To make a really long story really short, people feel an emotional need to be consistent with what they publicly commit to. Especially what they write about.
Do you know about the human need for consistency? I'm not going to explain it in detail here, I'm going to assume you already know the basics. If you don't, you probably should drop whatever you're doing for the next few hours and go read up on some articles about it because it has a massive impact on the entire world.
Here's a very brief overview:
In negotiation, consistency, or the consistency principle, refers to a negotiator's strong psychological need to be consistent with prior acts and statements.
Dr. Robert Cialdini and his research team have conducted extensive research into what Cialdini refers to as the 'Consistency Principle of Persuasion'. Described in his book Influence Science and Practice, this principle states that people live up to what they have publicly said they will do and what they have written down. So Cialdini encourages us to have others write down their commitments as a route to having others live up to their promises.
Commitment and Consistency - If people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment. Even if the original incentive or motivation is removed after they have already agreed, they will continue to honor the agreement. For example, in car sales, suddenly raising the price at the last moment works because the buyer has already decided to buy. See cognitive dissonance.
I first read about it in Dr. Cialdini's book "Influence," which is an amazing book. He generally outlines how people use "weapons of influence" and how to protect yourself against people trying to manipulate you.
Here's the money quote - "If people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment."
Cialdini mostly talks about this in two contexts - understanding the world around you, and avoiding falling victim to people doing such things.
I, however, have gone a step further - I figure I'm a human like any other human, and I feel a strong desire to be consistent. Thus, I intentionally make strong proclamations and put myself in positions I want to be forced to be consistent with later.
And it works.
The savvy reader will note that the following are all public commitments -
Quitting Spectator Sports
Yeah, I've Pretty Much Beaten Sugar
Mark This Down and Watch Me
Why Isn't My Book Done?
The Joys of Public Accountability
Before I Forget, I Want to Make a Public Commitment to Charity
Damn Inbox - I'm Not Doing Anything Else Until It's Empty
Now, on the off chance I fall into into catching up on spectator sports, I feel a massive hypocritical weight on my shoulders. Yesterday, in the process of routine googling, I saw a link that said that Randy Moss had been traded from the New England Patriots to the Minnesota Vikings. I clicked it, and read some analysis for a bit.
I don't know why. Just happened. But I felt this weight - no, can't be doing this, I'm not a guy who follows spectator sports, nope...
I've made abundantly clear many times that I quit recreational drugs (including drinking) in 2006, and I haven't gone back once.
Publicly marking down that I'm done with sugar likewise stops me from having "just a taste" of cake or a cookie or whatever.
Yesterday, in the posting "Son, as soon as someone puts their hands on you…" I was talking about bullying:
I wished I’d learned that lesson earlier. Some people are animals. The ones that want to hurt you for no reason. Show them that you’ll go to self-destructive lengths to defend yourself and avenge yourself upon them, and they’ll stop.
But it's also a precommitment to go to "self-destructive lengths to defend myself and avenge myself on [people that want to do harm for no reason]."
I don't even always realize I'm doing this any more, but I try to write my ethics and positions clearly, strongly, and in a way I'll be held accountable to. Yes, I'll fall short of them from time to time and could potentially get criticized for that, but overall it establishes precommitment.
Here's another smart guy:
Precommitment is a strategy first discussed by Thomas Schelling that a party to a conflict can strengthen its position by cutting off some of its options to make its threats more credible (e.g., an army that burns its bridge behind it making retreat impossible). A famous example of this tactic is when Hernán Cortés had his men scuttle the ships in order to eliminate any means of desertion.
This is important in deterrence theory because a threat must be credible to have deterrent power. Strategies such as burning bridges and tripwire forces will eliminate possibilities thus increasing the chance of military conflict. The ideal would be to force your opponent into a clear last chance to avoid war.
When I learned about Schelling points (Wikipedia link here) it changed the way I thought and acted. Combined with Nash Equilibriums (Wik link) it helped me put the pieces together about a vast majority of the way the world works, and how I can interact.
Thus, I harness these forces for myself. I establish the positions I have certainty on very strongly in a way I'll be held to, and I expect people to expect me to be held to them.
In "You have a lot of nerve trying to earn $15,000 on one deal; why, you’re only a broker," I talked about Robert Ringer's book "Winning Through Intimidation." I finished the book today. One thing he talks about? Successful people don't bluff. They say what they're going to do, and then they do it.
That's how I try to live my life - publicly commit to things I am sure are right, expect to be held to them by other people, and don't bluff. This moves Schelling points and Nash equilibriums naturally too.
This is a win for me because I improve, and a win for others because my commitments get upheld. Very much a win/win thing.
Lots of links in this post, lots of technical information. Don't feel overwhelmed - Robert Cialdini, Thomas Schelling, and John Forbes Nash have massive amounts of insights, and starting to go through their writing and ideas will change your life. Go through those links and concepts at your leisure.
The biggest takeaway is that you can be held to a higher standard of behavior by writing down your intention to do or not do something, and making it as public as possible.
I recommend this wholeheartedly. Quick piece of advice - instead of committing to poorly defined stuff ("be happier," "enjoy life more," "world peace") try to commit to practical things. Something like, "I will stop and sit in nature for one hour three times per week, and report back about the experience online after I get home."
What have you been working on that you're dragging on? Could making a commitment help you get it done?