Sketchplanations

Explaining one thing a week in a sketch

Commitment device

Sometimes we’re smart enough to know that we’ll have trouble doing something we want to get done. That might be going to the gym, finishing that essay instead of goofing around, quitting smoking, doing your taxes, or, if you happen to be Odysseus, listening to the sirens’ song without going crazy and diving in the water or driving your boat to be crashed on to the rocks.

In these cases, you can try a commitment device: a voluntary restriction to help maintain our future self-control. In Odysseus’s case he instructed his men to fill their ears with wax and to bind him the mast and told them if he asked them to let him go then they were to bind him tighter. In this way, he managed to listen to the sirens’ song without ending up at the bottom of the sea.

Other commitment device’s may be more mundane, such as publicly announcing to your friends that you’re going to do something, paying a bunch of money to sign up for something upfront, or handing a $20 bill to a friend with instructions not to give it back until you’ve done what you’re supposed to.

Here are some nice examples of commitment devices.

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