Nanny State

Commit Yourself

Self-control in the age of abundance


"Love is the only thing that can save this poor creature," Gene Wilder grandly declares to his assistants in Young Frankenstein as he commands them to lock him in a room with his monster. "And I am going to convince him that he is loved even at the cost of my own life. No matter what you hear in there, no matter how cruelly I beg you, no matter how terribly I may scream, do not open this door or you will undo everything I have worked for. Do you understand? Do not open this door."

Think about that for a minute. Dr. Frankenstein goes into the room telling his aides to ignore what he's going to say once he's inside. He knows he will want to come out, so he enlists others to help him subordinate his own later wishes to the ones he has right now, which he apparently prefers.

There's a name for this sort of thing. In the quietly sizzling field of self-control studies, it's called precommitment, because it involves acting now against the strength of some later desires, either by taking certain options off the table or by making them prohibitively costly. 

Precommitment doesn't just happen in movies. For years the economists Dean Karlan and John Romalis kept their weight down by means of a clever pact. Karlan and Romalis knew a little something about incentives, so they struck a deal: Each would have to lose 38 pounds in six months or forfeit half his annual income to the other. If both failed, the one who lost less would forfeit a quarter of his income. They lost the weight and generally kept it off, although, at one point, Romalis's weight popped back up over the limit and Karlan actually collected $15,000 from his friend. He felt he had no choice. He felt he had to take the money to maintain the credibility of their system, without which they'd both get fat.

Precommitment works, which is why Karlan, now a professor at Yale, set out to make it available to the world via, the Internet's precommitment superstore. Karlan's venture  enables any of us to contractually control our own actions or, if we violate the agreement, face a penalty we've chosen. Theoretically, it could make a Trollope of the most recalcitrant writer, allowing him to impose on himself the wanted law that cannot be disobeyed. Despite its nerdy origins, the site has a rakish motto: "Put a contract out on yourself!"

The concept is fiendishly simple. (the second K is from the legal abbreviation for contract, although baseball fans will detect a more discouraging connotation) lets you enter into one of several ready-made binding agreements to lose weight, quit smoking, or exercise regularly, among other things. You can also create your own agreement, which many of the site's 100,000 registered users have done. You specify the terms (say, a loss of one pound per week for 20 weeks), put up some money, and provide the name of a referee if you want one to verify your results. Whenever you fail, gives some of your money to a charity or friend that you've chosen. Whether you fail or succeed, never keeps your money for itself aside from a transaction fee.

If you want a sharper incentive, you can even pick an individual enemy or an organization that calls "an anti-charity." Democrats, for instance, might find it especially motivating to know that if they fail to live up to a binding personal commitment on, some of their hard-earned money will go to the George W. Bush Presidential Library. Anti-charities apparently are highly motivating; says they have an 80 percent reported success rate. "All stickK is doing," Karlan told me, "is raising the price of bad behavior—or lowering the cost of good behavior." 

What's especially appealing about ventures like is not just that they give us the tools to constrain ourselves but that they are voluntary. We are fortunate to live in a time when the biggest problem that many of us face is coping with our own appetites in the face of freedom and affluence. Inevitably our failures—bankruptcy, obesity—bring calls for government to protect us from ourselves. But there are ways we can protect ourselves from ourselves without trampling the rights of others.

Consider exercise. It's good for you, and people want to be healthy and attractive. So lots of us join gyms—and then don't use them, which is why the places get a lot less crowded after January, when the New Year's resolutions start to peter out. The membership fee is just the cost of our good intentions. The real expense is the time and effort required to work out.

Enter Gym-Pact, a clever Boston venture cooked up by a couple of recent Harvard grads. Gym-Pact gives participants a cut-rate membership. The catch is, you have to specify in advance how many times a week you'll show up and how much extra you'll pay for each missed day. In effect, Gym-Pact helps reallocate the cost of exercise to idleness.

Precommitment can be especially helpful when it comes to bad habits, including substance abuse. In the movie Tropic Thunder, one of the characters is a heroin addict who runs out of his drug while making a movie in the jungle. When a jungle drug-making operation is discovered, he gets one of his colleagues to tie him to a tree so he won't succumb to temptation. Soon enough, of course, he is pleading to be untied, just as Gene Wilder was pleading for his helpers to open the door.

Sound familiar? It should. History's first known episode of precommitment occurs in The Odyssey, when Odysseus and his men are sailing home from the Trojan War. He has been warned about the Sirens, whose seductive song leads sailors to destruction, but he wants to hear it anyway. So he gives his men earplugs and orders that they tie him to the mast, ignoring all subsequent pleas for release until they are safely past the danger.

The Odyssey is all about the management of desire, and the famous wiliness of its hero is on full display in this episode. Odysseus essentially invents precommitment to inoculate himself against his own predictable (and potentially fatal) future desires. A lesser man might have relied on willpower alone, but Odysseus knew that no one is immune to temptation.

Precommitment and the Poor

Dean Karlan had spent a good deal of time thinking about precommitment before launching, especially in conjunction with his other great interest, Third World finance. A few years back, he and colleagues from Harvard and Princeton set out to investigate whether people would freely choose a precommitment device to help them save, and if so whether it would make much of a difference.

They designed an elegant experiment that produced fascinating results, which they recorded in a 2006 Quarterly Journal of Economics paper titled "Tying Odysseus to the Mast: Evidence From a Commitment Savings Product in the Philippines." They carried out their project on the island of Mindanao, in partnership with a rural financial institution there known as the Green Bank. The professors first surveyed 1,777 current or former customers of the bank to assess how good they were at deferring gratification. The surveys asked such questions as, "Would you prefer to receive 200 pesos guaranteed today, or 300 guaranteed in one month?" And equally important: "Would you prefer to receive 200 pesos guaranteed in six months, or 300 guaranteed in seven months?"

Customers who chose the sooner, smaller reward in answer to the first question but the larger, later reward in response to the second were deemed likely to have self-control problems. The researchers offered 710 of these individuals a new kind of savings account called Save, Earn, Enjoy Deposits, or SEED. These special accounts offered the standard 4 percent interest, with a single catch: Withdrawals weren't allowed until either an agreed-upon date or sum was reached. (Almost all the savers chose a date rather than a sum, since failing to accumulate the latter could mean their savings were locked away indefinitely.)

Some 202 self-aware individuals, or 28 percent of those receiving the SEED account offer, accepted—a group that skewed somewhat female. And 83 percent of SEED enrollees also bought a ganansiya box from the bank. This is like a piggy bank with a lock, except that the bank holds the key; savers accumulate small sums by putting a peso or two into a box when they can. It's a poor man's precommitment device, in this case one that mirrors, on a small scale, the design of the SEED accounts.

Karlan and his colleagues found that SEED worked for the participants. After just a year, SEED account holders had increased their savings by a remarkable 81 percent. It was a modest experiment, but it showed that giving people the opportunity to precommit can help them rapidly accumulate capital, even if they don't have much income. The experiment also showed that many people with self-control problems know they have them. The SEED account participants mostly knew themselves well enough to purchase ganansiya boxes. This kind of self-knowledge isn't uncommon among the Third World poor. Daryl Collins, a consultant on Third World finance and a former lecturer at the University of Cape Town, reports that poor South Africans sometimes rely on money guards—"a neighbor or relative or friend that you trust and say, 'Hold this, and don't let me touch it,'?" she explains. "Sometimes the same money guard asks you to hold their money, and so when someone comes to borrow money, you say, 'It's not my money.' It works."

Back in the 1990s, when it was suggested that early-withdrawal penalties might be discouraging Americans from saving more in retirement accounts, a survey found that 60 percent of us wanted to maintain the restrictions; only 36 percent favored making it easier to tap retirement savings early. Why such a lopsided result? I think it's because people understood how susceptible they would be to the temptation to crack open their own nest eggs. They wanted the barrier left in place to keep themselves away.

I'm not surprised. I remember my mother, in the 1960s, dutifully making regular deposits into a Christmas club account at the local bank. On the surface, Christmas clubs make no sense. You have to make regular deposits—I seem to recall my mother having something like the kind of payment book you might get with a car loan—and you receive little or no interest. Most amazing of all, the bank won't let you have your money back until December. But of course this was the reason my mother signed up; the arrangement forced you to save, and it kept your savings out of your hands.

I did something similar when I worked at a big newspaper and signed up for automatic payroll deductions, with the money going into my credit union savings account. Then every time I got a raise, I raised the savings deduction by the same amount. My lifestyle never expanded with my income, but I did build up a pile of cash. I had colleagues who used the government's withholding of income taxes the same way. Those unfamiliar with this technique may not know that you have some discretion about how much Uncle Sam withholds from your paycheck; if you have a mortgage, kids, and other significant deductions, you should reduce the withholding to match what you'll ultimately owe, since the government won't pay you interest while it has your overpayments. On the other hand, you can't access the withheld money until you file your taxes—after which you'll get a nice, big refund. Think of the lost interest as a modest service charge, well worth it to people who know they might not save any other way.

Self-control sophisticates use the tools that happen to be at hand, as is apparent from the urban numbers racket. If you know how the lottery works, you understand the numbers game, except that the latter offers better odds.

I grew up around people who played the numbers. They'd wager 25 or 50 cents with a bookie on some three-digit number based on a dream or a birthday or some other likely premise, and if the number came in, they'd win. The daily number was always taken from some objective source that was ostensibly beyond manipulation; it might have been the last three digits of the day's take at Aqueduct, for example, or of the trading volume on the New York Stock Exchange. Like many people who buy lottery tickets, many numbers players play for entertainment.

But back in the 1970s, the sociologist Ivan Light looked at numbers gambling in Harlem and saw not a diversion or even "a tax on stupidity" (the term derisive economists use for state-run lotteries) but a functioning financial system—and an effective precommitment device to help people save. What outsiders didn't seem to understand was that Harlem residents didn't trust, and weren't well served by, banks. The so-called numbers racket, illegal though it may have been, partially filled this vacuum.

First, remember that the winning number is always just three digits, 000 through 999, so the odds of winning are a far-from-astronomical 1 in 1,000. And while the pot never contains millions, a winner who bet $1 might clear $500 after the customary 10 percent tip to the runner, who carries the loot back and forth. (Naturally, no taxes are paid.)

How did this add up to a savings plan? Survey data showed that the players were persistent, with nearly 75 percent playing two or three times a week and 42 percent playing daily, for years on end. In other words, they acted something like long-term investors. And they were likely to get back $500 for every thousand bets of $1 each. That may not seem like much of a return on investment, but bear in mind that many players bet with quarters, a sum that even among the poor tends to vanish unaccountably. They got some hope. They couldn't raid their "savings" until they won. And their money also bought convenience: Numbers runners made house calls, and these visits no doubt helped people keep playing.

In some poor neighborhoods of India, "deposit collectors" perform the same function. The collector gives a would-be saver a card imprinted with a grid of 220 cells, and the customer commits to handing over, say, five rupees for each cell each day. At the end, the saver would get back 1,100 rupees, less 100 rupees for the collector's fee. Savers are happy to live with this negative interest rate in exchange for the convenience and for the commitment device.

In Harlem, numbers players also knew their money was supporting black enterprise, local jobs, and a certain amount of neighborhood investment. But most of all, sooner or later you had a large sum of money to look forward to—and no control over when it would arrive.

"Most gamblers understand their numbers betting as a means of personal saving," Light reported, adding: "The bettor's justification for this seemingly preposterous misconception arises from unsatisfactory experiences with depository savings techniques. Once a numbers collector has a man's quarter, they aver, there is no getting it back in a moment of weakness. If, on the other hand, the quarter were stashed at home, a saver would have to live with the continuing clamor of unmet needs. In a moment of weakness, he might spend the quarter. Therefore, in the bettor's view, the most providential employment of small change is to bet it on a number."

Precommitment and Paternalism has come along at a time of renewed interest in paternalism. A number of people, most prominently the University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler and the Harvard legal scholar Cass Sunstein, have suggested that institutions should help people make better choices by means of more thoughtful "choice architecture." (Sunstein currently serves as administrator of the federal Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.) At company cafeterias, for instance, the fruits and vegetables might be displayed more prominently and priced more attractively than desserts so that people will be more likely to pick healthier items. The idea is not to mandate behavior but to present choices so that the indisputably better option is more likely to be selected.

The classic example is the movement in business to automatically enroll employees in a 401(k) plan, with the right to opt out. This is the opposite of the traditional approach, which relies on employees to opt in. It turns out that human beings have a strong status quo bias, which is a fancy way of saying inertia is a powerful force in people's lives. In a study published in 2001, for instance, Brigitte Madrian and Dennis Shea found at one company that sign-ups among new hires rose to 86 percent from 49 percent after automatic enrollment was adopted. Reversing the default condition, which cost nothing and constrained nobody, thus significantly boosted the retirement prospects of a great many employees. lets people do this sort of thing for themselves. It's a place where they can act of their own volition to make themselves adhere to their second-order preferences—that is, their preferences about preferences. You may like to smoke cigarettes, for example, but you may also prefer not to have that preference. And your rational allegiance is to your second preference, the one that lets you avoid lung cancer and the other problems of smoking. The beauty of is that it lets people decide for themselves which longer-term goals they embrace, in effect by becoming their own paternalists. And it gives them the means to enforce their own second-order desires, just as people do when they have their stomachs stapled or their jaws wired to constrain their eating. As Vito Corleone might have put it, wants you to make yourself an offer you can't refuse.

So how can each of us be our own godfather? The answer is to shuck the naiveté of the untutored in favor of a more sophisticated approach to ourselves and our intentions. That means, first, relying as little as possible on willpower in the face of temptation. It's much better, like Odysseus, to row right past the cattle of the sun god than to count on controlling the hunger that could lead to a fatal barbecue. It also means acknowledging how much we are influenced by our surroundings—and taking command of our environment so that it influences us in ways we prefer. Most important of all, a more sophisticated approach means recognizing that we cannot honor our best intentions by ourselves. If we are to take control of our own destiny in a world of such unprecedented freedom and abundance, we have no choice but to enlist the help of others—not just family but friends, colleagues, and community. The only hope, in short, is to do all that we can to have ourselves tied to the mast of our own intentions.

Yet there are times when we might conclude that someone so dependent on precommitment actually lacks self-control. A fat person who has his jaws wired shut in order to slim down, for example, signals to all that he couldn't control his eating without resort to artifice. Jon Elster has observed that, when it comes to booze, many societies have norms against both drunkenness and abstinence. Sydney Greenstreet, pouring a drink in The Maltese Falcon, puts the point neatly: "I distrust a man who says 'when.' If he's got to be careful not to drink too much, it's because he's not to be trusted when he does." Regardless of the signals it sends, committing yourself—irrevocably, if you can—to your best intentions is the most powerful weapon available in the war for self-command.

Hell Is Not Other People

Inhibition often begins with the sense that somebody is watching; experiments have demonstrated that simply installing a mirror makes people behave more honestly when, for example, they pick up a newspaper and are supposed to leave their money on the honor system. Mirrors also seem to diminish stereotyping, promote hard work, and discourage cheating. In one study of children, the mere presence of a mirror reduced the stealing of Halloween candy by more than 70 percent. You can think of other people as human mirrors. "Our friends and relatives," the psychologist Howard Rachlin writes, "are essential mirrors of the patterns of our behavior over long periods—mirrors of our souls. They are the magic 'mirrors on the wall' who can tell us whether this drink, this cigarette, this ice cream sundae, this line of cocaine, is more likely to be part of a new future or an old past. We dispense with these individuals at a terrible risk to our self-control."

Human relationships are vital in many ways, but in the self-control arena we are as dependent on them as Odysseus was on his crew, for we simply cannot bind ourselves to our own wills without other people. Participants in some 12-step programs have sponsors they can call upon when the will weakens, and even encourages users to name a referee who can attest to whether they've met their goals. While loneliness subverts self-control, community can promote it in various ways, not least by minimizing social isolation and establishing norms. Communities are also social information systems, and being known in one is surely a moderating force, because reputations are valuable. Communities can reward with esteem and punish by turning a cold shoulder. You can use this knowledge against yourself. If you make New Year's resolutions, for example, you're much better off telling everyone about them, even putting them on a blog. Once this is done, you'll be much more likely to uphold them, since your reputation will be at stake.

If you're serious about living up to your second-order preferences, then the truly radical approach is to treat yourself like a moderately sophisticated lab rat. People often do so instinctively by promising themselves a certain reward—opening the good wine, buying a new dress, taking a vacation in Hawaii—when a certain goal is met. But self-rewards can be tricky without appointing someone else to bestow or withhold the prize. If you don't mind treating yourself like a lab rat, friends and family members can be a big help. 

If you want to make a difficult but enduring change, announce it (to yourself and others) well in advance; an engagement period is always useful in getting one's intended to the altar. It's not by chance that the military allows enlistees a period of time between signing and induction. One study of charitable giving found that it rose when a delay was permitted between pledging and giving. Another study found that the longer in advance people ordered groceries, the less they spent and the healthier their choices were.

On the other hand, since speed and proximity kill self-control, it pays to keep a buffer of time and space between you and the most dubious gratifications. The Wall Street Journal cites the example of Scott Jaffa, a systems administrator in suburban Washington, D.C., who "destroyed the online access code for his 401(k) so he could no longer have instant access to his retirement accounts. His goal was to make it 'significantly harder' and to require 'human interaction' before he could trade on his own emotions." This act of precommitment helped him endure some stomach-churning stock market declines without taking any harmful action.

Homer and Ned

In America, it sometimes seems, you are either Homer Simpson or Ned Flanders. Homer is a slave to his appetites most of the time, although his fat-clogged heart is in the right place, while his neighbor Ned is a paragon of self-control, never letting his temper get the better of him even for a moment—but only because he's in thrall to a cult-like evangelism. Both men seem to be missing a fully functioning will.

I go back and forth when I think about which I'd rather be. Homer is selfish, shortsighted, flabby, and dumb, finding consolation in a bucket of fried chicken with extra skin. Ned is nicer and better-looking, has better-behaved kids, and runs his own business, yet there is something awful about him too. The basis of his good life seems contrived, even prefabricated, and his relationship to choice efficient but somehow stunted.

The third alternative is to decide for ourselves which of our preferences we like and then defend them against the importuning of those we do not. In the philosopher Harry Frankfurt's formulation, this is what makes you a person; the alternatives are submitting blindly to impulse, like Homer, or submitting blindly to some power outside yourself, like Ned.

Faced with these options, we find ourselves once again in the position of Odysseus, who must navigate between Scylla and Charybdis as part of his long and difficult journey home. But while we don't have much say over the desires we have, we certainly can decide which we prefer and then search for ways to act on that basis. Self-regulation will always be a challenge, but if somebody's going to be in charge, it might as well be ourselves. 

Daniel Akst ( is a member of the editorial board at Newsday. This article is adapted from his book We Have Met the Enemy, published by arrangement with the Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. © Copyright 2011 by Daniel Akst.

NEXT: Two Cups of Tea, One Cup of B.S.

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  1. +1 for the picture!

    1. I really enjoyed the article, well written and informative. Thanks for sharing this, I will definatley pass along stickK as i could see it helping a lot of my friends and family who have trouble sticking to those goals. I might even use it myself!

  2. nice post, thanks for sharing

  3. Good grief – do the whole quote:

    Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Let me out. Let me out of here. Get me the hell out of here. What’s the matter with you people? I was joking! Don’t you know a joke when you hear one? HA-HA-HA-HA. Jesus Christ, get me out of here! Open this goddamn door or I’ll kick your rotten heads in! Mommy!

    kind of proves that precommittment isn’t worth committing to…or sumthin’

  4. Great article. Inspiring, actually. Surprisingly non-judgmental and pragmatic.

  5. Self-control in the age of abundance

    I have and practice the best, fail-safe method of restraint there can be:

    Marginal Utility.

    1. We all know that the only fail-safe method is abstinence mex. Republicans and the church have been drilling it into our brains for years, and clearly it worked for all our priests.
      Just don’t purchase or consume anything and you won’t be tempted.


      1. Re: Doc S.

        Just don’t purchase or consume anything and you won’t be tempted.

        I thought that was included in the liturgy of the Church of Soros:

        1. The only church tha tdoesn’t want your money?

          1. Re: Doc S,

            The only church tha tdoesn’t want your money?

            That’s what makes them suspicious.

  6. Wow, thats kinda scary when you think about it dude.

    1. Spam Recipes:

      Country Rice Salad

      1/4 cup olive oil
      10-oz pkg frozen peas, thawed & drained
      9 green onions, sliced 1/4″
      1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
      1 1/2 tsp paprika
      3 1/2-oz pkg sliced pepperoni
      1/2 tsp cumin
      1 red pepper, cut into 1/4″ strips
      2 cups rice 1 green pepper, cut into 1/4″ strips
      2 (14 1/2-oz) cans chicken broth
      12-oz can SPAM, cut into 2×1/4″ strips

      In 3-quart saucepan heat oil over medium heat. Add green onions; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender. Add paprika and cumin; stir to blend. Add rice, coating grains with oil. Add chicken stock; stir to combine. Cook over low heat until rice is tender and all liquid is absorbed (20 to 30 minutes). Meanwhile, in skillet cook SPAM over medium heat, turning occasionally, until SPAM is heated through (4 to 5 minutes). Add peas and chopped parsley to rice mixture. Stir in remaining ingredients or arrange ingredients on salad. Serve at room temperature. Yield: 6 servings.


      1. I have an old friend who still does factory work. he oversees several people on a loading dock. One of his newest direct reports is from Nigeria, just six month’s in the USA. My friend tells me the guy is a great worker. He als say the guy eats SPAM right out of the can.

        1. And he’s a prince who just needs an honest american bank account to store his funds for a short while. You were referred to him as someone trustworthy, and you can keep a percentage of his fortune for your troubles.

  7. although his fat-clogged heart is in the right place

    I love how we have been so deeply indoctrinated that bad dietary advice makes it into stories about virtually everything. Ancient Egyptians were clogging their arteries on a very low fat, high veggie, very active lifestyle more than 1,400 years ago.

  8. Right now, I’m holed up in my room. There’s gunshots everywhere,” said Shehu Sani, a civil rights leader. “They are firing and killing people on the street.”

  9. So how can each of us be our own godfather? The answer is to shuck the naivet? of the untutored in favor of a more sophisticated approach to ourselves and our intentions. That means, first, relying as little as possible on willpower in the face of temptation.

    This is total bullshit. You are responsible for your own actions. Why not work on improving your willpower? Wouldn’t you think that would be the better long-term solution since you can’t predict all the temptations you might face?

    1. Because improving your willpower doesn’t work for 99% of people. It’s hard and temporary at best. Besides, it is willpower to guard against future temptation than simply hoping that your “willpower” training will pay off?

      I mean, it’s not like you can sit looking at a Donut (or dough naught)for hours on end with electrodes attached to your scrotum in case you try to eat it (the donut, not your scrotum). That doesn’t work- I would assume, of course, not having tried it.

      1. Because improving your willpower doesn’t work for 99% of people.

        [Citation needed]

        It’s hard and temporary at best.

        So it’s hard. There’s no mysterious force making your arm shovel that donut into your gaping maw. Why is it too hard for someone to rationally and logically think through the action-reaction scenario.

        1. When faced with 2 choices to solve a problem, the most logical choice is the one that takes the least amount of effort and energy, given the same (or similar enough results).

          The 99% figure was for the purpose of illustrative hyperbole. Hower, check out THIS ARTICLE where people with a PHD in their names agree with me.

          1. That’s a fine science journal you’ve linked to, Lou.

            1. It was tops on the google search. I’m not spending my time finding citations for my hyperbole.

          2. given the same (or similar enough results)

            Where did this assertion come from? If there’s no consequences, there’s no willpower required.

            1. This assertion came as a result of your “why can’t they just do this” argument. They could try and do that. Hell, I’ll even concede that it might work (which it won’t). However, if there’s another way to do it that requires less energy/output then THAT is the logical way to go.

              Therefore, why don’t they just use willpower? Because there’s an easier way to do it, that’s why.

              1. Therefore, why don’t they just use willpower? Because there’s an easier way to do it, that’s why.

                Huh? Setting up a whole precommitment scenario that fines you for breaking your calorie limit is “easier” than just not picking up the donut?

                1. Yes it is. Ask a fat person.

        2. “Why is it too hard for someone to rationally and logically think through the action-reaction scenario.”

          Perhaps most people are not rational or logical. Or at least, their ability to think rationally and logically fades as time scales increase. Or maybe future gains have less value than present gains because there is so much about the future we can’t control.

          1. Perhaps most people are not rational or logical.

            I submit to you that the goal is to improve the rationality and logic skills. Improving your ability to make difficult but beneficial choices works best “because there is so much about the future we can’t control”. If you know you’re dying in a fire tomorrow, you need have no willpower at all.

          2. This makes me wonder. Most libertarians tend to be more logically oriented than the population at large. Are there also fewer fatty boom booms walking around when you go to a libertarian convention? I can’t think of a chunky libertarian off my head besides Drew Carey (though my ignorance does not constitute proof of any kind).

            1. Me. I’m a “chunky” libertarian.

            2. Careys lost alot of weight recently.

            3. Drew Carey lost a lot of weight. He probably hired someone to point a gun at him at all times and shoot him if he tried to eats carbs.

              1. Or he just didn’t eat so much.

        3. Evolution says eat the donut. Eat the fucking donut. EAT the FUCKING DONUT NOW! EAT IT!! NOW!! THERE WILL BE NO DONUTS TOMORROW OR FOR THE NEXT THREE MONTHS!!! EAT IT EAT IT EAT IT FUCKING EAT IT!!!!!

          So there’s your problem.

          1. Yep, only cavemen didn’t have donuts. Or any other easily digestible carbohydrates to speak of. Honey was rare and had those nasty bee-things to deal with.

            1. I bet they had pizza though. Evolution tells me to eat pizza all the time… and beer.

              1. What kind of crust?

                1. Variety is the spice of life. Though none of that Japanese pizza. I’ve had it and don’t care to try it again.

                  1. Yeah, and the cheese is really runny.

          2. A high metabolism is actually a genetic weakness as far as most of the history of evolution is concerned.

            1. Joke handle fail.

            2. A high metabolism is actually a genetic weakness as far as most of the history of evolution is concerned.

              Seems to me a low metabolism tends to make you an easier target for those who would make food of you.

              1. Our ancestors didn’t have much trouble keeping trim. It was an accomplishment just to keep from starving. Nobody was successful enough to get fat. Those with a low metabolism didn’t require as much food to keep from starving as the ones that burn up all those calories quickly.

  10. This is a little silly. Not everyone with self control is in thrall to an outside power. (Although I do read Hit & Run and the article it links to religiously!)

  11. The reason some people are fat has nothing to do with self-control but PRIORITIES. Some people are happy being fat, others have better things to do (Star Trek Conventions?), while the so-called “beautiful people” engage in a diet of steroid abuse, crystal meth, alcoholism, and hard partying in South Beach nightclubs.

    It’s all priorities, there is no such thing as “public health” just like there are no “public bodies.” America needs to stop obessing with the Abercrombie & Fitch gay dream and start accepting that not everyone is going to achieve the Auschwitz look (unless they are sent to a concentration camp)!

    Besides, Hitler was skinny and he had plenty of health problems. I know, I saw the documentary High Hitler on the History channel.


    1. Greg,

      LOVE the last name. Don’t love the post. I’m fat and I know why I’m fat- but not everyone is that way. Your rant on the “beautiful people” is seemingly out of left field and makes no sense.

      In fact, your post doesn’t really make senseat all.

      1. Spencer, I’ve lived in Miami, I wish I had a dime for every time someone in the liberal media used the term “beautiful people.”

        Miami is a really depressing place because you’re being constantly told that the women are beautiful, that the men are athletic, and then you look at yourself in the mirror and you don’t like what you see.

        In Miami, even skinny people feel fat unless they have a six-pack, and even then it’s not enough, it’s never enough. Our war against “obesity” is driving us crazy!

        1. All things you can change. If you want a six pack put the hours in the gym and the lifestyle changes necessary to get it. It’s not that hard, although I have no idea what your current fitness level is, assuming you arent morbidly obese you could likely have a 6 pack in 6 months if you made the effort.

          But instead you’d rather complain about people that think having a 6 pack is attractive.

          1. I get a six pack at the convenience store. Somtimes bottles, sometimes cans.

          2. Don’t bullshit me, I went from 260 to 200 and there was no freaking six-pack. I also know that some skinny people are even using PLASTIC SURGERY to get those six packs. Why? Because mother nature is a motherfucker, and that bitch simply told them “hey freak, you weren’t meant to have a six pack.”

            See? Mother nature is cruel, that’s why I like throwing garbage out of the window, driving SUV’s and burning flowers and killing wildlife. Save the planet? Fuck that. I say kill the planet! (last paragraph is sarcastic)

            1. Thats awesome that you got down to 200. Losing 60 pounds is no simple task and its commendable that you did that. Hopefully you kept it up, I’m sure thats no easy task, and neither is getting a 6 pack for a lot of us, but that doens’t mean its impossible.

              Was there a reason that you stopped at 200? I don’t know your body type or build so i have no way of knowing if thats a healthy/optimal weight for you, but you likely could have continued going to get a 6 pack if its what you wanted.

              Voluntary plastic surgery in that form really disgusts me (as i’ve made known before), and likely they didn’t do it because they COULDN’T get a 6 pack, but more that they found it easier than working for one.

              It’s not an attack on you, I just hate people saying that they can’t do something body image wise. If you have a fully functioning set of limbs you can get whatever fitness goals you want. My grandpa used to brag about having a six pack well into his 70’s

            2. You lost 60lb and didn’t get a 6 pack because you were most likely on a idiotic poorly planned crash diet that had you losing more muscle weight than actual fat.

      2. I’m fat. I used to be obese. Very. I used to think I lacked self-control. Now I don’t even believe it exists in any meaningful way.

        I used to think I was obese “because I love food.” I still love food, I just don’t express it by eating something that jacks up my blood sugar and then leaves me hungry again in 90 minutes.

        I’ve lost a lot of weight breaking all the “accepted” rules. And I have willpower like a sheep has long, deadly fangs. And I most definitely did not precommit.

      3. “In fact, your post doesn’t really make senseat all.”
        Most scientists refer to this as the Gregory Smith condition. It is apparently a condition of epidemic proportions in these parts

    2. Come on, Greg, you know the rules. You have to leave the “You know who else (fill in the blank)?” comment for the next guy.

  12. Who’s willing to help me precommit to making a list of the things to which I should precommit?

    1. I suggest you engage in a diet of steroid abuse, crystal meth, alcoholism, and hard partying in South Beach nightclubs.

      1. Those are goals, not precommitments. Unless you precommit to attaining your goals.

        Those, btw, are AWESOME goals!

        1. In that case, I am precommitting to taking my “talents” to South Beach.

          The rest will write itself…

  13. What the fuck? That’s my facebook picture.

    Please take it down, Reason.

    Besides, I didn’t know everyone could see my facebook picture.

  14. He felt he had no choice. He felt he had to take the money to maintain the credibility of their system, without which they’d both get fat.

    I would have felt the same way. I’m sorry I have to take your $15 large, but I’m doing it for your own integrity.

  15. “I’m sorry I have to take your $15 large, but I’m doing it for your own integrity.”

    That’s what I said.

  16. Well, we all know how the “best laid plans” turn out. Personally, I don’t think precommitment functions very well at all.


  17. We’re tired of government forcing us to behave in accordance with society’s whims. We want the freedom to hire private contractors to force us to behave in accordance with society’s whims.

    1. If it is voluntary, is there force?

      1. Self-blackmail?

      2. No, I was just kidding.

  18. Nice article. I’ll pass it along.

  19. Fujita et al.’s (2006) studies, along with other similar findings reported by Fujita (2008), suggest that self-control can be increased by these related ways of thinking:
    Global processing. Abstract reasoning. High-level categorisation. cell phone jammer…..ammer.html

  20. The bit about mirrors was interesting. I’ve heard the same thing about a picture of eyes.

    I guess people have known about the eyes thing for years, though.…..sh_Culture

    Those things are *everywhere* in Turkey.

  21. I own a Web Design business – which I am expanding. I’ve opened up an Online Template shop for boutiques, small business owners and bloggers and in the next month will be opening up my digital print store.

  22. Hahaha, about 3 years ago, my friend and I did this type of thing to lose weight. Both of us bet about $200 to lose 20 pounds in about 4 months. If either of us lost, we’d have to pay the money. In fact, it worked extremely well..Good to see that Stickk exists…wish i had thought of that idea!

  23. Thought-provoking and morally positive. Interested readers should look into the writing of NYU economist Mario Rizzo, an Austrian school economist who writes persuasively about the dangers of “the new paternalism” and moral dirigisme.

  24. For mundane purpose this system is useful, reduce the weight, saving money extra but how can you use it for writer block.creativity , motive in old age.How can you change nature`s law?

  25. You’re paying for a compliment.

    Institutionalized, such payments are known as “taxes,” and the compliment you receive is the pride you take in the fact that, because of folks like yourself, GE doesn’t have to pay taxes.

  26. I find the sentiment in this article to be perilously close to the kind of masochistic, group-think punishment and correction that one reads of among cults. Can people really be so utterly incapable of thinking for, or controlling, themselves? It’s a depressing prospect. What we should invite and empower, socially and societaly, is not group correction of behavior, but of written expression. Were we to do so, perhaps we would not be exposed to these dreary and ghastly strings of invited commentary; ungrammatical, illogical, bereft of competent orthography or punctuation, reeking of juvenalia, emoticons, acronyms, and bristling with school-girlish exlamation points.

  27. Thanks a lot, now I read this article instead of marking the papers that I was supposed to hand back today!

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