Using Fear as Motivation: The Lab Rats Leave the Lab

In a laboratory experiment, we can control variables, set limits and observe results in a controlled environment. Over the last three months, we’ve more or less done just that.

Lab Rat Results

We’ve seen Cat move from not knowing at all what she wanted out of life to actively pursuing the grad school option while keeping other futures open.

Jim has gone from being unsure of pretty much everything in his life, to finding a passion in composing music and determining (despite a hectic schedule that doesn’t allow him to work on things as much as he’d like to) what he needs to do when and who he wants by his side as he does it.

And Brett? Well, when we started Brett rarely left the couch, chose to stay up late puttering about on the computer instead of sticking to a schedule that matched that of his wife and daughter, and always promised by never acted on getting the basement decluttered and organized. Now Brett spends time with his family (including morning walks with the dog), has strengthened the relationship with his wife by asking her for help with things instead of thinking he could handle things alone (but not doing them), and the basement is not just emptied out, but builders are booked to turn the clutter-magnet of an empty space into a laundry, store room, and home office.


What’s Next?

As the Lab Rats move from carefully constructed and controlled mazes and other experiments to the real world maintaining the momentum and changes won’t be easy. They won’t have a weekly email from me asking them to let me know where they are at with their Someday-busting. They’ll be back into the full pressures of the world and will return to the habits of fear, inertia and disinterest that kept them from acting in the past and will threaten further progress in the future.

Neither they nor I want that to happen.

Fortunately as they leave the Lab and return to the real world, they’ll be leaving with a simple tool that will keep them moving forward. The two has two parts:

  • A simple set of actions and tasks
  • An accountability tool measurement for each

Halfway through the program I had the Lab Rats come up with a one-page plan that looked at their goals and their immediate tasks. Now that they’ve reached the end, I asked them to do the same, but since I won’t be around to nag them about each task, I asked them to include a way of ensuring progress through identifying some sort of accountability with each action.

Let’s take a look at what Cat and Brett came up with.

Starting with the less concrete plan, Cat identified the following tasks:

  1. Take the GREs
  2. Apply to Grad Programs/Other Jobs
  3. Make My Selection
  4. Leave My Job

Brett chose the following:

  1. Organize Electrician
  2. Finalise date for builder to start
  3. Building work…
  4. Completing design of furnishings

Notice that although Cat started with an original goal of “finishing things she starts” she’s ended up going with a very specific set of tasks related to getting out of her current job that she doesn’t enjoy.

Brett also included something very interesting in his list. Of the four tasks he chose, only three of them are things he will do. He chose to completely delegate the third step “Building work” instead of doing it himself as previously planned. Even though he delegated it he’s included it in his list because it’s still something he needs monitor but instead of doing it, he’s become the accountability for it getting done. The builder has to report to Brett and so by including it in his list Brett’s reminded himself to ask for progress reports.

Accountability Tools

For the first step in Cat’s list, she has chosen a friend who is also taking the exam as both assistance and accountability for the task – in this way they provide each other support, encouragement and a bit of positive peer pressure.

For all the rest, Cat chose family members because she cares a lot about what her family thinks of her and unlike many friends, her family members won’t stop nagging if they don’t see progress. In this way Cat has taken two types of interaction that might seem negative and is using them to propel her forward: the fear of disappointing others and the desire to shut the nagger up!

Likewise Brett has turned his fears into accountability tools. For the first two steps, he fears looking foolish for not prepping the work and has chosen his childhood friend (who is also the electrician) and his father as the people he will be accountable to. Like Cat he’s using what might seem as negative peer pressure in a positive way.

As I said about, for the third step Brett will be the builder’s accountability partner, checking in to make sure things are getting done on time and within budget. And then for the final step, Brett’s will work with his wife to get the space decorated, meaning that by working together he can’t go sit on the couch or surf the Internet until the wee hours of the morning.

Seeing these plans I have no doubt at all that my latest Lab Rats will not just succeed with their current goals, but will take all that they’ve learned and apply it to future dreams, thereby getting rid of all their Somedays, one by one.

How about you? What sort of accountability do you apply to your goals and actions? Don’t have anything or anyone? Sign up to the Someday Syndrome Accountability Clinic and get not only support with your projects but weekly tips on how to manage your time and your schedule.

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8 thoughts on “Using Fear as Motivation: The Lab Rats Leave the Lab

  1. Srinivas Rao says:

    Nice post. I recently attended Keith Ferrazi’s book tour for Who’s got your Back, and accountability seemed like a big theme in the book. It’s interesting how much more we can accomplish through accountability.

    Srinivas Rao´s last blog post..Filter your reality through empowering beliefs

  2. Andy Hayes says:

    It’s so nice to see you giving so much back to the community. Congraulations to the lab rats – good luck out there!

    Andy Hayes´s last blog post..Big Changes to the Website…and to my Life

  3. Neill Gibson says:

    I found you thru your guest post on Zen Habits: 9 Ways to Twitter Your Personal Development. Nice take on that topic and this one too. 🙂

    Reading this post I was curious about your take on starting with a clear sense of personal values as the landmark or guideline when launching in a particular direction.

    You end your Values article (Why bother with authenticity?) with this question: “Do you know what your values are? Do your words and actions live up to them?”

    Developing “Values Intelligence” is one of the main themes of our work and I’d be happy to send a link to our free values exercise (that helps people answer your 1st question “Do you know what your values are?”) if you are interested.

    Keep up the good work. 😀

    Neill Gibson´s last blog post..How to Handle Criticism Without Melting Down, Clamming Up or Flipping Out

  4. Peer, support group or mastermind accountability is super helpful. To me, it’s only there to mirror the accountability you hopefully have inside. That’s the driver.

    Pamir | Reiki Help Blog´s last blog post..Let’s conjugate to “Heal”

  5. Congrats to the Rats! It’s very inspiring to read how they’ve grown in the program, and how they have concrete plans to keep going. Great work!

    Catherine Cantieri, Sorted´s last blog post..Taming Time: Chronic lateness

  6. Annaly says:

    Whether you ever reach your goals or not, getting better and learning are still great results. I think I, I mean the rats, am more than capable of that.

  7. Fantastic insights..I think we can learn alot from how scientific approaches can apply to our everyday lives. Accountablility is key to our personal growth – I always find it’s helpful to have a community that supports us in that goal as one of the key tools in our toolbox.

    Laura Cococcia´s last blog post..3 Things I’ve Learned From Encyclopedia Brown

  8. Alex Fayle says:

    Thanks for the recommendation – I’ll add the book to my list of things to read.

    I love having Lab Rats and not just because it makes me feel like an evil scientist! 😉

    Welcome! Glad you enjoy the Zen Habits article enough to come on by. I’d love to hear more about the values exercise and “Values Intelligence” – please do send me the link through the contact form plus I’ll go check out your site.

    Exactly – no matter what sort of help you have externally if you’re not willing/able to do the work yourself then nothing will move forward.

    I’m a big fan of (non-detailed) concrete plans. I know some people work better in the moment, but I’m definitely one of those who believe in define what you want, define the general steps, pick an action and do it.

    That’s a part of the journey-is-more-important-than-the-destination thing, yes. The things we learn along the way are what’s important.

    You’ll be interested in the next Lab Rat series which is going to be more “scientific” (ie measured) so that people can clearly see the progress as the Lab Rats go through the exercises.

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