Save Me From Myself: A Freakonomics Radio Rebroadcast

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(Photo: davidd)

This week’s podcast is a rebroadcast of one of our favorites, “Save Me From Myself.” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) It’s about commitment devices — that is, clever ways to trick yourself, or trap yourself, into doing something that you want to do but for whatever reason (lack of willpower, maybe?) aren’t able to. Happy New Year from all of us at Freakonomics Radio!


Jack Waddingon

I was never one for making New Year resolutions ... as I was arrogant and conceited enough to believe I was OK just the way I was.

That often did not comport with what others thought of me and thought I should do a bit of tweaking and they had the nerve to tell me so ... but it didn't make a scrap of difference to me once outside the orbit of my parents at age 18.

It was always those others that assumed an authority over me like police men and military commanders that I needed to swerve around. Not always succeeding with the former. Now approaching the end of life I feel the need to swerve around the medical profession who reckon they know my body better than me even though I lived with mine for over 8 decades ... whatever.



I wanted to thumb up this:

"I was never one for making New Year resolutions … as I was arrogant and conceited enough to believe I was OK just the way I was."

But I can't if it also means thumbing up this:

"Now approaching the end of life I feel the need to swerve around the medical profession who reckon they know my body better than me even though I lived with mine for over 8 decades … whatever."


The diet promoted by this site i just found is a hilarious use of a commitment device along the lines of those discussed in the podcast:


So great. Good technique!


Hoped that there would be a recommended course of action regarding commitment devices. I wasted half an hour on this for nothing.


Fantastic piece. I realized partway through that my past self had utilized an enormous commitment device to trick my future self into a life of stability. I bought a whole house. I had realized that if I didn't force myself into growing roots, I was likely to grab my children and head to greener pastures within a few years. Unfortunately, I purchased my attractive brick device in '09, so it was even more effective than my past self had anticipated...

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I think the example with the casino is flawed, because of the backwards legislation.
A gambling addict who signs the contract not to gamble again, shouldn't be responsible to enforce the contract. Of course he will try to gamble, because he is an addict, the reason he wanted the casino ban in the first place. In Europe it's more common to hold the casino responsible for making sure that gamblers who signed up for a casino ban are kept out. If they do get in, the casino risks very big fines.
If you fine the gambler, it's just a very exploitative system. The casino actually profits more by letting gamblers with a self imposed casino ban slip in, because they'll get arrested when they win big..

Andy Frost

I know this was a rebroadcast, but I kept thinking as I listened, "they're going to mention the sequester, they've GOT to mention the sequester." Don't you think the sequester has to be the highest (financial) stakes commitment device we've seen to date? Seems like a great chance to revisit the topic and analyze how the whole thing went down - the way the future-self congress found a way to convince themselves and then try to convince us that the sequester cuts really weren't as bad as the past-self congress envisioned when they created them. Fascinating stuff!

Andrew Wallace

In terms of the effectiveness of the commitment device in the domestic abuse example, the conclusions being drawn assume that the person reporting the abuse is in fact the victim... I have read articles about people going to jail after their ATTACKER calls the cops.

Will Jung

Anybody knows the version of music, 'Auld lang syne' in the very first time? I tried to find it but I couldn't. Please tell me if you know. Thank you in advance!!

Jon Novak

The Domestic Abuse portion of this broadcast seems to make a number of bad implicit assumptions.
-Women NEVER lie about being the victims of domestic abuse.
-ONLY women (and perhaps children) can be the victims of domestic abuse.
-Women who ARE the victims of domestic abuse have little option but to murder their mates if they are not arrested, and they are essentially justified in doing so.
At no point does anyone in the broadcast even hint that any of the above implications could be false. For a full picture of the domestic abuse problem read anything by Erin Pizzey.


I much enjoyed this podcast, however was I the only one that noticed that one of the researchers said something like "we tried to make this result go away". I think it was in relation to the examination of the effects of abuse laws in the United States.

That seems to indicate a fatal flaw in the study, ie. bias.

It seems from the comments, and the lack of comment from the interviewer that this was missed.

Martin Bergstrom

I wanted to share a similar collegiate commitment device to Steve Levitt's. Going into my Senior Spring at a small liberal arts school, I knew motivation was going to be difficult. I had already completed my thesis and major requirements in Economics, and really just needed to take filler classes to fulfill my minor in Political Science (even 100 level classes would do). I figured that if I signed up for the most challenging, interesting classes I could find though, it would give me an extra kick in the rear to finish the year strong.

Nope, same level of motivation as all my fellow seniors but much more difficult classes and enough B's to knock my previously stellar GPA down a few notches. I'm just hoping graduate schools are sympathetic to this and at least recognize my want to take interesting, challenging classes inspire of all that lovely Spring sunshine.