Forcing Future You to Try New Things

Two truths:

  1. Most of us avoid risk.

  2. Every new and exciting experience that makes our lives richer is risky.

Most of us do not like to try new things. The paradox is, after we’ve done the new, scary thing, we’re often glad we did. It’s my belief that having new experiences on a regular basis significantly improves quality of life, like adding compost to garden soil, so we’ve got to find a way to have them.

How do we make ourselves take the leap, despite our fear? There are a bunch of ways, but I want to talk about one method I use:

Forcing “Future Jonathan” to do things by making a public commitment.

Here’s an example. On December 14th, 2013, Sarah and I were at a dinner party with some friends. It was late in the evening, and I was a little, um, drunk. A good buddy was talking about something called RAGBRAI, an annual week-long bike ride across the state of Iowa. This dude had done four in a row, and was gearing up for number five in a few months.

Man, I could never do that, I thought.

Then I heard myself announce that I was going to.

For the next seven months, I was freaking out inside (and sometimes outside, too). I was not an experienced cyclist, and I was about to ride across a state. What was I thinking?

I did everything I could to calm my fears: I found a good training plan and followed it, I roped my sister into doing the ride with me and my wife into being our support driver, and I spent hours reading about long-distance bike rides. None of it did much to make me feel better. I didn’t feel anywhere close to ready and was terrified something would go wrong.

Nothing went wrong. It was a blast. Just for kicks, we did it again last summer.

I use the technique of publicly committing “Future Jonathan” all the time. Even the blog post I’m typing right now is the result of something “Past Jonathan” locked me into.

I’ve been letting this blog get away from me the last couple of months, so when one of my favorite authors, Seth Godin, announced a public challenge to his readers to blog seven days in a row, I knew I had to do it. I wrote the first post last Monday and announced my plans on Facebook. I’ve never even blogged seven weeks in a row, but I knew it would be good for me. Here we are on Day 6, and I’m hooked.

Knowing that people expect us to keep our word is a simple but powerful motivator. Consider trying this technique the next time you get that “I-should-do-this-but-it’s-scary” feeling in the pit of your stomach, and let me know how it works!