I don’t believe in willpower but I never seem to keep my new years resolutions. My belief is people weigh up costs and benefits and choose the path of greatest immediate reward. Also I believe people have split personalities, “short-term-me” and “long-term-me”. Stay with me here.
Think of most things that people believe require willpower. Dieting, giving up smoking, starting a book, doing homework, etc. Mostly these are gradual things. One cigarette won’t do you much harm. An extra doughnut won’t make you fat, etc. In most cases this means “short-term-me” wins; captain “instant gratification” asserts his influence. Short-term-me is childlike, spontaneous, gets us drunk, wants kicks now and doesn’t mind putting off nasty stuff as the future is the responsibility of the more level headed and adult long-term-me. It is long-term-me who has to deal with the consequences. Short-term-me writes cheques long-term-me can’t cash.
The only way to get short-term-me to act responsibly is to make the consequences also short term. Some people can bring long-term-me into the here and now sometimes. Most people though have to find a way of taming short-term-me and that is where “self binding” comes in.
Self-binding, in this context, means finding ways to commit yourself to a course of action where the consequences of not are out of your control. It could be as simple as a bet with a friend or at the extreme informing the police to arrest the driver of your car if found out after 10pm. In Missouri casinos have “self-exclusion” lists where you can ask them to throw you out or even arrested if you try to gamble. Ever. Sometimes the phrase “Ulysses Contract” is used (more often in psychiatry)
take me and bind me to the crosspiece half way up the mast; bind me as I stand upright, with a bond so fast that I cannot possibly break away, and lash the rope’s ends to the mast itself. If I beg and pray you to set me free, then bind me more tightly still
Most people don’t need to go as far as involving the police or being strapped to a ships mast. Just the knowledge that your friends know of your resolution can be sufficient, or if not a smaller agreed penalty can be enough.
So what is the point to all this? I’m thinking this year I really want to stick to my resolutions … 🙂