoon Maxine. Yesterday's was "This cold weather makes it tough to exercise. Well, that and the fact I just don't want to." That's me! I just don't want to. . . I can find tons of things to do in place of exercising. I need to learn to reward ME. I reward others. So, I think this will help. Thanks! - 1/27/2009   7:23:39 AM
  • 6
    I think I will try the contract for success and see how that works for me. I already do the money in a jar reward and I look forward to the day when I can spend that money on something special just for me! LOL - 1/27/2009   7:13:53 AM
  • 5
    This sounds interesting. I'm not sure exactly how it'll work, but the sheer thought of having a good / bad jar may work. It could become part of a daily routine....hmmm...we'll see what happens. - 1/27/2009   6:56:48 AM
  • 4
    I think it is a good idea but I would so hate giving my money to cause I really didn't like a meat producing ppl or something as a vegetarian. I really don't think I could do that. The jar idea is good but I would want to tweak it a little, like perhaps every day I eat well and exercise (i.e. on the right path to losing my weight) I would put a £1 in a jar towards my spending money for a near set of clothes when I reach my weight loss goal and put a piece of paper saying £1 I didn't get towards my goal for not having a good day. What about those days I am recovering though cause sometimes I choose not to exercise some days or just to walk a small bit to allow my body to recover from exercising at the gym / tae bo the day before - but would that count as a good day even if I ate well? Sometimes it would hard to judge whether I had a good day or do I just put 50p in the jar? Sorry for all the questions, I'm just pondering. - 1/27/2009   6:55:55 AM
  • 3
    My main (and biggest) problem is procrastination. Maybe this will help! - 1/27/2009   6:46:45 AM
  • ANNIEMARIE6
    2
    I think making a contract is a good idea. - 1/27/2009   6:44:57 AM
  • 1
    I love the Contract for Success concept, and am in the process of setting up my own. This is a valuable tool in the fight against flab. Thank you Dean once again for coming up with a winner. - 1/27/2009   3:00:05 AM

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