Forcing Functions as a goal accelerator

March 14, 2024

I'm Natalie
Natalie is certified by the International Coaching Federation through Collective Change Institute's Professional Coaching and Advanced Coaching Programs. She’s also a coach at Google, where she leads workshops and is on the internal coaching panel for her colleagues. 

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TLDR: A lack of routine causes more problems than poor choices. Routines turn desired behavior into default behavior. - Shane Parrish

Recent conversations with some friends and a sharing session with one of the ND core groups reminded me about a principle I really believe in: leveraging forcing functions to help you become the best version of yourself. Hence I thought of doing a longer piece to share my POV with folks who are keen to see progress in their goals but instead continually see limited results.

1. Definitions

A Forcing Function is a process or constraint that requires an action, decision or trade-off within a certain timeframe. Deadlines, project milestones, trial periods, and quarterly or annual reports are common examples of Forcing Functions. - Josh Kaufman

2. How it has helped me

I have used this concept to supercharge my goals and habits on many fronts, especially when I realized that it is just infinitely difficult and consequently demoralizing if we always rely on our (limited) willpower.

Instead of continuing to fight a losing battle, I decided to be more intentional about designing my day through different routines and systems that mirrors the most ideal way I would like to invest my time and energy.

Sharing 4 examples that worked for me below:

A) Improving physical health by investing in a fitness subscription

In mid 2022, my fitness routine was non-existent. I would typically run or swim when I could muster up the willpower to do so. I constantly felt lethargic physically and mentally. I also felt angry with myself for not sticking to the fitness goals I had set for myself of exercising 3x a week which not surprisingly took a drain on my mental state as well. So when my partner asked whether I was keen to try a fitness studio nearby with him, I said yes immediately.

Since then to presently in 2024, I am really proud of both of us for keeping up with our fitness habits and now exercising 4-5x a week. (I do a mixture of cardio, strength and mobility exercises as I read that that’s the best combination.)

When people ask me how I was able to keep this habit up, I would say it is a combination of:

i) knowing deeply what this goal means to me (you can refer to my other post on setting sustainable goals by outlining the IPO approach to your goals – Identity, Process, Outcome) but a large part of it was also

ii) the forcing function of committing to and paying for a subscription

In addition to that, I also found that experimenting with what gym timings work best for me i.e morning or evening and then just sticking to the timings once you found that it works for you. This also works with discovering which type of exercise program works best for you, depending on your goals. Last but not least, also ensuring that I found a studio that is near to my house also helps with going more often – which ties back to convenience and accessibility.

Basically discover and explore your options then double down 🙂

B) Increasing the no of books I read by borrowing books from NLB

I love to read but I didn’t want to spend a lot of money to buy books that I am not sure whether I would like or not. I also do not have an infinite amount of space to keep all the books and did not want space to be a limiting constraint on my reading appetite.

Hence I was so thrilled to have found NLB (and its app) to be a great resource. Since 2017 when I picked up my reading habit again, I was able to read a lot more books and it also helped that I could easily reserve and collect them through the app. Hence that helped with accessibility which is a key part of habit building as well.

The books having a deadline on them does help to serve as a ‘forcing function’ as it requires me to allocate some time to complete them before the deadline and I have to start paying a fine.

Though some can argue that you can technically ‘ignore’ the deadline and still not read the books, I do think that that itself points to another problem of nailing down why this goal of reading is important for them in the first place (you can refer to my other post on setting sustainable goals by outlining the IPO approach to your goals – Identity, Process, Outcome).

C) Ensuring I live as intentionally as I can via monthly check-ins with Neverdrift

Back in 2017/2018 when I first started Neverdrift and asked my growth-minded friends if they would like to join me in this journey of meeting monthly to discuss our learnings and goals (+ listening to speakers so we had both peer learning and expert learning), that itself was a forcing function as we were committing to meet on a monthly cadence. This is especially helpful when the high of the New Year’s Resolutions phase wears off!

Going back to Neverdrift’s mission, it is to advocate for the importance of living intentionally and also empowering people to do so through different mediums like subscribing to the Telegram channel for doses of inspiration, being part of the monthly core group membership or going deeper with 1-1 coaching. I wanted to provide different options for different people to meet their varying needs. But at the core of it, I firmly believe that living intentionally is not a one-time off decision that can be made then forgotten about – it requires us to be consistent and live it daily.

D) Someone to challenge me on my personal development goals

Since I got accredited as a professional coach in 2020 (and my advanced coaching certification in 2023), I have always invested in my own coach as well and meet her on a monthly basis. In my opinion, this complements my group sessions with Neverdrift very well as the group sessions enable me to listen to multiple perspectives of like-minded peers whereas my 1-1 coaching sessions with a professional enable me to go deeper into certain areas of my life that I want to work on more and accelerate progress in.

3. Wrapping up:

Ideally if we had infinite willpower and discipline, we wouldn’t need to set up and invest in these forcing functions.

However once we accept the fact that consistently hoping we have infinite willpower is futile, the next step is figuring out what to do about it and how to make things as effortless for us as possible.

If you reflect on corporate jobs, it is essentially filled with much forcing functions like weekly meetings, quarterly reviews, year end performance appraisals to get large groups of people to deliver on things. We can also leverage the same concept in our own personal lives to get us to our ideal states!

I hope this got you thinking about how you can incorporate some forcing functions / systems in your life to get you to where you want to be 🙂 If you need some help or want to share your progress, feel free to comment below or drop a note.

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