Tricking Yourself into Health: Commitment Devices

Debbie Hatch | Family & F.I.T.

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 12.49.00 AM


Back in May, I wrote Part I of this series. It was focused on Temptation Bundling. To call it Part I isn’t entirely accurate.  These are two separate but similar subjects.  It’s a companion piece.  You didn’t have to read that blog before reading this one. Any order is fine.

Now, let me say that I have no judgment on either of these topics. I’ve used both with varying degrees of success. My intent is merely to expose you to the widest array of options. We are all different. I’m hoping to help you find the perfect solution for YOU. Whether it works for your neighbor, your best friend, or me is irrelevant.


The basic premise for both temptation bundling and commitment devices is that there are a lot of activities we “should” do. We should eat well, get routine physicals and the occasional prostate or mammogram scans. We should exercise, have dental examinations and take prescribed medications.

Should is a big word in this context! While we would like to do everything we “should”, there are a lot of ways we avoid these well-intentioned things.

Temptation bundling joins one thing you want to start doing with one thing you love to do. For example, Katie Milkman (a key researcher on the topic) says, “I’ve realized that if I only allow myself to watch my favorite TV shows while exercising at the gym, I stop wasting time sitting in front of the television, and I crave trips to the gym where I watch my show. I actually enjoy both my workout and my show more when they’re combined. I don’t feel guilty for just sitting and watching TV, and my time at the gym flies by.”

It’s the old adage of “killing two birds with one stone”.


Commitment devices may be the antithesis to temptation bundling. Rather than joining two positive actions, there is a self-imposed action for not doing the things you “should”.

To be clear, it’s not about punishment for guilt’s sake.

Rather, I’m talking about the fact that you’ve decided you really want to change. You want to do something differently but you’re finding it difficult to implement your plan. It’s not that you lack will power. It’s that you are a human being.

No joke.

Behavioral economists can show, conclusively, that we have a hard time working toward “the future”. It’s always easier to say, “I’ll start tomorrow….and tomorrow…and tomorrow.” Tomorrow’s goals are frequently overtaken by today’s reality.

Psychologists have also proven that we have a problem following through on our intentions even when we’ve identified exactly what we want in the future. It’s not like, “You know, I really thought I wanted to get in shape but it turns out I just really wanted to sit in front of the television and eat a king-sized bag of chips every night.”

Even in hindsight, you regret not doing what you said you wanted to do. THIS is punishment for guilt’s sake.


What temptation bundling and commitment devices do, is move the consequence closer to action (or non-action as the case may be). They help bring tomorrow closer to today. Economist Jodi Beggs writes “Commitment devices are a way to overcome the discrepancy between an individual’s short-term and long-term preferences.”


Here are some creative ways are people holding themselves accountable with commitment devices.

– – Signing up for classes when, in theory you could just draw/run/paint/workout, whatever on your own but, without the commitment of the class you won’t. This definitely was a big one for me when I started exercising after a long break. I went to a 9 o’clock boot-camp class. I met some amazing people, and before long I was going to the class as much to see those folks, as I was to exercise.  It didn’t matter if I was tired or busy.  I was going!

– – Freedom ( allows you to pre-set how long you’d like to focus on projects, and it blocks access to the Internet for that amount of time. I spend far too much time online if I don’t use a commitment device. For me, it’s self-denial and an alarm clock. When I have work to get done (writing contracts or blogs, updating handbooks or making travel arrangements) I refuse to even open Facebook or my e-mail. “A quick check” frequently turns into hours before I know it. They are time sucks for sure! So, I set an alarm for an hour or two and just work. Only once the alarm goes off, do I allow myself social media access.

– – Using MasterCard’s inControl credit card that shuts off once a pre-set limit is reached.

– – Using NOTXT n’ Drive software which turns off texting capabilities when your car is moving.

— Beeminder ( allows you to pledge money that you will follow a quantifiable goal and then tracks your progress against your promised progress. If you go off track twice, you have to pay the amount of money you previously pledged.

– – Preventing drunk-dialing with apps like “Don’t Dial” and “The Bad Decision Blocker”. These are real!! You either set the block for certain time frames, after certain hours, or you set it as you go out for the evening.

– – Think Geek ( proposed a solution for over-sleeping by creating an alarm clock into which you would enter your credit card number. The clock would donate money to your most-hated cause if you hit the snooze button.



Are there any commitment devices you use to keep yourself on track?

Does temptation bundling or a commitment device work best for you?


Skip to comment form

  1. That last device where you suffer financially if you oversleep is a doozie. (Not a dozy.) That one would really motivate me. But not my husband. The only way he’ll wake if he’s too tired is for an important appointment.

  2. Goodness! I don’t use any of these and I’m not sure I would. To me it’s just self-discipline and focus. But I like the idea of coughing up money for a good cause if one doesn’t follow through with something. That’s pretty unique!

    • Sylvia on July 20, 2015 at 02:19
    • Reply

    Someone bought me a Fitbit. I need a class so that I can learn how to use it!

    1. Lol. So many people are using these electronic devices today! So long as they cause you to actually make changes: and not just track, as a matter of curiosity, I think they’re great. I LOVE the “for Dummies” books. They have one for the Fitbit too. Check it out

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.