Mar 12, 2014

Bad habits

I run about 45 miles a week, and last week, one of my friends asked me how I make myself get up and run (almost) every morning. Surprised, I responded, "I like to run! If you want to run, you should just run!"

On the one hand, I really do believe this when I say it: If you really want to run, you run! If you can't make yourself start something, you probably don't really want to do it.

On the other hand (pun coincidental), I'm acutely aware of the plastic French-manicured nails I wear glued on top of my own bitten fingernails to prevent chewing. Is continuing to bite my nails what I really want?

There is a February 2012 Freakonomics podcast about commitment devices. "A commitment device," explain Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt, "is a means with which to lock yourself into a course of action that you might not otherwise choose but that produces a desired result."

Agreeing to meet a friend to run is an example of a commitment device because you will disappoint your friend if you indulge your desire not to run. Another (less-effective) commitment device might be buying an expensive running outfit, so you will feel obligated to run in order to get your money's worth.

A commitment device forces yourself to do something you don't want to do in that moment. (There's a fancy term for choosing short-term satisfaction over a long-term goal: akrasia.)

The ideal solution is to change your short-term incentives so the desired behavior become more attractive in the moment than the current behavior.

How to do this after fourteen years of nail-biting?

I have a friend from running club who started running at the age of forty. Compared to that, I have a twenty-six year head-start on breaking my habit.

-Paige