Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Commitment Devices -or- Lashing Yourself to the Mast

For those of you who survived reading the Odyssey, you may remember the part where his crew had to pass by the Sirens, whose voices would lure sailors to their watery doom.  To get by safely, Odysseus (Odie to his friends) gave his crew noise-cancelling headphones, or maybe wax earplugs, so they couldn't hear anything.  However, he wanted to hear them and survive to tell the tale, so he had the crew tie him to the mast of the ship and refuse to release him no matter how hard he tried to convince them.

Odie knew his will power would not be enough to stop him from giving into the temptation of the Sirens.  So, he created a scenario where he *couldn't* give in - even when he wanted to.  I've been calling this approach "lashing to the mast" in his honor (Google tells me 277,000 other people had the same idea...).  The principle is simple:  if you know something is going to tempt you, set your world up in a way that makes it impossible (or at least difficult) to give in.

"Commitment devices" is a general term for this kind of approach.  It can take may forms, but one of the more popular is an accountability agreement.  If you don't follow through on your commitment, you face a penalty/ridicule/look of disappointment from your partner.  This is the reasoning behind the advice to have a partner to work out with, so they provide that accountability.

Another fitness approach is the clearing out of the fridge.  The new dieter will go through their kitchen and get rid of everything that isn't in line with the new eating plan.  Of course, they can just go back and re-buy it, but the added hassle makes it a little easier to resist the temptation.

Another temptation, and one I have trouble with myself, is surfing sites when I should be working. (I've lost hours on Wiki-fueled explorations)  To address this, I use an extension for Chrome called StayFocusd.  The premise is simple:  I have so much time per working day (15 minutes) on those sites and then it will block access with a friendly "shouldn't you be working" message.  You can configure the sites to block, allowed sites, time of day/day of week it's active etc.  Because it's a Chrome extension, I can easily use another browser to bypass it, but I find that that extra step is enough to remind me why I installed it in the first place.

Hopefully, some of these ideas will help you (and me) avoid more of the things we know we shouldn't be doing, but find ourselves doing anyway...

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Interesting link: Lack of Sleep and Self-Control

This article on PsyBlog is focused on eating habits, but it's not too hard to see it stretching to self-control/willpower in general.   From their findings, it looks like being short on sleep makes the more instant-gratification focused parts of the brain more active and the more forward-looking, self-controlling parts less so.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Interesting link: Game Theory and the Price is Right.

Not sure what Bob Barker would say, but this was an interesting article in Slate by Ben Blatt about applying game theory to the games in the Price is Right.  (First up was the "bid a dollar more than the other guy" approach)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Interesting Link: Negotiation and Cupcakes

I saw this over on The Negotiation Blog  and it covered two of my pet topics, Negotiation and Willpower

The punchline is that your willpower/mental energy depletes glucose, so giving in to another temptation (like the cupcakes) helps avoid further depletion (and in the case of food-based indulgences, restores glucose).  The whole willpower-as-a-muscle analogy seems to be getting a lot of support by recent experiments..

(added bonus:  Dan Green has an excellent podcast (ConMan Talk) about various conflict management techniques.  I recommend it to anyone who has to interact with other humans)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Interesting Link: The Secret to Success

Laura Vanderkam had an interesting article in Fortune about using accountability to force yourself to do the important-but-not-urgent things in your life.  Nothing earthshaking, but the key is that the accountability partner should be someone whose opinion you care about.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Inertia -or- the Bed Paradox

"Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it." - Sir Isaac Newton

Even if they don't put a name to it, everyone has an intuitive feel for the effect of inertia (which is pretty much just a lack of any other effect).  If I set a bag down, i don't expect it to start moving for no reason.  When I approach a stop light, I know it will take a little bit of distance to stop because the car wants to continue moving forward.

I see the same effect in myself when it comes to sleeping, and a lot of other things.  If I'm awake, I want to stay that way. There's a reason people shell out good money to sell Real-Estate-Secret-System-To-Make-More-Money-Than-Buffett-For-No-Money-Down at 3 am in the morning. I am that reason.  On the flip side, it takes the threat of impending job loss and homelessness to get me out of bed in the morning.  It takes every ounce of willpower to get out of that same bed I was avoiding just 6 short hours earlier..

The effect seems to be the same in a lot of ways.  House/yard/career work, exercise,  healthy eating, etc.  I'm pretty good at maintaining them, but getting started is a bear.

I guess the million dollar question is - how do I/we overcome it?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Interesting Link: Stuff You Should Know

This is one of my favorite podcasts.  Their recent willpower podcast was right down the middle of my interests and they did a good job of explaining.  They, too, seem to subscribe to the "willpower as a muscle" model.