Habit strategy - commitment tricks

Creating commitment tricks is a strategy that may help you to stick to your nano-actions or any beneficial behavior until they become ingrained. Commitment tricks are about creating negative consequences that kick in hard if you don't follow your habits.  

Let's start with a few extreme examples.  Greek orator Demosthenes would force himself to stay focused on composing his orations by shaving off half of his hair. He would be too embarrassed to leave his home, so the only choice left was to stay at home and concentrate on his orations. Victor Hugo asked his valet to hide his clothes when he started writing. If he did go out, he would have to pay a high social price related to wandering around naked. So he stuck to his writing and wrote “Les Miserables” among other things. 

We get a more realistic example from the inspiring book called "Better than before" written by Gretchen Rubin. She tells about her friend who has decided to stop drinking for two months. The friend put a check into an envelope, wrote an address on it and glued the stamp. He gave the envelope to his assistant and asked him to send it to the organization whose mission he passionately objected. He told his assistant to send to envelope if he lapsed into drinking. Well, he didn't! The tactic worked. 

So how can we utilize commitment tricks in the professional context? They work especially well in the social settings. You can follow five steps:

  1. Select the nano-action or habit you want to commit to. It has to be clear, such as making one phone call to one of your client each day. No ambiguity allowed! You have to be able to state clearly if you have done the activity or not. 
  2. Make a visible scoreboard, where your accountability partner, such as your colleague, can follow your progress. Unless your habit is otherwise visible. 
  3. Create a cost for missing your habit. It can be a sum of money put aside for some amusement like going for dinner with your team. Important: set the date with your team.
  4. Each time you miss the habit, subtract a certain sum like 20 € from the pool of money. If you use your organization's money is just stays at the bank account and won't be used for extra activities with your team. So the true cost of missing your habit is letting down your work mates. You probably don't want to do that!
  5. If your whole team wants to create the same habits or other habits at the same time, the rules can be extended to all members.

The most likely outcome of this commitment trick is that you stick pretty well to your habit and get to do some cool activities with your team! This trick is also likely to create a topic for fun office conversations. 

We are what we repeatedly do

We are what we repeatedly do. A habit is a routine of behavior that is repeated frequently and tends to occur subconsciously. In the American Journal of Psychology (1903) habit is defined as “a more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience.”  

Habitual behavior often goes unnoticed while performing it.  Most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered decision making, but the reality is more complex. Many of the daily choices are actually habits. Habits emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. This effort-saving instinct is a considerable advantage. We can stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors like walking, lacing shoes or sipping coffee. We can devote our mental energy to more sophisticated actions. Instead of concentrating on running we can play football. Instead of concentrating on holding a pen we can create art, make inventions or study the universe.  

In a sense, habits are the backbone of our daily lives. Each small habit may mean relatively little on its own but over time they sum up to have tremendous impact on our health, social relations, success and happiness. 

“Even though each habit means relatively little on its own, over time, the meals we order, what we say to our kids each night, whether we save or spend, how often we exercise, and the way we organize our thoughts and work routines have enormous impact on our health, productivity, financial security, and happiness.” 
- Charles Duhigg. The Power of Habit.  

Many times we do not create our habits but the habits create us. We just don’t happen to think our routines. If going unnoticed, our habits can take us to wrong directions. However, habits can be a very valuable tool if we select and nurture them wisely. They can create the structure for a creative, happy and fulfilling life.