More Commitment Devices From Our Readers

Our recent podcast about commitment devices, called “Save Me From Myself,” continues to elicit responses from readers sharing their own experience. The other day, Amber told us about joining the Air Force as a commitment device.

Here’s another pair of stories. The first is from Philip Veysey, who lives in Madrid. He is looking for some advice:

Hi guys,
I listened with interest to your podcast about commitment devices and I thought I would share my own which I devised as a way to curb my unnecessary clothes shopping.  I found that I was buying simply more clothing that I needed and although this wasn’t causing me any major problems, I realized that it was really wasteful and I decided to think of incentives to make me stop.
At first I thought of a fine system, possibly based on the price of the item: if I spent 20 Euros on another T-shirt I would put the same amount into a fund for my new nephew for his education or something worthwhile. But then I quickly realised that this might prove to be a justification for buying stuff I don’t need, in a similar way that the tax levied on cigarettes might create an incentive for governments to keep people smoking.

So I thought of the reverse: I should put say 5 Euros aside a week for my nephew’s education anyway and if I broke my commitment to not buy unnecessary clothing I would retain the weekly amount for myself, the incentive being that I would create an additional sense of guilt when making the purchase.  The paradox being a reward for failure.
You may not be surprised that I haven’t put this into place yet… the season changed and I needed winter clothing,  but I was wondering if there were any other examples of this kind of scheme?  Perhaps when I devised it, my innate British sense of guilt overpowered my reason. 

The second is from Matt Bachmann:

I just listened to your podcast on commitment devices and I thought I would share mine with you. I have been fat all my life and have tried various methods to lose weight. One day I decided enough was enough so I went and made a website and announced it to all my friends and family over Facebook and Google+. It tracks all sorts of data like my weight, my exercise, my food intake, etc. The idea being that the long-term problems of being overweight become short-term problems of my friends and family knowing right away what I am doing.

I am trying to make this as public as possible! That way, if I quit I will lose face with a lot of people. If I stick with it, I continue with this plan. I get tons of support though comments and emails from people who see it or read the blog I write along with it.

It is not just a commitment device. It works to support me as well. It is a stick and a carrot. So far it has been working as I have almost lost 60 pounds!

Thanks for the podcast. It is a great listen!

It looks like Matt has by now lost 71 pounds, from 444 down to 373. Congratulations! I particularly like the “travel radius” he created — a great visual representation of exercise over time:

It is really interesting, and heartening, to get this kind of feedback. Please keep it coming!

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  1. Logan says:

    That second commitment device seems based on a similar and somewhat famous diet from Drew Magary:

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  2. Carll Franklin says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  3. JBP says:


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  4. James says:

    Excuse me, but 20 Euros for a t-shirt? Some of us still have drawers full of them, garnered free from past trade shows &c. Most have long outlasted the companies they advertised, too.

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  5. Casey says:

    I run a medical education blog. When I am feeling lazy and have not posted anything good for a few days I put up a teaser for my readers stating that I will post on topic x in a day or two.
    Voom! I am committed. If I don’t do the work then I look silly in front of my audience.
    Dubner – you ought to try this!

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  6. Marius says:

    I decided to stop smoking around new years, and decided that I would motivate myself by going public with a promise to donate NOK1000,- ($200) to a horrible little communist organization called Tjen Folket (Serve The People) if I failed. Two and a half months later, I haven’t even touched a cigarette.

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  7. Tony says:

    I have been trying to get into the habit of flossing for years. It ebbs and flows, but I haven’t been consistent. I’ve also been trying to limit the amount of meat that I eat over the last few years. I never cook meat, which itself reduces my meat consumption. But as a result, I order meat every time I go out. So last October I came up with a plan. I would floss before bed on any day that I consumed meat. I ended up flossing so often that I came to realize just how much meat I was really consuming. After the New Year, I decided to never order meat, and only eat it when offered as a guest. However, this means that I now only floss 2-3 times a month. Did it backfire?

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  8. Josh says:

    I am a college student. After one semester of bad grades, a professor offered me a bet. The bet was that I would receive better than a certain GPA for this coming semester. If I win the bet, he buys me dinner. If I lose, I buy him dinner and he can buy a 1 page ad in either the school or city newspaper mocking me for losing the bet.

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