They call it child psychology - that thing where you tell a kid they can't do something in order to get them to do it. The funny thing is, the same tactics work on grown people. Myself, for example.
If anyone had suggested a year ago that I go outside to witness sunrise every day for a year, I'd have laughed. Good luck trying to get me out for ONE sunrise, I might have said. But something changed when I was faced with an injury and the diagnosis "unstable core," when they told me NO carrying heavy objects, NO tennis, NO strenuous activity. On top of that, there was the voice in my own head saying NO - you're never really going to finish that book. NO - you don't write every day, and you probably won't, so forget it.
Something woke up inside me. I didn't like being told no.
So here I am, going to exercise classes, stretching every morning, walking out to see sunrise when it's 2 degrees outside, and so far in 2010, writing every day.
A similar thing happened to me at age 18. Three days before leaving for my freshman year of college I fell water-skiing and tore ligaments in my knee. I had been lukewarm about playing college sports, though I was expected on the field hockey team. But when I was suddenly faced with NO to sports, I became a rabid athlete - physical therapy several times a week, swimming, weight training. I got into better shape than I had ever been in before.
Perhaps I am childish. I believe, though, that the stubborn inclination not to give in to outside controls is a strength. Is it especially American? We who won't be pushed around, who want the freedom to do and make of ourselves whatever we choose? I'm not sure, but my guess is that it is a rather universal human trait, for humans with enough confidence, hope, and opportunity to cultivate their egos. So -- never mind the children. If you really want to get yourself to do something, just say no. Then see what happens.