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  • Writer's pictureAkumu Fiona

Introducing "Forcing Functions" For Self Improvement

It must be pretty obvious by now that I read a lot of non-fiction books. I am a serial non-fictioner and to make it worse (or better) I read more than a couple of books all at the same time.

One of the books I'm reading at the moment is Benjamin Hardy's Willpower Doesn't Work.

It is an amazing book about how to enforce lasting personal change by strategically outsourcing desired behaviours to goal-enriching environments.

One of the key insights I have gotten from the book concerns forcing functions.

Forcing functions, as Hardy explains them, are self-imposed situational factors that literally force you to act and achieve what you intend.

In design, a forcing function is explained as a factor that prevents the user from taking an action without consciously considering information relevant to that action. It forces conscious attention upon something

Now that the definition is out of the bag, let me explain why I'm so interested in this concept.

The one-word explanation?


Yes, I had resolutions this year. And like most years, I am already failing at them.

Mostly because I never enforced forcing functions in my environment to encourage their implementation.

Two of my biggest resolutions this year were:

- To form a habit of waking up at dawn i.e. at 5 am in order to get a lot more done

- To form a habit of jogging every other day in order to reach my fitness goals.

According to Hardy, there are five important types of forcing functions that I could choose to incorporate in order to achieve these resolutions:

1. High investment

This involves putting in your time, your commitment or your resources into your goals.

2. Social pressure

This involves checking in with someone else, having someone or having people keep you accountable so that you are forced to achieve your goals.

3. High consequence for poor performance

This involves creating consequences for failure (BIG ONES) in order to be able to achieve your goals.

4. High difficulty

This involves introducing a sense of urgency via any form of difficulty so as to deter complacency.

5. Novelty

This involves changing things up to make them "new" or seeking out "new" things or experiences so that you are more naturally focused and engaged in what you are planning to achieve.

For waking at dawn, I could have chosen any of the five types of forcing functions.

I could have specifically chosen (expensive) social pressure by getting one of my friends to invoice me whenever I did not make it happen. But the problem with that is that they would not be there to see me do it so the accountability of it all would be in question and this would tempt me to "cheat".

I could have chosen any of the five. But I chose to go with two.

My very own spin on social pressure and high consequence for poor performance.

Here's what I did to enforce the first one.

I went on YouTube, found the most pep-talky mini-speech that David Goggins (I absolutely love this guy!) has ever given and I turned it into an mp3 in order to have it as my morning alarm. And so far it is working!

As I said, it is not exactly social pressure in the real sense of the word but to me it is. Whenever I'm waking up to that mini-speech, I feel the pressure that Goggins is dropping on me. I feel like I'm wasting precious moments of my life lying in bed much longer than I should be. I feel motivated and inspired to get out of that bed and get the day started as soon as I can.

In the case of high consequence for poor performance, I chose to enforce hell on myself in case I fail to get up at dawn. Hell, in my world, is doing 50 mountain climbers and 20 burpees. Great for fitness, and great as a punishment.

I love doing mountain climbers if they are just 20 or 30. Getting to 50, though, is hell.

On the other hand, I hate burpees.

High consequence for poor performance, sorted.

In terms of my resolution to build up a habit of jogging, I literally just started a day ago as I write this. I am yet to enforce a forcing function on this one but it seems I will consider social pressure as an option.

I will get someone who sees me go out to jog as the person who will keep me accountable to make it happen and if it doesn't, I'll have to pay them their dues.

But I shall enforce it only if the fear of getting out of shape stops working its magic.

So that's me and my forcing functions.

I am yet to finish Hardy's book and part of me doesn't want to. I am enjoying every minute of it. I hope to optimise my environment for ultimate productivity and to keep enforcing more forcing functions into my life as I go along.

But I'm curious. What do you think about them? Have you ever tried implementing them in your own life?

Let me know in the comments section :)


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