commitment devices

If you’ve ever tried to adopt a new habit, then you’re probably familiar with how hard behavior change can be. 

In her book How to Change, Dr. Katy Milkman introduces “hard” and “soft” commitments as practical, research-supported tools for getting us to adopt a desired behavior. 

A “hard” commitment device involves what Milkman describes as more “tangible penalties or restrictions” — like agreeing to donate money to charity if you fail to go to the gym a certain number of times a week. 

A “soft” commitment device involve a penalty that is more psychological in nature. For example, announcing to your friends and family that you’re going to do something. The psychological cost of public failure tends to be greater. 

Both devices are incredibly effective though, according to Milkman, “hard” commitments are generally much more effective. 

Relying on sheer willpower alone might make for a great Hollywood movie, but in reality it can be incredibly powerful to impose hard restrictions or consequences that nudge you towards your goals.