Write Your Own Contract for Success

You know that keeping yourself accountable is a key to weight loss success. Even with all the information in the world and all the right intentions, you won’t get very far if you let yourself off the hook when it’s time to actually do what you should.

There are two very effective ways to increase your accountability. The first is to get other people involved. You can “go public” with your goals and plans, letting friends and family know what you’re trying to do and how you're planning to do it. This method allows you to ask for support or the occasional friendly push if they see you backsliding. Better yet, you can join group or Team challenges with other people who are trying to accomplish the same things you are. It’s a lot harder to let your team down than it is to slack off when you’re the only one who will know (or care) about it. You’ll find lots of great challenges, supportive groups, and Teams here on SparkPeople.

The second approach involves directly challenging the excuses you choose not to stick to your plan. We all have our favorite excuses: I'm too busy. I can’t find time for myself. I'm just not motivated. I'm too stressed out right now. I'll do it later. I can’t control myself. You may even view these as legitimate reasons instead of the excuses that they really are, and have probably persuaded yourself that this is the way things are, and that you can’t do much about it.

But no matter how difficult your circumstances may be, this is the hard truth: The only way to succeed is to take personal responsibility for making things work out the way you want them to. And that starts with owning your own decisions and not using excuses to let yourself off the hook.

One good way to avoid rationalizing and increase your accountability to boot is to make a contract with yourself that identifies the excuses you use most often, and specifies what you will do instead of giving in to them. When you put this on paper, in the form of a written contract, you create an effective tool that you can use whenever you catch yourself making excuses. Here's how to start.

Step 1: Identify Your Favorite Excuses
The first step to becoming more accountable is to spend a few days observing your inner self—what goes on in your mind, especially when you don't want to do something that you know you should. Write some notes about your thoughts. What are you saying to yourself in that moment when you decide to skip an exercise session or eat something that you’re going to wish you hadn’t eaten?

Some excuses are a lot easier to identify than others, simply because they don’t really make much sense when you think about them. For example, deciding that one poor food choice means  you’ve blown your diet and might as well keep on eating—that's 100 percent pure rationalization (and you know it!). The notion that someone else or some situation is responsible for your behavior comes in a close second.

Other excuses are a little less obvious, like the idea that there aren’t enough hours in your day to fit in some exercise or prepare a healthy meal. That might be true on some days, but most likely isn't true all the time. If it is, then you’re probably not putting enough effort into time management, or you’re taking on responsibilities you don’t really have to take on, or putting yourself too low on your own list of priorities.

Still other excuses are so subtle that you may have trouble seeing them for what they really are. You may identify them as psychological problems that control your thinking and behavior: I have no will power. My motivation has disappeared. I have cravings that are truly irresistible. These are just stories you tell yourself when you don’t want (or don’t know how) to do what you should.

Step 2: Identify Appropriate Countermeasures
The solution to these problems is to begin telling yourself a different kind of story—one that puts you in charge. For each excuse or rationalization you use, think of an effective countermeasure. This could be an opposing thought, a way to break out of a negative thought pattern, or something that helps you avoid the problem before it happens.

For example, if you find that your schedule is often so busy that you end up skipping your workouts, your countermeasure might be to spend a few minutes each morning planning what really has to be done, what can be postponed (other than exercising), what might save some time, and who might be able to help you get things done.

Step 3: Write Up Your Contract for Success
This is the simplest step, but it's the most important one. Write down your excuse-busters in the form of a contract with yourself. This contract is a visible reminder of the commitment you are making to yourself, as well as a handy tool for remembering both the problems and the solutions you are trying to focus on. If you take this seriously, you'll find it more difficult to break the contract than to simply forget a vague decision you’ve made to try harder or do better next time.

Here’s a sample contract with a few common problems and countermeasures:

I,                                                       , hereby agree and commit to take the following steps to improve my accountability to myself and increase my chances for weight loss success:
  1. I will not let one small slip-up convince me that I'm stupid, worthless, or a lost cause. I will respect myself by refusing to engage in verbal self-abuse, and I will find positive ways to comfort and support myself when I’m having a hard time. Specifically, I will… (Make a list of concrete things you will do instead of beating up on yourself or deciding your problems are too big to handle.)
  2. I will not sacrifice my own needs to make other people happy, or do for them what they can and should be doing for themselves. When there is a conflict between my exercise and eating plans and what other people want me to do, I will negotiate to find a reasonable solution that allows me to do what I need to do for myself.
  3. I choose to be in charge of my own decisions and behavior. I will not talk, think, or act as if my partner, child, spouse, cravings, or subconscious made me do it. I will ask myself what’s most important to me at that moment and make my decision. If I don’t like the consequences, I will try something different the next time.
Remember to listen to your own self-talk, identify the thoughts, attitudes or behaviors that are getting in the way of your success, and make a written contract with yourself to do things differently. Be as specific and practical as you can, and be sure to come back to your contract when you are having problems. You'll see an increase in your accountability in no time and you WILL succeed at reaching your goals.