It’s only the second week of the year, so I’m expecting most of you are still making good of your New Year’s resolutions. But how confident are you that you can keep it up until the end of the year? More importantly, are you willing to bet on yourself?
I recently wrote a story on budgeting apps to help readers save up this year. But let’s face it, those apps are just that—tools; a helping hand. In the end, as with everything, how and if you reach the finish line is up to you and you alone. Surely you’ve set up some kind of game plan to see to it that you can effectively accomplish whatever your goal is—be it to spend less, to be more conscious of your diet, or to be more mindful of your. Now, If this isn’t the first time you’ve had that item on your NY resolution, and you previously tried other game plans but nothing seems to stick, we have a more drastic suggestion for you to try this year: Money punishments or “commitment devices.”
The concept isn’t entirely new. Basically, you pay a certain amount every time you stray from your goal. Maybe you’ve even done it in the past already. Most likely, you police yourself or assign your closest friend to monitor you? But we’re only human. We allow ourselves cheat days or free passes every once in a while. So that’s no good too. If you really want to get serious this time, why not try tools available online?
StickK, for instance, is a free platform founded by a group of behavioral economists at Yale, that allows you to make “Commitments” (yup, capital C) and then wager on your ability to stick to them. The premise is simple: You are charged a penalty fee with each missed benchmark during your weekly check-ins. No take-backs, no excuses. The only way to get out of it is to contact the website’s administrators directly with a serious explanation they deem as valid. Another platform is Beeminder. Unlike StickK, you won’t be charged for your first lapse, but then your penalty increases exponentially with each subsequent ones. Although you are given the option to cap your penalty fee, Beeminder co-founder Daniel Reeves shared that a couple of users have paid $810, while others risked as much as $2,430. And for those who really want to raise the stakes, there is an option available on both platforms wherein you can set a portion of your penalty fee to go to a cause that you hate, such as pro-life lobbyists, or different political parties.
Understandably, some may perceive this as extreme, As The Cut writer Charlotte Cowles (who joined StickK) pointed out, “Failure is punitive enough; do we really need an extra kick when we’re down? Aren’t we too ashamed of our own financial weaknesses already? Isn’t it redundant to forfeit money if you don’t succeed in saving enough of it? Plus, it all sounds vaguely paternalistic—like we’re children who won’t get our allowance if we forget to take out the trash.”
So why did she try it?
Possibly because multiple studies show that this kind of penalty system actually works. StickK reports that their methodology is “empirically proven to increase people’s chances of success by up to three times.” Moreover, Beeminder was actually the product of a personal success story. Reeves launched the platform in 2011, after the ethos behind it helped him and another Ph.D. student stay on top of their dissertation deadlines. Beeminder’s effectiveness is evident in those who choose to continue with the service after the first setback. “For those who are hardcore enough to stick around for a year, there’s a churn rate of less than 1 percent per month,” Reeves said.
In essence, this backs up what behavioral economics call “loss aversion.” It’s a pattern of thinking which The Cut explained in this way: “Humans tend to fear losing what they already have much more than they desire to gain something new, even when that gain far outweighs the potential loss. People also prioritize negative consequences in the immediate future over ones that will happen later on.”
Ultimately, as I’ve mentioned, attaining goals come down to the person’s resolve alone. But then again, maybe this is the extra push you need to finally succeed this year.