Precommitment is a behavioral tactic that can help make keeping a promise a whole lot easier.
Precommitment is when you take a relatively simple action in the present that physically limits your ability to break your promise in the future. It’s a method that attempts to lessen your dependency on self-control, especially in areas where self-control is difficult to maintain.
Here are a few examples:
- If you’re addicted to gambling, some casinos will allow you to voluntarily add yourself to a list that will permanently ban you from the casino. This simple sign up is easier than resisting the urge to gamble by orders of magnitude.
- If you struggle with overeating, when you visit a mexican restaurant ask the waiter not to bring the free chips and salsa. That simple request is a lot easier than trying to exercise the self-control needed not to eat the whole basket.
- If you struggle with unhealthy social media habits, put your phone on the other side of the room before you head to bed. This simple placement discourages you from getting up and checking your phone when you are already comfortable laying down.
These examples may not apply to your promise, so we’ve put together Five Precommitment Tips & Tricks that can apply to so many difficult commitments. Which one of these could perhaps help your promise?
1. Create Physical Distance
Physical distance makes tasks annoying. Walking across the room, going into the attic, accessing something in the basement or even retrieving something from the car at night can seem like a chore. Well, we want to make breaking a promise feel like a chore. How can you add physical distance between you and the thing you are committed to avoiding? What location would be more inconvenient to access?
2. Delete and Destroy
Sometimes you just need to delete the app if you can’t stop using it or destroy the credit card if you’re too far into debt. Could you download the app again or just request another copy of your credit card? Of course you can; this isn’t about a permanent solution. This is about adding a meaningful barrier that can slow down impulses, even if it’s temporary. Not every action you take is going to be a miracle solution for your promise. Incremental progress is victory for the day.
3. Automate the Transaction
Technology allows us to make certain commitments automatically, especially financial ones. For example, you can elect to have funds automatically go into a savings account or have a small donation automatically withdrawn from each paycheck. Automatically setting aside funds to reach your goals takes away your chance of spending that money on things you were trying to avoid. How can you use technology to automatically do part of your promise for you? If technology can’t help your situation, could you pay someone to manually do a task that supports your promise?
4. Schedule to Be in Another Place
If you know a social interaction is coming up and you are trying to avoid it, schedule yourself to be somewhere else. For example, maybe a person is struggling with alcoholism and they know their friends are going to invite them to a party this weekend. Perhaps scheduling a visit to see their nephews in another city can help them avoid a negative situation. Try to make the new scheduled commitment something that involves a promise to another person. That accountability could be crucial to sticking with the plan.
5. Sell or Donate the Challenge
This is straightforward. If you have a possession in your life that you’re spending an unhealthy amount of time or resources on, sell it or donate it to charity. If selling it seems like a chore, ask someone to help you sell it and give them a commission. It could just be time to move on, but that is a decision you will have to make.
Thought-Provoking/Discussion Questions for You, Your Team or Family
- Even if it doesn’t qualify as a clinical addiction, what would you say you are “addicted” to? Why do you think that substance or activity could be unhealthy for you if it gets out of control?
- What are some other ways you have seen people use precommitment in life? Were those successful or unsuccessful applications of this tactic?
- Where do you think precommitment could help in your life?
- Can you think of an example where using precommitment would be unethical?
The power of self-control is incredibly valuable but it is also hard to develop. There are many cases where avoiding a situation altogether is the best option. Precommitment can help with those moments. There are other times where problems need to be met head-on. Sometimes avoiding things is unhealthy. Each situation is different, so there is no single answer. That is why we all should learn a range of skills to meet life’s various, and often unfair, challenges.