Sunday, November 21, 2010


A couple weeks ago (5 weeks to be exact) I was reading this post from the Freakonomics blog. I'm fascinated by the idea of what motivates people, for myself, for my students, and just for my interactions with other people. The post discusses "commitment contracts," which I make in my mind all the time: cooking dinner more often, going to bed at a reasonable hour, eating healthier, not checking work email after a certain time and all those other things that I know will make my life better. But of course, I'm not great at following through on any of it. It's easier to pick up takeout, stay up a little later, have a bowl of ice cream, and double-check that no school emergency has come up since I last looked. When it comes to things that impact only me, I need more motivation., a website set up by researchers from the Yale School of Management, turned out to be exactly what I needed. The way it works is that you set up a commitment contract with yourself about anything. I chose going to the gym at least four times a week and decided I'd start out with a 5-week commitment. They send you an email every week asking whether you met your commitment and keep track of how you're doing. For me, just putting it in writing is not enough, so StickK adds another dimension. I gave them my credit card number and if I didn't make it to the gym four times in a given week, would charge me $25 (you set your own price point; I started on the lower end in case this experiment completely failed).

Just to raise the stakes a little bit more, StickK gives you the option of where your money goes. It can be to another person of your choice, but I felt like most of my friends would feel uncomfortable enough with the arrangement that they'd either decline to participate or would spend the money on us doing something fun together. Another option is to give your money to charity, but I'd feel okay if I skipped out on the gym and the United Way got $25. So StickK has a third option: the anti-charity. I set up my contract so that if I didn't meet my commitment, not only would I lose $25, it would go to the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy. You can probably guess by the name that this organization defines marriage under very specific, very exclusionary terms. Not exactly a cause I want to support. (There are anti-charities for all sorts of beliefs; I love that the list of options includes a bunch of different British football clubs.)

I'm amazed at how well this commitment contract worked for me, and I'm proud to say that for the past five weeks I've gone to the gym at least four times a week. The money and the anti-charity have unquestionably been the major motivating factor. There were multiple days when I dragged myself off the couch or forced myself to stop on the way home from school because I was so horrified at the thought of donating to an anti-gay marriage organization. This is a very busy, very difficult time of year and I know there are a number of days when I would have skipped out if this threat weren't looming over my head.

Now this post just sounds like an advertisement for and maybe it is. Seriously, I can't wait to try out some other commitments to see what I can do when I force myself into it.

PS - A fun thing to do is check out the homepage where they show a list of commitments that other people are making. There are a lot of the usual like save money, lose weight, eat healthy, etc., but there are also some amazing ones: "make $1 million by a certain age," "be more awesome," and "be nice to my girlfriend." I am so fascinated by other people.

1 comment:

Roni said...

Thanks for posting this, Geetha! I've been meaning to get back into music but have found it really hard to start over again: I stopped playing when I was fairly proficient and it's hard to pick up an instrument and stink at it when you used to sound ok.

I'me going to give it a try on your recommendation. Thanks for the heads up!