Entry 6 Rules and Consequences: A Recipe for Change

Consideration    Late for work


Chance to make an entrance

Opportunity to get recognition from your supervisor

Hone your skills at creative excuse making

Realize that others care

Possibility of getting a permanent vacation from your job

Chance to develop a greater appreciation for those who keep you waiting

It’s amazing how much change we have experienced since March 2020.  All kinds of new rules have been established by others for what they think is in our best interest.  What’s not new is the rule makers bickering over whose rules are the “best” rules.  While it is clear that others want to control us with their rules, rules actually are an effective method to help us achieve personal change.

Is there anything you would like to change?  The weather, politics, jobs, other people.  But is there anything that you want to change about you?  If there is, is it something that you think you should change or something that you want to change?  “Shoulds” usually lack commitment.  Wants on the other hand, are generally associated with an expected payoff.  Wants, or intentional change, require a plan.  It’s generally pretty easy to decide what we want and why we want it.  The challenge is to devise a structure that motivates us to achieve the objective.  An effective plan contains realistic steps to achieve the goal and a commitment to hold ourselves personally accountable.

Let me start with an illustration from my clinical background.  Many years ago I was approached by a young woman for counseling through her Employee Assistance Program.  She began working as an unskilled laborer in industrial shipping.  She quickly advanced to forklift operator and then dock manager.  She had tremendous work ethic and a “potty mouth” to match.  She could curse with the best of them which enabled her to fit in well with her rough and tumble co-workers.  Her success led to a promotion to sales representative.  While she was skilled at selling, her language was becoming her undoing.  She enjoyed selling and seemed to be good at it, however her spontaneous use of colorful language was alienating clients.  After a couple of visits we had this interchange.

Keith(K):  Are you willing to do whatever I recommend to change this situation?

Client(C):  That depends.  What is it?

K:  I’m not going to tell you unless you promise to do it.

C:  Tell me what it is and I will let you know.

K:  No.  No promise. No recommendation.

C:  Okay I promise.

K:  I don’t think you mean it.

C:  I said I promise!

K:  OK.  From now on whenever you are in a meeting and say one of those words I want you to drop to the floor in whatever you are wearing and do 20 sit-ups.

C:  You’re out of your mind!

K:  That’s beside the point.

She left and returned for our next appointment in an elated state.

C:  Keith, I did it!

K:  Did what?

C:  What you made me promise.  (I was just making and analogy.  I never thought she would actually do it)  Not long after our last session I was meeting with a new client that was big money.  I was on a roll and suddenly I dropped a couple of F-bombs.  I could see in the expressions on their faces that I was toast.  So I got, dropped to the floor and began doing sit-ups.  Their expressions turned to shock and finally one of them got up the courage to ask me what I was doing.  I told him, “taking control of my life.”  I explained that I was working to get control of my life and they gave me the contract.  Since then I have been in several meetings without using that language and I will never be that embarrassed again!

I’m delighted to report that my client took control over several areas of her life and became a successful business executive.

Let’s examine the elements that contributed to her success.  I introduced her to a concept referred to as a “written rule.”  Written has nothing to do with paper and pencil.  A written rule is a clear expectation directly associated with a logical consequence which often has a time line for achievement.  I made the rule that if you promise (expectation) I will give you the recommendation (consequence).  Once she made the promise I gave her a second rule.  Use the language (expectation), do the sit-ups (consequence).  You might wonder why I chose sit-ups.  Consequences are intended to be motivators.  Most people don’t like doing sit-ups even though it would be good for us if we did them.  The sit-up served as a physical reminder of the interpersonal consequences she was experiencing by swearing.  The key to change was her ownership of a consequence and not the severity of the consequence.  You may recall from the illustration that she said the “I made her promise.”  I can’t make anyone do anything.  She chose to comply with the rule.  She also chose to hold herself accountable and implement the consequences which ultimately led to her altering her language use.  More significantly she discovered that she had much more capability to influence her decision making than she had realized.

Effective personal change is accomplished when we set realistic, reachable objectives, include consequences for either meeting or failing to meet the objective and consistently hold ourselves accountable for the choices we make.


Select something about your behavior that you would like to change.  Start with something small.  The goal here is to experience the process. 

Set an expectation for change.

Determine a consequence for your actions.  You can pick a reward or a discipline depending on which motives you more.

Put your plan into action and consistently hold yourself personally accountable for your behavior.  This means no letting yourself off the hook.


An individual is routinely late for work and has been warned if this behavior continues they will lose their job.  They set an expectation that they will arrive 10 minutes before their scheduled start time for the next 10 working days. Their consequence is that for every minute they are late to meet their goal of 10 minutes early they will donate $10.00 to the local food bank.  On any day they are late they agree to immediately send the money to the food bank.

Example analysis

1.  Why set the expectation for 10 minutes early?  Dysfunctional behavior can be hard to change initially.  Aiming for 10 minutes early reduces the risk of losing the job from a slip up.

2.  Why $10.00 per minute?  A financial consequence emphasizes the reality that being late for work will result in serious loss of income and real financial concerns.

3.  Why a foodbank?  Loss of income can have far reaching consequences for daily living, which can be a heavy price to pay from tolerating dysfunctional behavior that we have the ability to control.

4.  Why immediate payment.  Personal accountability means recognizing that a choice was made and we need to take ownership for allowing ourselves to mess up.

The two primary obstacle to achieving a personal change plan are unrealistic expectations and failure to hold ourselves accountable. 

Ideal or extreme expectations sound admirable however they often result in disappointment.  My recommendation is to aim low and overachieve.  If you want to lose weight aim for 5 pounds rather than 50.  Once you hit 5 you have accomplished your goal.  Want to lose more, go for another 5.  If you decide to go all the way to 50 then you will have succeeded 10 times.  Achieving reachable goals demonstrates to us how much control we actually have over our decision making.

Set consequences you are willing to implement and refuse to let yourself down by failing to apply them.  One of my least favorite common expressions is “Why should I care.  The only person I’m hurting is myself.”  Why would anyone tolerate self-induced negativity?  Choose to be self-responsible which does not include self-abuse.

Keith Neuber                                     www.ikan2.com                                               keith@ikan2.com


  1. Martha Morse on July 27, 2020 at 9:02 am

    Thanks Keith! I love your examples. Any ideas on a good consequence for procrastination?

    • Keith Neuber on July 27, 2020 at 9:59 am

      Thanks for the comment. Since procrastination usually has an unperceived cost try a financial motivator. Set an amount for procrastinating on something and then set a time limit. Pick a recipient for your procrastination fund. If you pass the time limit pay the price. Want to amp it up. Increase the amount exponentially for the longer you delay. Remember it only becomes a motivator if you follow through. Let me know how it works out

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