Synonyms for Self-Binding

Saturday, July 21, 2012
By dreeves

infinite matrix of beeminder bees

We’ve been collecting a list of synonyms for the crazy lifehack that sites like Beeminder facilitate. In addition to us being shameless SEO-whores, it seems like this list could be genuinely useful for humans, especially the kind of humans who read the Beeminder Blog.

Here’s how a co-founder of StickK defines, with admirable rigor, exactly what that lifehack consists of:

Entering into an arrangement which restricts one’s future choice set by making certain choices more expensive, perhaps infinitely expensive, while also satisfying two conditions: (a) one would, on the margin, pay something in the present to make those choices more expensive, even if one received no other benefit for the payment; and (b) the arrangement does not have a strategic purpose with respect to others.

(The above is excerpted from a wonderful survey paper on commitment devices.) I would paraphrase it as: voluntarily imposing penalties on your future self purely because you know yourself to be an impetuous fiend who will otherwise act against what your cool-headed current self knows to be your best interests.

Here’s a list of pithier ways to say that:

And here are myriad related terms:

If we’ve missed any, please leave them in the comments!

UPDATE: Thanks Nick Winter, Hilary Anne Mayhew, and others for the additions, now added above.

UPDATE: We’ve also been collecting a long list of examples of self-binding, aka commitment devices, at blog.beeminder.com/akrasia and recently reproduced in a Quora thread on self-improvement.

UPDATE 2017: We continue to add terms here that we come across, and have even added commentary as hovertext on all the above links.

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4 Responses to “Synonyms for Self-Binding”

  1. Burning the ships. And for the more general thing we’re trying to do, of which commitment devices address part, I call it motivation hacking.

    #72875
  2. Robert Felty

    I call this an ingenious ploy to drive search traffic to your site :)

    #72968
  3. Ha, yes! Note the second sentence: “In addition to us being shameless SEO-whores, it seems like this list could be genuinely useful for humans, especially the kind of humans who read the Beeminder Blog.”

    Speaking of which, I just updated the list with a few more terms. You’re welcome, googlebot.

    #72969
  4. Hilary Anne Mayhew

    same idea as ‘tying oneself to the mast,’ but a radiolab piece i heard a while ago called these Ulysses Contracts.

    #74173