Commitment devices (How the Twilight series kept my dishes washed)
Have you ever tried starting a healthy new habit? It’s tough. Ever tried quitting something? That’s even tougher. I would guess that most people have habit that they want to acquire, or shed.
One of the best ways to change habits is through the use of a commitment device.
A commitment device is a way of forcing yourself to behave in the future, the way that you want yourself to behave now. For example, my brother and one of his friends set up a commitment device to help them learn more about art and composition. They had a certain course that they were going through, and they would meet once a week for breakfast and discuss their progress. If one of them hadn’t watched the videos that week, he paid for breakfast.
Now commitment devices come in all shapes and sizes. some are more painful than other, but it seems to be a rule that the more painful and costly the consequence, the more effective the commitment device.
In one YouTube series entitled “the cold turkey diaries”, a guy named Adam set himself a goal of eliminating 42 different bad habits in one month, and his commitment device was a check for $750, made out to Oprah, in the hand of a friend who would act as referee, sending the money to Oprah if Adam fudged on his commitments. Adam hated Oprah, and $750 was enough money to be painful, so it was an effective commitment device – although it might not have been as effective if Adam didn’t have his wife help him keep his commitments, because cheating and getting around commitment devices is pretty common.
Now I’d like to tell you how the Twilight series kept my dishes clean.
About a year ago, my wife and I had finally come to the conclusion that we had a problem. Neither of us liked doing dishes, and we postponed the onerous task for as long as possible. We would put if off until we got to the point of digging through piles of dirty dishes to find a fork to wash off for supper.
We had resolved in the past to get better at washing dishes, but (predictably) those resolutions only lasted a few days.
We needed a commitment device, and we knew it.
So we started brainstorming: what would be painful and costly enough to make us do the hard work of keeping the dishes clean? We tossed around a few ideas, but none of them seemed quite bad enough to make us squirm.
Suddenly we happened upon the answer: Twilight.
We had never seen Twilight, but we hated it with a burning passion, and we ridiculed it constantly. We pointed out that it was a creepy story about a older man (Edward) preying on a Teenager, and we mocked the people who found sparkly vampires engrossing. It was our favorite book/movie to hate.
(Aside: If you truly love Twilight, we’ll have to agree to disagree)
We decided that the consequence was perfect: if we didn’t have all of the dishes clean every night for a month, we would have to buy (not just rent – buying would make it more painful) and watch Twilight.
It was brilliant. We reminded each other, we worked together, we had never performed any task with more commitment as fervor than we washed dishes that month. If we had been invited to go on a free year-long tour of the finest places in Europe, we would have testily replied that no, we couldn’t go – for who would do the dishes while we were gone?
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Setting up consequences:
1. Make it painful
2. Make it expensive
3. Make it time-consuming
4. Have a referee who will hold you to your word
5. Do it for 30 days
Habit change is so much easier if you do it right.