How Writing to Yourself Can Change Your life

Koen van Zeijl
December 6, 2020 5 min read
Koen van Zeijl
https://unsplash.com/photos/y02jEX_B0O0

Introduction

So it’s a new year and you commit to improving your health, career, or relationships, and after a week, you give up. “I just can’t get myself motivated,” you say.

We often tell ourselves this is true without knowing what the real motivation is, or should be. Motivation is the reason — or reasons — for acting or behaving the way you do.

The problem is that most of our motivation is temporary. Some days we feel super motivated in the evening, but in the morning when the alarm goes off, all our motivation will simply be gone.

You can try all sorts of methods and attempt to get yourself motivated like, self-talk, deadlines, routines, power poses, and other commonly used techniques. Unfortunately, you and I both know these methods never seem to work in the long term. We need a technique to get and keep you motivated. Here is something I found a couple of years ago to keep you motivated all year long —and repeat it every single year —

Hold yourself accountable

The basic idea behind having motivation is having a purpose to do something. If you don’t have a real purpose there will be no action taken. That’s what motivation ultimately comes down to.

Finding a purpose to get motivated starts from within ourselves. But life is not only about the individual. What you’ll find is that our purpose is always related to others — our family, spouse, children, friends, and even strangers. The next step in finding the right purpose is to hold your self accountable. Personal accountability is the belief that you are willing to take responsibility for your actions. When you take your personal accountability, you will make sure you keep going when you screw up. But how do you set up an accountability system for yourself? I primarily use the commitment and consistency principle to do that.

Robert B. Cialdini wrote in his book Influence about the commitment and consistency principle. According to Robert B., people want to appear consistent in their behavior. If someone asked you whether you are an adventurous type, and you answered yes, you tend to act in a way that supports that.

Using the commitment and consistency principle

I found out that a very effective way to practice this principle is by writing to yourself. To do this, you’ll need to take a few steps at the beginning of every year. First of all, create a list of goals that you want to achieve in the upcoming year. — Think about running a marathon or starting your own company— After creating the list, you’ll write a letter to your future self in which you talk about the goals you wanted to achieve at the time of writing the letter. You can ask your future self if he or she already ran the marathon and if so, was it faster than your target time. Or say something like “In December 2019 you started the think about creating your own company. Your goal was to lay the foundation of your company by the end of the year. How far did you get this year?”

The last step of writing to your future self is to make sure the letter actually arrives at your future self. At the end of 2013, I read an article about exactly this topic. The article wrote that the website futureme.org could be used to “Write a letter to the future”.

Personal experience

After reading the article about futureme.org in December 2013 I decided to write a letter to myself. I defined my new year resolutions and wrote them in an email. One of my goals was to finish a quarter triathlon.

On the 2nd of January 2015, I received my first letter from futureme but I totally forgot about it. Reading the letter made me sad as the previous me asked me if I had finished the triathlon within 3 hours. Unfortunately, I didn’t even start. So I decided to write another letter to myself with the same goals for the 2nd of January 2016. During the whole of 2015, I had the goal of finishing a quarter triathlon in my mind as I didn’t want to let myself down again. Guess what, I did it! I finished the triathlon in 2 hours and 32 minutes. The next year I wrote down other goals and since then I make sure that I won’t disappoint my previous self again.

Make it effective

To make writing to yourself really effective, you should do it on a regular schedule. As stated above, after receiving your first letter you’ll probably be surprised as you easily forget about it. But when you do it every year you know that on the 2nd of January you’ll get a reminder of your new year resolutions from a year ago.

Besides your new year resolution letter, you can of course also use it for any other subject you want to write to yourself. For example, in March of this year, I wrote a letter to myself for over 5 years about how we were struggling with a pandemic back in 2020.

Conclusion

Creating new year resolutions is easy, but keeping yourself motivated is hard. A very effective way to keep yourself motivated is to hold yourself accountable for your actions. Writing to yourself can help with this, as you don’t want to let yourself down.

The website futureme.org allows you to write to the future. You can use this technique to remind yourself of your new year resolutions of last year. Using this technique can help you reach goals you truly desire.

I hope that I can help at least somebody with these insights and wish all of you good luck with next year!