He Wrote Me a Check for $500 and Told Me to Cash it if He Didn’t Lose Weight

Awhile back, a good friend of mine called me out of the blue to ask for a favor. Let’s call him “Karl.”

He said, “Hey John, what’s your mailing address? I want to send you a check for $500.”

I said, “That would be fine, Karl, but to what do I owe this sudden display of generosity?”

Karl replied, “no, no, silly. I don’t want you to cash it! Just hold onto it for awhile for me, will ya?”

You see, Karl was having a little bit of trouble sticking to a goal he had set for himself, and he needed a little incentive to motivate him and get his butt into action. It turns out he had been trying to lose some weight for several months, and he wasn’t exactly sticking with it – at all, actually.

His weight had crept up the past few years for a variety of reasons. The two biggies were that he had been eating out at restaurants a lot more than he should have been, and he had been really slacking on his exercise plan, too – among other things. He couldn’t believe what a fatso he had become over the past couple of years (his words, not mine – no judgment bro!).

So, he wrote me a check for $500 and told me to cash it if he didn’t get his weight below 200 pounds in the next 90 days. I can’t remember exactly where he started from, but I think he was about 230 pounds to begin with. And so, he needed to lose about 10 pounds per month, which is certainly a feasible, albeit challenging goal. In other words, he would have to really work for his success. No time to dawdle. And so, he got to work – sending me an update on his progress once in awhile.

Now, I wanted to share this with you because I wanted to illustrate a powerful strategy for motivating yourself to do something difficult. You see, Karl needed to do something that would get him out of his comfort zone, totally go against his natural inclinations, and would challenge him on many levels. Basically, he made himself an offer he couldn’t refuse. More specifically, he gave himself an ultimatum that would require his compliance, or else he would have to face some unpleasant consequences (i.e., losing $500).

Now, I’m not saying that everyone who has been struggling to achieve a weight loss, fitness, or other life goal needs to give themselves an ultimatum like Karl did, but it is a good strategy that works for some people. Research has shown that tapping into things that cause us pain or pleasure can be a powerful motivator, and this is a very simple way to apply that strategy in a practical way. And if you’ve been struggling with something for a long time that is really important to you, then maybe it’s time to take things up a notch.

So, the question is, “what have you been struggling to achieve? And what would you be willing to risk in order to achieve it?”

Maybe money is a powerful motivator like it was for Karl. And if that’s the case, then you could simply model his example and write someone a check with some instructions. Make sure to choose an amount that will cause enough pain (or fear of pain) that will motivate you into action. Or, if money doesn’t do it for you, then maybe it’s time. So, perhaps you could set a goal and commit to volunteering some of your time if you don’t achieve it – time that you may have spent off from work, on vacation, or something similar. Or, maybe it’s something you own. A favorite something-or-other (outfit, bicycle, fishing rod, curling iron, etc.), that you could give away or donate if you don’t achieve your goal in time.

Whatever it is that makes you tick, that’s what you should consider using for this strategy. And then give yourself a hard deadline to achieve your goal. And finally, tell someone about it. Make yourself accountable. That’s what will really make the difference.


So, what happened to Karl, anyway? Well after 90 days, he did achieve his goal, and sent me a photo of his scale with the numbers 199.6 on the screen. And just between you and me, he worked his tail off to break the 200 pound mark in time. Truth be told, Karl woke up on day 90 and was still a little over 200 pounds. I cut him a little slack and told him that if he could get his weight below 200 by the end of the day, I’d at least wait until right before the bank closed to cash his check. So, it literally came down to the final hours. I think he skipped breakfast and he kept sending me updates via email and text messages. Things like…

“Just got back from my bootcamp workout at the gym”
“Did a hard jump rope session”
“I’m doing some kettlebell swings in my office”
“Skipped lunch…199 here I come”

I have a feeling he pulled out all the stops to get that last bit of weight off. But…he did it. And before the end of the day, I saw the evidence. And I took his word for it that it was legitimate.

And after that, Karl set a new goal to hit 190 pounds, which is where he really wanted to be all along. I asked him if he wanted to write me another check, and I think he said, “no thanks, buddy. I think I’m all set.” Maybe it was a bit rougher than the poor fella expected!

Regardless, he did it and so can you.

So, what’s it gonna be?

Every journey begins with a single step. But you’ll never finish if you don’t start. – Unknown

Do it now. Sometimes, “later” becomes “never.” – Unknown

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P.P.S. Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrismoody1111/

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