External Motivation

"You cannot dream yourself into a character: you must hammer and forge yourself into one."
-- James Anthony Froude, The Nemesis of Faith (1849)

Moore's Law of Technological Distraction states that the time-wasting and productivity-sapping powers of the Internet double approximately every two years.  Just see for yourself:

Units: minutes per day spent watching digital images of cats
Tech Foundings
1975.04 - Microsoft
1976.04 - Apple
1998.09 - Google
2001.11 - StumbleUpon
2004.02 - Facebook
2005.06 - Reddit
2006.03 - Twitter
2007.02 - Tumblr
2008.01 - FailBlog
2009.02 - Imgur
2010.10 - Instagram

There are, shockingly, a few services that are designed to improve your ability to make positive life changes and get stuff done.  What will they think of next?



Sometimes all we need is a gentle reminder to build good habits.  HassleMe is a free web app that gives you that little shove.  It couldn't be easier to use - just enter an email address and reminder frequency, click a link in a confirmation email, and the service will email you your text reminder.  The exact timing of the reminder is randomized somewhat, so the reminder is more likely to come as a surprise and cut through the noise in your inbox.  (Speaking of noise, you really should take some time and clean that up.)



HabitForge requires you to create an account in exchange for a larger set of features.

When you create a Habit, HabitForge emails you daily to remind you to perform the habit and later to ask if you were successful.  You can set up your Habit's desired frequency, the frequency with which you're currently practicing it, and fill in details about your personal motivation for the change.  Habits are shared publicly with other users.  You can follow other users' progress and join teams devoted to specific goals.

To put some skin in the game, you can add an 'Extra Accountability' option to any Habit: if you fall below a success rate that you define, you agree to transfer money to a certain person, a charity, or to a random HabitForge Premium member.  Whether you actually carry out this transfer is on the honor system.


Remember 'carrot and stick'?  StickK takes the stick approach.  This service was developed by Yale University economists with research expertise in this area, and it's recommended by Tim Ferriss in The 4-Hour Body and The 4-Hour Chef.

Signing up for an account allows you to create "Commitment Contracts", which are like HabitForge's "Extra Accountability"... but with multiple rows of razor-sharp teeth.  The StickK "Commitment Contract" concept is built on four pillars: Goals, Stakes, Referees, and Supporters.  You define a goal with the usual parameters, but you also assign a referee that must sign off on your progress.  And here's the fun part: you can also put money at stake.  Each week, you must check in with StickK and update your progress.  If you fail to meet your progress goals or your Referee refuses to sign off on your progress, StickK takes your money:

The key here is to pick a suitable anti-charity or 'friend' whom you would really, really, really hate to pay.  Unlike HabitForge's honors system, StickK takes your credit card information up front - they're serious about accountability.

Sound crazy to punish yourself for failing to meet your goals?  If you REALLY want to accomplish them and you're REALLY committed to making it happen, then why are you worried?



Fitocracy is as social network for people who want to achieve and maintain physical fitness.

The concept is pretty straightforward: turn fitness into a social game.  Fitocracy has pretty slick tools for recording your workouts, allowing you to save your favorite exercises and routines for quick reuse, and you are rewarded based on their intensity and duration.  Like an old-school RPG, there are points, levels, quests, and achievements; like any good Web 2.0 thing, there are apps for Android and iOS plenty of social-ness to keep you engaged.

Fitocracy is a 'freemium' product - a paid membership gives you access to additional features, like the ability to initiate 'duels' with other Fitocrats.



I've discussed the awesomeness that is Mint in a previous post.  It helps you keep tabs on your financial life.

After creating a Mint account and linking your financial accounts, you can create budgets that make use of Mint's ability to categorize your transactions.  Email and text message alerts can be set to let you know when your spending exceeds your budget.  You can also create Goals, which are longer-term projects to save up for a particular purpose such as buying a home, paying for college, or retiring:

Mr Money Mustache has also weighed in on the awesomeness of Mint.

This is a selection of the goal-setting and motivating tools that I'm aware of, but I'm sure there are more!  What tools, sites, apps, or processes do you use?