Interesting story going around about motivation. Researchers discovered that “planning” to quit smoking or lose weight — as in New Year’s resolutions — was almost a guaranteed way to fail.

The only sure-fire way to quit, or lose, is to have a health crisis.

That was my experience. I smoked for ten years — my idol was Humphrey Bogart, and I was under the delusion that having a cig hanging from my lips made me look debonair or something. And I only quit after suffering severe bronchitis (headed for pneumonia).

Two years in a row. Got sick, quit… started again… got sick again… and finally quit for good the second time. That was over thirty years ago. I still have the occasional craving for a smoke — there’s nothing that replaces the joy of flooding your system with nicotine during a break from writing. Nothing.

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And yet, I never indulge.

Apparently, people who plan their escape from bad habits and/or unwanted weight the most obsessively…

… are the ones to bet on to fail most spectacularly.

I remember many friends trying hypnosis, counselling, and lots of tricks (like wrapping their packs of cigarettes in rubber bands, so it was a hassle to get one out). Nothing that involved forced discipline or avoiding cold turkey worked very well. My friends who tried the craze diets — like the Atkins — became insufferable bores on the subject… and the evangelism lasted until the day they fell off the wagon with a thud.

I’ve been studying life-change for decades.

I am living proof that you can change your life radically, almsot overnight… using nothing but a few tools like a pile of self-help books (such as “Think and Grow Rich“), a glimpse at the path you want to take, and a “gun to the head” attitude that refuses to recognize failure as an option.

And yet, even friends who have watched the transformation refuse to see it as something they could repeat themselves. They stop talking to me about their problems the second I interupt their whine and offer concrete steps to take.

They really aren’t ready to change yet, you see. They just want to wallow in misery, and they resent any attempt to remind them they have choices..

I was thinking about this while talking with an old friend who suddenly has to change his ways… because he had a heart attack. Two stark choices: Lose the Type A behavior patterns and live… or get back on the workaholic treadmill and die soon.

And I have another friend, who had one of those birthdays that hit him like a brick. He’s suddenly no longer young and full of potential — he’s middle-aged, with dwindling opportunity to “grow up” (as he calls it) and either do what he wants to do with his life, or continine the drudgery of his “life on hold” habits.

He’s depressed. It’s bad. Something’s gotta give… and it could very well be that he merely comes to terms with never going after what he truly wants in life. That will be a shame… but it won’t be an uncommon choice.

They’re not asking me for advice, mind you. They know what I would tell them:

  • Quick dicking around, and jump into life with renewed purpose and motivation.
  • Go after what you want.
  • Stop pretending life comes with a “do over” switch, or extra chances after time has elapsed.

I mean, if you’re a Type A workaholic, and you haven’t yet had your little face-to-face with eternity moment… why not change now, while you’ve got extra energy, and won’t have to spend a couple of years recuperating?

Just skip the heart attack part, and change now.

And if you’re avoiding changing your life, and it’s bothering you because you just know you won’t be happy if you find yourself on your deathbed without having written that novel, or travelled to India, or gotten a tatoo, or whatever… why not skip the coming depression and just change now?

I’m serious. Why not?

Your biology is set against you. All your plans will likely go for naught, because we aren’t wired to change without drastic motivation.

Then again, it’s not a hard and fast rule.

Many people DO change without a health crisis or nervous breakdown.

And they’re not lucky, either — they’re just done with walking around like a zombie, waiting for Fate to intervene.

No one gets out of here alive. What you do during the time you’re given is completely up to you. What you’re doing now is the result of choices you’ve made in the past. You can’t undo many of them, but so what?

  • People travel with kids in tow.
  • Novelists finish great works while holding down a day job.
  • Entire families have changed entire lifestyles, leaving the suburbs behind.
  • Broke and clueless people have tapped into the Information Age and become rich and clued-in.

Pursuing another path may not immediately bring you oodles of happy moments and the dream life you want. However, it’s for sure you won’t find what you seek if you don’t take that first step.

It really is all about motivation.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

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  • Ryan Healy says:

    This morning it snowed in Colorado.

    I went out, shoveled the driveway, and watched all my neighbors drive to work.

    I’m 26 and glad I transformed my life early.


  • Andrew Jensen says:

    Life is a bitch at times. I should know. And yes, this really is my life. I know I post a lot, but John, you’re one of the only writers (besides Halbert and Kennedy) who really holds nothing back and I’m grateful for it. Anyway, that’s why I feel comfortable telling my story here.

    And, speaking of reality setting in and having to change your life. (And yes, I’ve told this story before but feel a need to tell it again.) This is for all you people who still have a chance.

    I was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic 2 weeks after I turned 33. It was, to say the least, a shock that made me cry like a baby. But, I’ve got to say, it sure explained a lot about the way my life had been up until then. I was on a roller-coaster ride most of my life up until this moment. Mood swings like mad, unless of course I drank a lot. Come to think of it, if I hadn’t been partying so much throughout my teens and twenties, I may have avoided the whole mess.

    So here I am at 41-years old and healthier than I’ve every been. Of course I still have to take insulin (that’s what a type 1 diabetic has to do..) but I feel I’ve come to terms with it all. It’s no fun, don’t get me wrong, but I now know a hell of a lot about good eating and health. I hope to live a long and prosperous life.

    And yes, I still go through some major mood swings at times. But at least I know why that is. So here’s my reason for posting. Any one who has a health issue and can do something to change their life before it’s too late, you have been warned. Make the change now, before it’s too late. I wish someone had straightened me out with the answers and the solution before it came to this. But as we all know, it usually take the really big fall before anyone will do anything about it. And in the case of some I know, even that doesn’t make a difference.

    Life is good when you let it be

    Regards, Andrew

  • Patrick says:

    Great post John. It all hits too close to home.

  • Alan Allard says:


    Your post was quite interesting, and got me to thinking…

    The only thing that “works” for in any realm of personal change is what works for a given person at a given time. And yes, it seems that most people wait until a crisis gets their attention.

    The level of desire is fundamental in the change process, so what can trigger and instensify desire? When I learned, even a few simple things, about how the human brain processes information, I was able to go from exercising inconsistently to now having a track record of over three years of consistency, with astounding results. In effect, I learned how to “manipulate” and control levels of desire and motivation.

    As for hypnosis, I am a Clinical Hypnotherapist, yet rarely call attention to that fact. The question is not, “does hypnosis work?” any more than “does long copy work?” The question is “how effective” is the copy, long or short, for the intended target market? And, how effective is the hypnotherapist, who is working with a unique, individual, human being (target market)?

    What is hypnosis. All communication is hypnosis, period. An effective copywriter puts the reader into a buying trance, offers hypnotic suggestions, uses embedded commands, paces and leads, etc.

    “Self-talk” is simply self-hypnosis, and for that matter, all hypnosis is self hypnosis, even when a hypnotherapist is seemingly doing all the work.

    When a hypnosis session fails to transform a smoker into a non-smoker, all we know is that the hypnotherapist could not do his or her job. It is not a commentary on hypnosis any more than a sales letter that fails is a commentary on the effectiveness of sales letters.

    Each and every sales letter or marketing piece is simply a reflection on the skill of the copywriter, as every hynosis session is a reflection on…the hypnotherapist.

    The skillfull use of language, and language patterns, requires just that…skill.

    I look forward to your future posts!


    Alan Allard

  • Debt Consolidation WebLog » Blog Archive » What helps? says:

    […] John Carlton’s Big Damn Blog » Blog Archive » Motivation Nothing that involved forced discipline or avoiding cold turkey worked very well. … Many people DO change without a health crisis or nervous breakdown. And they’re not lucky, either … […]

  • Hanif says:

    ..Great story John. You are so right about health crises being responsible for change. I’ve seen this countless times with heart attack patients, smokers, you name it.

    I think addiction is a major factor here…habits can be difficult to break..regardless of the habit.

    Thanks for sharing..


  • Excellent story for motivation.

  • Chris Byers says:

    Very impressed with your overview on this topic! Thanks for your advice!

  • Get active says:

    Thank for sharing this, I really enjoyed reading it 🙂

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