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Use “No Matter What” Commitments to Strengthen Willpower, Defeat Decision Fatigue, and Motivate Yourself

Here’s what the average morning scenario looked like for me before I learned how to keep my commitments:

  • It’s 5:00AM.
  • I’m startled awake by the sound of sirens ringing so damn loud it feels like a firetruck is plowing through my brain.
  • I realize the sirens aren’t coming from a firetruck—they’re coming from the alarm-clock app on my iPhone.
  • I continue lying there, debating with myself about whether I should hit the gym or hit the snooze button.
  • I choose to tap the snooze button for “just 5 more minutes of sleep.”
  • 45 minutes later, I wake up, forgo the gym, and head to work.

This pattern continued on for longer than I care to talk about…

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decision-fatigue-no-matter-what-commitmentsan image of my daily "no matter what" commitments; straight from the whiteboard in my office.

The thing is though; I really, really wanted to stop hitting snooze and start waking up earlier to workout, but I just couldn’t “motivate” myself to do it.

So, there I was. Lying in my bed at the crack of dawn. Alarm clock blaring; moment of truth dawning upon me: should I wake my ass up and workout?—or should I stay in bed, rationalizing to myself that I’d go to the gym after work, even if I knew I probably wouldn’t?

Most of the time, I’d lie in bed, going back and forth in my head about whether I should get up or not… Do I really have enough time to workout and get ready for work? Will I get to work on time? What if I don’t have the energy to push myself in the gym this early in the morning?

Next thing I know, I’m back in la-la land, snoozing away until the last possible minute before I absolutely had to get up and get ready for work.

And of course, even though I told myself I’d hit the gym afterwards, I’d end up skipping almost every time.

Not only was I neglecting my physical health. But I was also neglecting my mental health.

Something needed to change.

Decision fatigue.

In a moment, we’ll talk about how I managed to turn this dilemma around and developed the habit of consistently waking up and working out at 5:00AM… But first, let’s talk about one of the reasons people don’t get more done or do more of what they want in life…

Why is it that we can get so excited and so committed about doing something, but end up neglecting to follow through? … Of course, with every thing in life, there are lots of factors that come into play, but one of them happens to be the amount of energy we waste on decision-making—we debate ourselves to death by asking last-minute questions we should’ve already had the answers to, like, “should I go to the gym today or not?” or “should I make the call right now like I’m supposed to, or should I put it on my list of things to do later instead?”

What most people don’t realize is this: every time we think about something important or have to make a decision of some kind, we’re imposing a psychological strain on ourselves… and psychological strains—like problem-solving, decision-making, critical thinking, etc.—are just as energy-zapping as physical strains—like running, weight-lifting, and other intense physical forms of exertion.

  • For example: every time my alarm went off at 5:00AM and I started weighing my options (“should I wake up and workout, or should I keep sleeping?”) rather than getting up and going to the gym like I said I would—I was wasting way more energy than I would have if I simply did what I said I was going to do—which was to get up and go to the gym.

Most people know what it feels like to debate with themselves about things. We re-run the past in our heads, we freak ourselves out by projecting our fears into future, we think about our decisions over and over… and we fail to realize that this causes a major energy crisis. We tend to think we’re low on energy because we didn’t eat enough or sleep enough. And although those things are also important, there are other reasons for being tired or foggy-minded—and “decision fatigue” is one of them.

  • Decision-fatigue occurs when we deplete ourselves of our precious willpower by putting too much strain on our brain. As it turns out, it really is possible to get just as tired from “thinking too hard” as we do when we exert ourselves with more physically-demanding activities, like exercise.

… But the same principles that apply to exercising our muscles, apply to the brain as well. When we exercise and replenish our bodies—via weight-lifting, proper diet, and sleep—we build up muscle tissue. When we exercise and replenish our brain—via reading, critical-thinking, decision-making, and sleep—we build up our mental muscles.

Our muscles get soar after a workout, and require ample time for rest and renewal to recover. The brain is no different.

It wouldn’t be effective to hit the gym today and work the same muscles you beat to death yesterday if you haven’t recovered yet.

In the same respect, it doesn’t make sense to keep running back the same decisions you made yesterday (or last week or last year). If you decided to do it, then do it.

It’s a shame when we waste our mental muscles replaying decisions we’ve already made in the past; bringing them back again into the present for further deliberation… This is how “I’ll wake up at 5:00AM and hit the gym”, turns into “I’ll wake up at 5:00AM and hit the gym starting tomorrow.”

And of course, we continue punting these excuses to the next day, and the next after that. Most of the time, we do this for short-term convenience: would you rather have $100 now, or would you rather have $200 a year from now? Turns out, most people would choose to take the money now, even though it makes more sense to wait a year and take the free $200. It’s not like you need to do anything extra for it other than wait.

We’re all susceptible to this type of irrational behavior, though. We tend to get all pumped up and motivated about new goals and resolutions—and then the intensity somehow tapers away just a short while later. How do we fix this? How do we stop breaking our own damn promises?

Start Motivating Yourself With “No Matter What” Commitments.

Once I realized I was wasting way too much energy thinking about things I should’ve decided on already—like waking up and working out—I made a conscious choice to stop screwing around and start keeping my own promises to myself. I started calling them my daily No Matter What’s. From then on, I wouldn’t dare utter the words “no matter what” unless I absolutely–100%-in-my-bones-meant-it.

In short, a No Matter What Commitment = a non-negotiable daily habit.

  • For example: when I said I’d start rising at 5:00AM to hit the gym every morning no matter what. That was it. From then on, I’d cut off any other possibility other than doing what I said I’d do[1]. Alarm goes off and I get my ass up. No thinking about it. No questioning myself. No arguing with myself. I get up and go.

Since then, I’ve developed a list of daily No Matter What’s (NMW’s) that I routinely hit on a daily basis. Here’s my current list of NMW’s from my daily morning ritual, in order of occurrence:

  1. Wakeup + workout. Rise at 5:00AM and immediately hit the gym.
  2. Nature walk. Take a 15–20 minute stroll outdoors. Breathe in the oxygen. Practice gratitude. Visualize a successful day.
  3. Make green juice. After my walk, I go to the kitchen and fire up my Breville Juicer and make a liter of green juice to drink throughout my morning.
  4. Read. Next, I read for at least one hour.
  5. Crush the day. Finally, before beginning my day, I go over my 3 most important goals or next actions for the day. The first item on my list of three is usually the only work-related No Matter What commitment—in other words, it’s the ONE most important thing that must get done today regardless of whatever else happens. The other two are also important, but I won’t feel like I’m “behind” if I don’t get to them if, say, my #1 priority for that particular day takes longer than expected.

Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

One of the things I like to do, is to arrange my No Matter What’s around the four basic human needs—physical (PQ), mental (IQ), emotional (EQ), and spiritual (SQ). If we want to be healthy and fulfilled in our lives, then we’ve gotta make sure we’ve got each of these buckets in check. That said, I like to design my NMW commitments so that they hit all four of these needs at least once. For example:

  1. Wakeup + workout. = PQ
  2. Nature walk. = IQ, EQ, SQ
  3. Make green juice. = PQ
  4. Read. = IQ
  5. Crush the day. = IQ, EQ

See how I have an opportunity to tap into each dimension before I even begin my work for the day? Try to set yourself up in a similar way if you really want to set yourself up for success on a daily basis.

Prevent failure by using back-ups and alternatives.

It takes me about 30–40 minutes to make my green juice. I’ve got to wash all the veggies, run them through the juicer, dispose of the big bucket of excess pulp; and then finally, take the juicer apart and rinse out all the individual parts. I usually don’t mind doing this. But when I’m pressed for time, it presents a problem. That’s when I break out my powdered green drink. It’s not the same as juicing my greens fresh, but it’s the next best thing. Plus, it helps me maintain my No Matter What commitment.

I’ve also got a back-up/alternative for my daily nature-walks. Sometimes, I’ll decide to meditate for 10–20 minutes as an alternative to walking outside. On certain days, I’ll even do both if I’m really feelin’ it.

I even have a back-up for the gym. Most people schedule one or more “off-days” from the gym, during which they don’t workout. I do not do this. Instead, I plan my workouts on a 7-day per week cycle—but I only anticipate working out on 6 of those days. This is because it’s almost inevitable for something unexpected/important/urgent to come up at least once a week that makes it difficult to get to the gym. And since I’ve planned my fitness routine accordingly, I don’t get bent out of shape when I need to take an off-day for whatever reason.

The purpose of having a backup or alternative to your No Matter What commitments is to help you maintain integrity with yourself. In other words, when you decide that from here on out, you’re going to do X-thing “no matter what”—you’ll be able to pull it off even if something unexpected comes up.

What are your No Matter What’s?

Quick question: what have been some things in your life that were so important to you—physically, financially, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually— that you’ve had to handle them no matter what?

How about today? … What’s something you said you were going to do no matter what when you walked out the door this morning?

Did you do it? … WILL you do it?

OR did you end up in a scenario that smells something like the one I used to experience every morning?

Do you have something in mind that you know you want to do—but can’t seem to get yourself to do it because you keep arguing with yourself? Don’t waste so much time and energy putting yourself in decision-fatigue—thinking about whether you should do it or not—that you end up losing before you even begin.

Decide to do what you want once and for all… and then just do it.

You don’t need to start committing yourself to a long list of No Matter What’s. If you do that, you’ll overwhelm yourself and the whole thing will backfire.

Instead, pick ONE thing you want to begin doing on a daily basis—no matter what—and deliberately decide to commit yourself. You want to exercise everyday no matter what? That’s wonderful. Do one push-up today. Do another tomorrow. Shoot for three the day after that. And keep building from there.

The secret to success is the power of habit. Powerful habits cannot be developed overnight. You know this. Habits are only developed when we take small steps daily.

So deliberately decide what you want—and then begin by taking just one step in the right direction every single day—No Matter What—and before you know it, you’ll be living the life you deserve.

Commit to what you want, and leave yourself with nothing but success as your alternative.

  1. Aside from anything that was out of my control.  ↩

Dean Bokhari

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