Lashing Yourself to the Mast

If you have ever come up with a scheme to keep yourself from succumbing to temptation, you have experimented with a thing called a commitment device. As you’ll see, you are not the first to try this.

In this episode, we’re talking about different types of commitment devices and whether they might be useful in staying on track with whatever you are trying to accomplish in your life–whether that’s breaking a bad habit, establishing a new behavior, or meeting a challenge that you’ve set for yourself.


Commitment devices may be most useful when the goal is very desirable but the actions needed to reach the goal are not. 

Commitment devices can be in the form of carrots or sticks: You can compel yourself to do something that you’re averse to either by coupling it with a treat – or by coupling the failure to do it to a consequence.

“Lashing yourself to the mast” is another option: make it physically or otherwise impossible to do the thing that you know you’ll be tempted to do (but will regret afterward).

Commitment devices are not the solution to every behavioral challenge you may face. They are a tool in the toolbox. Like any tool, the key is recognizing when they are the best tool for the job. (And obviously, the more tools in the toolbox, the better chance you have of completing any project.)

Lab Experiment

  1. What are some commitment devices that you’ve used in the past?
  2. How have they worked for you?
  3. If they didn’t work out, why didn’t they? 
  4. In your current endeavors, where might a commitment device be helpful?