How to stick to your goals: The Boogeyman Technique

You set a goal. Plan out desired actions. But when it’s time to do the work, you don’t want to do it. You feel resistance. And you start talking yourself out of it. Sounds familiar? Meet The Boogeyman Technique that will help you stick with the desired behavior and ultimately achieve your goals.

Traditional advice for overcoming resistance

Oftentimes you hear the advice to imagine what would happen if you don’t do the work.
If you don’t go to the gym, imagine yourself remaining overweight.
If you don’t work on your side hustle, you will remain broke.
You get the gist.

Sounds reasonable but there is a major flaw in this thinking. When you compare going to the gym and remaining overweight, you are comparing a high-effort activity (working out) with no-effort activity (doing nothing and remaining where you are). And our brains are designed to preserve energy. Your brain will find a way to convince you to choose the no-effort activity.

The Boogeyman Technique

What works for me is to compare a high-effort activity with an ultra-high-effort activity when facing resistance.

Right now I’m working on losing the baby weight. I’m experimenting with intermittent fasting because it makes the most logical sense and worked for me in the past.

  • Goal: lose weight
  • Desired action: intermittent fasting (stop eating at around 5 pm).

Of course, there are days when it’s hard and I don’t want to do it. In this case, I implement the Boogeyman Technique.

I know that I will continue wanting to lose the baby weight, so the goal will remain the same. But if I fail at intermittent fasting, I will have to find another way to achieve this goal. And in my case, it will be counting calories.

  • Same goal: lose weight
  • Alternative ultra-high-effort action to achieve the same goal: counting calories

Counting calories is an absolute nightmare for me. I can’t imagine being forced to weigh every ingredient when I cook or obsess over calories when I go out to eat.

Counting calories is my Boogeyman. And I’m shit-scared of it.

So when I don’t feel like fasting, I tell myself that if I don’t fast, I will have to count calories. And fasting seems so easy in comparison, that I no longer feel the same level of resistance.

When you feel resistance towards doing the work to achieve your goals, create the Boogeyman that will scare you into doing the work needed. The Boogeyman is the action that leads to the same result but is so much worse than the action you need to take.

The Bogeyman when starting a business

When I was starting my first business, the ultimate goal was, you guessed it, to make money. There were things I had to do that I didn’t want to do. The boogeyman in that situation was the numbing process of applying for jobs (I’m not against full-time jobs, the process of getting one is utterly inhumane).

Applying for jobs would get me to the same goal (to make money) but felt so much worse to me. Whenever I didn’t feel like working on my business, I told myself that if I didn’t do this, I would have to submit hundreds of job applications. And the perceived effort of building a business was lower in comparison to the numbing activity of a job search. 

Creating your Boogeyman

  1. What’s your goal? (Weight loss, making money, finding a partner, etc.) 
  2. What do you need to do to achieve this goal?
  3. What is the activity that achieves the same goal but you would absolutely hate doing? 

The trick here is to give yourself just two options. Don’t give the third option of doing nothing. Because think about it… If it’s your true goal, you will continue wanting this outcome. Most likely, you won’t settle. So you will absolutely need to come up with an alternative plan.

Why it works

Most of the productivity advice can be boiled down to one idea:

Reduce the perceived effort of a desired activity.

The Boogeyman technique makes the desired activity seem manageable. You reduce the perceived effort of a desired action when comparing it to something you would hate doing.

If you are new to Agile philosophy, you can find the core principles on the Start Here page.

You might enjoy these other mind tricks:
  1. The one question that stops my procrastination
  2. The one question that turns a lazy day around
  3. Mind trick for starting new habits and building consistency
  4. Experimental mindset when setting goals
  5. The Logarithmic Framework for Building Things

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