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Commitment and Achievement

Fall, 2018
Tuesday and Thursday 4:20-7:00

Professor: Megan Burke

Email: Cell Phone: 301-593-5060
Office hours: After class or by appointment


Throughout this 12-week course, students will learn the basis and psychology of habit
forming and commitment and be able to apply this knowledge to their own lives.
Students will be able to set achievable goals for themselves and remain motivated enough
to stick to these goals. They will learn methods of honoring commitments that will alter
their lifestyles and prepare them for success. Mastery of discomfort is key to this course,
and students will be put through activities both in class and out in order to become
comfortable with bodily and mental discomfort. This, in turn, will allow them to get over
a major obstacle that prevents many from following through on their commitments.

Commitment is a skill central to your entire life. Not only your schoolwork and your
careers need commitment, but every personal relationship you have, your sports,
everything that you do in your life will require some level of commitment. Despite its
importance, commitment seems to be a skill that few have mastered. The “New Year’s
Resolution” effect, when resolutions are inevitably abandoned the second week of
January, occurs because many lack the commitment necessary to keep working on their
goals past the surge of motivation on the first few days.

Overarching Course Questions

● What is the importance of habit to commitment?
● How does a decision to change a habit become an automatic behavior?
● How do I set achievable and realistic goals?
● How do I remain motivated?
● How do I become used to discomfort?
● How can I look past discomfort to focus on my true goals?


Students must be prepared to interact with their peers and with the instructor in a variety
of different ways. Not only will class discussions be frequent, but activities and exercises
will also occur in class. Many of these exercises will be unusual and may involve doing
things far out of the realm of what students are comfortable with. Be prepared to share
personal information in class discussions. Participation points will be awarded for
participation in class discussions and activities.

● The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
● The Beauty of Discomfort: How What We Avoid is What We Need by Amanda Lang
● Notebook to log activity


Introduction (1 week)
A. Introductory Activity: Study Circles
a. Take a Seat, Make a Friend: Students will find partners who they do not
know and discuss each question with them in depth. Try to make your
answers as personal as possible. After speaking with your partner, we will
share in a larger group.
i. Who is someone who inspires you? Why?
ii. What do you think is your greatest flaw?
iii. What are you hoping to gain from this course?
b. Discussion
i. What is the purpose of this course?
ii. What is important about commitment?
iii. What is the secret to commitment?
iv. Why is discomfort so difficult to master?
v. What has been the point of this Study Circle?
(Participation points will be given for both activities.)
B. Course Pre-test
C. Introductory Lecture
a. Questions to think about:
vi. What bad habits would you like to drop?
vii. What habits would you like to form?
viii. Why have you not made this change yet?
ix. Why do people have such a hard time making positive lifestyle
changes and sticking to them?

Unit One: Habits (4 weeks)

A. Overarching Questions
a. How do goals become habits?
b. How does one break bad habits?
c. How do habits form?
d. How does the changing of habits change brain activity?
B. Read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
a. Questions from reading: What did you not understand or want to know
more about?
b. Weekly quiz (10 points)
C. First Log: Habit
Students will log something they do everyday. This logging of something that has
become unconscious for them will force them to regain consciousness of this
action and works as an introduction into doing the reverse: converting a conscious
decision into an unconscious action.
D. Class Discussion: Part One of The Power of Habit
a. Discussion over Part One: The Habits of Individuals
b. Explore how to build and change habits on a personal level
c. Can a habit ever truly be broken?
d. Why do smokers and alcoholics have such a hard time quitting?
e. How does the connection between addiction and habits apply to
technological addiction today?
E. Research Presentation: Overcoming Addiction
Students, in groups, will choose an aspect of addiction and conduct preliminary
research in order to prepare a pitch that will be given in front of the class. If their
idea is approved, students will research this topic over a three-week period in
order to create a presentation on the most effective way to overcome this
addiction. These presentations must connect main concepts and habit forming
strategies learned in Part One of The Power of Habit, as well as using other
sources. Presentations must include background information on the specific aspect
of addiction, plans to overcome this addiction, and courses of action in the case of
a relapse. (50 points)
F. Lecture: Organizational Habits and the Power of Groupthink
a. How does groupthink make the habits of groups similar to those of
b. What are the differences?
c. What are some challenges of implementing habits among groups?
G. Class Discussion: The Ethics of Habit Monitoring in Business
This discussion’s purpose is to become aware of how companies monitor
the habits of individuals to predict their wants and, ultimately, profit from this
a. How are habits indicative of a person’s material wants?
b. How can this be manipulated by corporations?
c. Is this a form of surveillance?
d. Is it ethical to place unknowing customers under a form of surveillance?
e. When are these predictive measures wrong?
H. Second Log: Technology Use
Over a week period, students will log their technology use each day. This includes
cell phone, social media, computer, and television usage. Students must not only
log how much time was spent using technology each day, but also what activities
they used technology for most. After the two week period ends, we will have a
class discussion in which students will share their logs and their reactions to this
assignment.This is the starting point for another log we will be conducting in the
Discomfort unit. (20 points)
I. Final Discussion of the Unit
This discussion will be centered around the book The Power of Habit as a whole.
Students will share their takes from the text and how the ideas from the book can
be applied to school, personal life, and business practices.

Unit Two: Goal Setting (2 weeks)

A. Introductory Activity: Sticky Notes
The first class of the Goal Setting unit will be started with a sticky note activity.
Students will write their greatest life goal on a sticky note, anonymously, and
place it on the wall. I will collect the sticky notes and read them out loud. I will
choose a sticky note at random and ask the person who it belongs to to stand and
reveal what they are doing to work toward their goal. This activity will lead into
our lecture on SMART goals and how they can help a person achieve a larger
B. Class Discussion: Why?
a. Why do people set goals?
b. Should people set large, lifetime goals, or more short term goals?
i. Which is more effective?
ii. Which is more motivational?
c. Who has experience setting goals?
C. Lecture: SMART Goals
a. Specific
b. Measurable
c. Attainable
d. Relevant
e. Time-Bound
D. Lecture: Relevancy
Relevancy is arguably the most important of the SMART guidelines. Much of the
controversy surrounding SMART goals is based in the belief that creating
SMART goals is so methodical that it makes goal setting pointless. Criticizers of
SMART goal setting want people to be more imaginative with their goal setting.
Goals should reflect a person’s real desires, and so relevancy comes into play. If
your SMART goals are not relevant to your larger motivator, your goals are
largely pointless.
E. Article: Goal Setting: A Scientific Guide to Setting and Achieving Goals by
James Clear
Students will read this article for homework and come back to class ready to
discuss in small groups and apply these concepts to their later goal setting.
F. Activity: SMART Goal Recording
Students will record SMART goals relevant to their dream they posted on the wall
in the beginning of the unit. Take into account guidelines read in the article by
James Clear and other things you have learned in the class to set effective goals.
G. Weekly Video Log: SMART Goal Update
From when this log is assigned until the end of the course, students will film
themselves for at least a minute each week with updates on how they are working
toward their SMART goal. This is to hold students accountable for their own
goals. This assignment will be modified and added to in the Motivation unit. (40

Unit Three: Motivation (2 weeks)

A. Introductory Class Discussion
a. What drives people to work toward their goals?
b. Why is it so hard for some people to work toward their goals?
c. Why is motivation so difficult to maintain?
d. Why do people who lose a significant amount of weight have a much
harder time maintaining their healthy weight after their weight loss?
B. Lecture: The Phenomenon of the New Year’s Resolution
Many people, when the clock hits midnight on New Year’s Eve, already have
goals set to improve themselves in the new year. Some may even set SMART
goals. No matter how they are set, the inevitability of New Year’s Resolutions is
that they will be abandoned in a week or two. This is what some, and we, will call
the New Year’s Resolution Phenomenon. The question is, why is the
abandonment of New Year’s Resolutions so set as a trend in society? Why can’t
people stick to their resolutions for longer than a couple of weeks? What do they
lack? The answer is that motivation, the primary driving factor of most to achieve
their goals, begins to fade after a few weeks, and people stop caring about their
goals they were previously so vehement about following.
C. Update to Weekly Video Log
From this point in the course forward, students will be required to include
motivation status in their SMART goal video logs. This could be an update stating
how the student is staying motivated, or if they are not feeling motivated at all and
their plan of action to try to ramp up their motivation once again.

Unit Four: Discomfort (3 weeks)

A. TED Talk: Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
Watch Luvvie Ajayi’s TED Talk on discomfort. We will have a class discussion
after watching.
Questions to think about:
a. Why did Ajayi seek out the things that scared her?
b. How do you become comfortable with the uncomfortable?
i. What is the first step?
c. How does this help anything?
B. Lecture: Discomfort is not an Obstacle
The common perception is that discomfort is an obstacle to achievement, that if
people can just get over the inevitable discomfort they will be rewarded with
endless success. This is entirely untrue. For one, you can never “get over”
discomfort. Discomfort does not end, it continues, no matter how many goals you
have achieved with its assistance. And that is truly what discomfort does. It acts
as a guide for achievement. Follow the discomfort, and you will find success, if
you are willing to endure. In order to achieve the goals you have set for yourself,
both in this course and outside of it, you need to make discomfort your friend.
Train yourself to love pain, and nothing will be out of the realm of possibility for
C. The Beauty of Discomfort: How What We Avoid is What We Need
As a class, we will be reading Amanda Lang’s The Beauty of Discomfort. This
book explores the same topics as we have been discussing in class. It explores
how success is reached through discomfort and why humans naturally avoid it.
There will be a weekly quiz on the reading. (10 points)
D. Video: Facing Your Fears--Will Smith
In this video, Will Smith again details the rewards of embracing fear.
Questions to think about:
a. Why is fear useful?
i. Evolutionarily?
ii. In success?
b. How can one overcome fear?
E. Class Discussion: How to overcome discomfort
Students will use all of the information taught so far in class, as well as that they
have read from The Beauty of Discomfort to engage in a class discussion
regarding the best strategies and applications of facing discomfort.
Questions to think about:
a. How can this applied in day to day life?
b. How can this be applied to mental health issues such as anxiety?
c. How might people with anxiety benefit from this, and how might
this be more difficult for someone with anxiety?
d. How can the concept of mastering discomfort be applied to our
earlier conversations regarding addiction?
F. Discomfort Activity One: Singing
In class, we will be doing a series of “Discomfort Activities.” Generally, these
will be activities to be done in front of the class that are designed to be awkward
and uncomfortable. Points will be awarded for completion of the activity.
For the first activity, students will be asked to sing for 20 seconds any song that
comes to their mind, in front of the class. They will be asked to come up to the
front of the room and sing. This might be awkward, but remember, discomfort is
your friend!
G. Discomfort Activity Two: Impromptu Speeches
For this second Discomfort Activity, students will come to the front of the room
and give a 5 minute speech, without preparation, on any topic they choose. The
idea is to take away the safety net of preparation that many students rely on while
public speaking. The only rules are that students must stay on topic, and must
speak for the entire 5 minutes.
H. Discomfort Activity Three: Standing Olympics
Designed to test physical discomfort, the Standing Olympics will consist of
students being required to stand for an hour and a half, in place. Each person to sit
down will be eliminated, and the last person standing (quite literally) will be
awarded 15 extra points. This activity will not only test ability to endure physical
discomfort, but it will also provide motivation, which will be a large reason for
enduring discomfort when applied to real life.
I. Video Assignment: Public Singing
This video assignment extends Discomfort Activity One to beyond the classroom.
Students will ask someone to record video of them as they lie down on the floor
of a store or a restaurant and sing for at least 20 seconds. There will be no
explaining of your assignment to others in the store or restaurant, and students
must stay in the establishment for at least 5 minutes after the video is recorded
(assuming you are not kicked out). (20 points)
J. The Beauty of Discomfort Essay
Students will make use of the basic concepts they learned in The Beauty of
Discomfort, as well as using other sources, to write an essay on the applications of
discomfort endurance in business, school, sports, or another activity. (50 points)
K. Discomfort Log: Digital Downtime
For the final discomfort activity, we will focus on discomfort over a period of
time. The logs students created on technology use in the Habits unit will come
into play now. Students will create a contract regarding their own technology use
for a week. The goal is to use very little technology, but use for academic
purposes may be included in your contracts. For each day, students will write a
short journal entry (no more than one paragraph) reflecting on their life without
technology. (20 points)
Questions to think about:
a. How was this type of discomfort different from that experienced in
the in-class activities?
b. Was this easier or more difficult to endure?
c. Did it get easier as the week progressed?
d. How does this relate to our discussions about addiction?
L. Final Goal Reflection Journal Entry
For this assignment, students will return to their original SMART goal that they
have been logging the progress of and reflect on their progress and their
commitment to a singular goal. (15 points)
M. Class Discussion: Course Reflection
For our final class discussion, we will reflect on the course itself. REMEMBER:
we have been spending an entire unit learning how to endure discomfort, and this
includes being honest. Share your opinion, no matter how controversial you think
it might be.
a. Did you find this course to be helpful?
b. What was the most difficult part of this course?
c. What unit was your favorite?
d. Do you think this course is important for people to take?
e. How will you use the concepts you learned in the future?