Tag Archives: self-management

Jonathan Haidt

Because we can see only one little corner of the mind’s vast operation, we are surprised when urges, wishes, and temptations emerge, seemingly from nowhere. We make pronouncements, vows, and resolutions, and then are surprised by our own powerlessness to carry them out. We sometimes fall into the new that we are fighting with our unconscious, our id, or our animal self. But really we are the whole thing. We are the rider, and we are the elephant.

Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, New York, 2006, p. 22

Thomas Schelling

An absent-minded person who needs to remember to do an errand on the way to work may choose to drive an unaccustomed route, knowing that if he drives his usual route he will pursue his usual thoughts and nothing will remind him along the way of the errand he must stop for, while an unaccustomed route will continually remind him that there is some reason for his being in strange surroundings.

Thomas Schelling, ‘Enforcing Rules on Oneself’, Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, vol. 1, no. 2 (Fall 1985), p. 361

Thomas Schelling

Relinquish authority to somebody else: let him hold your car keys.

Commit or contract: order your lunch in advance.

Disable or remove yourself: throw your car keys into the darkness; make yourself sick.

Remove the mischievous resources: don’t keep liquor, or sleeping pills, in the house; order a hotel room without television.

Submit to surveillance.

Incarcerate yourself. Have somebody drop you at a cheap motel without telephone or television and call for you after eight hours’ work. (When George Steiner visited the home of Georg Lukacs he was astonished at how much work Lukacs, who was under political restraint, had recently published-shelves of work. Lukacs was amused and explained, “You want to know how one gets work done? House arrest, Steiner, house arrest!”)

Arrange rewards and penalties. Charging yourself $100 payable to a political candidate you despise for any cigarette you smoke except on twenty-four hours’ notice is a powerful deterrent to rationalizing that a single cigarette by itself can’t do any harm.

Reschedule your life: do your food shopping right after breakfast.

Watch out for precursors: if coffee, alcohol, or sweet desserts make a cigarette irresistible, maybe you can resist those complementary foods and drinks and avoid the cigarette.

Arrange delays: the crisis may pass before the time is up.

Use buddies and teams: exercise together, order each other’s lunches.

Automate the behavior. The automation that I look forward to is a device implanted to monitor cerebral hemorrhage that, if the stroke is severe enough to indicate a hideous survival, kills the patient before anyone can intervene to remove it.

Finally, set yourself the kinds of rules that are enforceable. Use bright lines and clear definitions, qualitative rather than quantitative limits if possible. Arrange ceremonial beginnings. If procrastination is your problem, set piecemeal goals. Make very specific delay rules, requiring notice before relapse, with notice subject to withdrawal.Permit no exceptions.

Thomas Schelling, ‘Self-Command in Practice, in Policy, and in a Theory of Rational Choice’, The American Economic Review, vol. 74, no. 2 (May, 1984), pp. 6-7

Jon Elster

Delay strategies might seem to hold out the best promise for dealing with emotion-based irrationality. Since emotions tend to have a short half-life, any obstacle to the immediate execution of an action tendency could be an effective remedy. As I note later, public authorities do indeed count on this feature of emotion when they require people to wait before making certain important decisions. It is rare, however, to observe people imposing delays on themselves for the purpose of counteracting passion. The requisite technologies may simply be lacking.

Jon Elster, Explaining Social Behavior: More Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences, Cambridge, 2007, p. 242

Thomas Schelling

Many of us have little tricks we play on ourselves to make us do the things we ought to do or to keep us from the things we ought to foreswear. Sometimes we put things out of reach for the moment of temptation, sometimes we promise ourselves small rewards, and sometimes we surrender authority to a trustworthy friend who will police our calories or our cigarettes. We place the alarm clock across the room so we cannot turn it off without getting out of bed. People who are chronically late set their watches a few minutes ahead to deceive themselves. I have heard of a corporate dining room in which lunch orders are placed by telephone at 9:30 or 10:00 in the morning; no food or liquor is then served to anyone except what was ordered at that time, not long after breakfast, when food was least tempting and resolve was at its highest. A grimmer example of a decision that can’t be rescinded is the people who have had their jaws wired shut. Less drastically, some smokers carry no cigarettes of their own, so they pay the “higher” price of bumming free cigarettes.

In these examples, everybody behaves like two people, one who wants clean lungs and long life and another who adores tobacco, or one who wants a lean body and another who wants dessert. The two are in a continual contest for control: the “straight” one often in command most of the time, but the wayward one needing only to get occasional control to spoil the other’s best laid plan.

Thomas Schelling, ‘Egonomics, or the Art of Self-Management’, The American Economic Review, vol. 68, no. 2 (May, 1978), p. 290