Put a contract out on yourself

It will be interesting to track the success (or lack thereof) of this idea: stickK.com:

On stickK, you draw up an official commitment contract that binds you to achieving a personal goal, be it big or small. By agreeing to this contract, you publicly state your goal and commit to achieving it. Or, if grand public pronouncements aren’t your style, you can tell only people you select. Either way, you’ve committed to a goal and people know about it – so now it’s your reputation at stake!

To make you accountable as you work toward your goal, you file weekly reports on your success. (And don’t even think about lying — because you appoint someone you know as a “referee” to verify the accuracy of your reporting!) You also enlist as many Supporters as you’d like to encourage you, via the website, every step of the way.

If humans functioned as rational economic agents, it should be a roaring success, and lead many of us to find the motivation required to finish those Ph.D’s, stop smoking, eat less spam, or whatever. But as Herbert Simon (and common sense) tell us, while we’re certainly economic agents, we’re also very infrequently rational – often through little fault of our own. StickK provides an interesting thought-experiment, though, in that the first impulse that comes to mind (in my case, at least) is that – if I wanted to – I could quit smoking. But we’re often willing to leave that commitment in the hypothetical realm, and StickK offers a cheap, yet still incentivising, way to put your money where your mouth is. The key economic question that remains, however, is whether self-deception has a larger payoff than achieving one’s goals. For many of us, self-deception is so ingrained that we see little or no alternative to keep taking that payoff, no matter if it’s less than alternate rewards available. So again, we’re left with the essential prerequisite of escaping the circularity of our definitions of self. And this, fellow humans, requires a significant infusion of courage, as well as friends who are willing to tell you the truth.

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.