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The Air Force as Commitment Device

The “electric eel” obstacle in training: the yellow wires contained electricity and would shock the person when they touched it. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class David Owsianka).

A podcast listener named Amber writes in to say:

I recently listened to your podcast on commitment devices, which finally gave a name to something that I recently had been contemplating and finally contracted myself to.

There is a lot of background to this story that neither would interest you nor better illuminate the value of my commitment device, so I shall skip that and instead tell you that I recently enlisted in the U.S. Air Force with the hope that the training and experience will not only make me into a better person for the benefit of my country and my state, but that it would replace some of my bad habits with more honorable ones.

The ideal outcome of this device is that, by the end of basic training, I would be a more compassionate leader, a more resilient individual, and a more capable collaborator. There is something tremendously beautiful about surrendering to such an extreme situation as basic training.

I hope that at end of my experience I will be able to say that the device triggered the kind of change I desired in my life. Levitt made a great point about commitment devices being a farce. To paraphrase, humans are very resistant to change, even change that is meant for their own well-being. I appreciate that comment because it illuminates the sad state of American ingenuity.

There was a time when I was satisfied being who I was and was unwilling to submit to the pain of transformation. When the momentum began to shift, and I was inspired to change, I wanted to commit to permanent change. I believe that a commitment device acts as an energy source when our momentum begins to decrease.

I have many thoughts on the value and potential of the U.S. Air Force to act as a commitment device in my life. I would continue, but you are both busy men and I don’t want to steal any more of your time.

Amber will report to basic training in April and attending tech school at Wright-Patterson AFB for public health. Good luck to her! As the proud brother of a former Air Force pilot, I can very much attest to the life-changing discipline he gained during his service.