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Dec. 24th, 2007 @ 06:59 am oh sure, problem solved
A reader tips me to "Human nature is on the line":

...stickK.com , scheduled to launch in December 2007, will provide "commitment contracts" that let individuals set a goal, choose consequences for failing to comply, and decide how to verify their progress. With the options of choosing to lose money every time they fail and designating third-party verifiers to check their success, users will face powerful incentives to meet their goals.

Tyler says "It's not exaggerating to say that human nature is on the line here, and that if I am wrong this is probably the most important idea you will ever encounter."

Don't undersell it, buddy. But of course he's not wrong. Those of us who have spent our lives on that treadmill know that no consequences you set for yourself are ever sufficient to alter your motivational structure - in general they are only effective at making you feel worse.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad they're trying. But if they want it to REALLY work it has to function like Quitters, Inc. Oh shoot, someone else already said that in his comments. Hilariously, the second commenter cites a big check to the RNC as a negative incentive, which longtime readers will recall was how I tried to motivate myself for nanowrimo last year. Score: republicans 1000, paulp 0.
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From:krizazy
Date:December 24th, 2007 04:03 pm (UTC)
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If the amount were 7 figures, I'm pretty sure that you would have found a way to get the book done.

A problem is that the second you give yourself a big enough penalty for "failure," you're going to avoid doing other things that come along that are actually more important than whatever task you initially thought was worth forcing yourself to do.

I see this as more of a sure thing than running a casino. I didn't RTFA, but it seems that you could actually reward people for success (fairly largely) and still come out ahead.
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From:extempore
Date:December 24th, 2007 04:14 pm (UTC)
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If the amount were 7 figures, I'm pretty sure that you would have found a way to get the book done.

But I'd only commit 7 figures if I was going to write the book. It would not be the 7 figures making me do it - the 7 figures would merely be evidence that I'd actually made the commitment.
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From:krizazy
Date:December 24th, 2007 04:22 pm (UTC)
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Point taken. I'd think, though, that a random person could be easily persuaded into an agreement like that for more money than they actually have without being committed at all. I think that most people are less logical than you are.
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From:extempore
Date:December 24th, 2007 04:26 pm (UTC)
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I think that most people are less logical than you are.

Clearly I'll concede that one. Still, I think all people however illogical have an innate ability to make inferences about their true selves, even if only subconsciously. The reason this won't work is sort of like the reason people can't tickle themselves, or the answer to "Can God create a rock so heavy even he cannot lift it?"
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From:krizazy
Date:December 24th, 2007 04:39 pm (UTC)
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I'm trying to somehow codify the distinction between this concept and the obscene number of unused health club memberships, "quit smoking" plans, diet plans, treadmills, bikes, dresses for when people "lose weight," and so on.

I think the differences are only that that money is paid up front with no chance of getting it back. The only benefit for doing whatever it is that you're doing is self-improvement.

At the very least you got me thinking.
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From:jaxia
Date:December 24th, 2007 05:12 pm (UTC)
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You actually sent off the check?
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From:extempore
Date:December 24th, 2007 05:25 pm (UTC)
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I did - by way of my dad because I wasn't up for being on their donor list for the rest of my life. I have a nice thank-you letter from the RNC that I should scan for you all. If I wasn't going to send the check, I would have picked a much bigger number!
From:mosch2000
Date:December 25th, 2007 01:05 am (UTC)

Let me update the score:

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I did this against myself with a third party verifier. I lost.

I did a far more vicious and complicated multi-party version of this for extremely significant stakes. I won until after the end-game date. Then I lost.

As such, I made money, but still failed to achieve my goal.

That said, I'd be interested to see data on amount bet v. success rate for varying income groups, across large populations, if this thing ever takes off.
From:anna_paradox
Date:December 26th, 2007 03:34 pm (UTC)

About making changes

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I help people make changes for a living, so I've been investigating a lot of techniques for changing habits. A lot of money and attention is going into this subject. It doesn't look like there is one universal method that works for everyone. We have tactics more than strategies.

That said, I do think the state of the art in changing habits is improving. Here are some approaches that work for some.

Let's call the first one the 'calm the amygdala' approach. Right now, some consensus is emerging that the entire job of the amygdala is to look around, see if anything is different, and if it is, flood your body with anxiety chemicals to warn you about it. Which means, the minute you try to change, you feel bad. So, to calm the amygdala, you start the change process by visualizing the desired end state, to fool your brain -- which can't tell a visualized situation from reality -- one to three times daily for at least 30 days before taking any action toward the desired state.

The next approach is 'incrementalism'. Make the smallest possible change towards the desired state -- a change so small it's ridiculously easy. If you want to start exercising, pull the exercise clothes out the closet. Then put them back. Continue the small change four days in a row, then bump it up a little. And so on, every four days. See Martha Beck's The Four Day Win for lots of tactics focused on weight loss in this vein.

Then there are various 'mental ecology' approaches. Thoroughly investigate why you want to make the change, and how it will benefit you. Also investigate the benefits you are getting from not making the change. Release the attachment to what keeps you from making the change and increase the strength of the motivation to make it. Try Byron Katie's The Work or The Sedona Method to do the releasing, visualization and affirmation to increase motivation.

I've seen some people create change by considering it a matter of life and death. That's the ultimate penalty plan. Even that penalty doesn't always work. Many find it just as easy to un-convince themselves it's a matter of life and death as to convince themselves of it.

Then there's meditation. Start a daily meditation habit, and all change seems to become easier. Of course, you have to start that habit first, which could be a high threshold.

I think the tracking stickk.com creates might be more helpful than the penalty. If you have a relationship with someone who is watching your progress to a goal, that can create an ongoing pressure to reach the goal. There's a bit of a problem with the once-and-out model. It's normal to slip along the way to creating a new habit. Very often, successful change includes slips along the way, followed by longer and longer times between backsliding. If people who can change this way think of themselves as failures at the first slip, they never make it to the end, where they would be successful in making the change.

Anna