What made it more significant than just ordinary lateness was the fact that this was the first call we had arranged.
Her response was even more drastic, to my mind. She put a clause in our contract that stated that if I were late for another call, the rate I as paying her would go up by 50%, and if I were late again, it would go up by 100%.
Needless to say, I was never late again!
This simple system of escalating reinforcement got me thinking.
Lots of people try to motivate themselves to develop new habits, but fail to create mechanisms that are designed to kick in when their commitment fails. I’m not sure how this would work for getting rid of bad habits like smoking, but here is an idea of what it would look like for someone who wants to commit to exercise, for example.
Write a series of checks to a work-out partner (e.g. for US$50 each.) Tell them that for each week that you keep your commitment to turn up at the gym, they are allowed to destroy one check.
If you don’t keep your commitment for a week, they are allowed to cash the check and spend the money in any way they decide.
Then, the game continues, except that the stakes are raised to US$100 per week instead.
The wonderful thing about this is that there is an actual cost for not showing up at the gym — the cost to one’s personal health. So, in a way it’s just a vivid reminder that skipping a workout does not take place without a cost.
I think that many people would refuse to agree to this kind of self-reinforcement, simply because they are not serious, and would prefer to keep up a pretense of being committed. If that were to happen, I think it would be a good thing, as it would separate serious commitments from casual, feel-good promises that we often make to ourselves.
What do you think?