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  1. Dean Pomerleau

    A Precommitment Self-Discipline Trick

    I hesitate to share this trick, out of (selfish) concern that by acknowledging that I have occasional lapses of self-discipline that I might sully my reputation as a CR practitioner with an unbreakable iron will. But what the heck. I suspect most of us have lapses on occasion and eat more that we've targeted, or eat foods we wish we hadn't. The key to successful long-term CR in my experience is to minimize the frequency of such lapses and not to beat oneself up over them when they do occur. In service of the former (preventing lapses in the first place), you could resort to direct brain stimulation to bolster your self-discpline. But I've developed a trick / strategy that is guaranteed to work, and which has the added benefit of not messing with your brain. I thought others might benefit from learning about. So here goes... Background - There are certain foods I buy in order to eat sparingly, but which are temptations for me to indulge on if they are within easy reach. Raw cacao beans are such a food for me. I grind them up and mix the powder into my coffee to give it a mocha flavor, which I really enjoy. And we all know that unadulterated cocoa and dark chocolate products are very healthy, especially for the heart. But when I've got the beans sitting around, I'm tempted to casually snack on them, which I'd rather avoid doing. I've tried putting them in a closed cardboard box, but that isn't quite enough of a deterrent when I occasionally get the 'munchies' in the evening, after not having eaten since early morning. According to 23andMe as well as personal experience, I'm a fast caffeine metabolizer. Nevertheless, eating a handful of raw cacao beans before bed is not a recipe for restful sleep... So I came up with a more effective solution to make them available when I really need/want them, but not on short notice. It is an example of a precommitment strategy: It seems illogical on the surface, but humans and other animals sometimes put themselves in situations to prevent themselves from being given an option that they would choose if given the chance. They will even expend effort and cost to avoid being given the future option. Such restriction of one’s own future choices is called precommitment. It is theorized that precommitment occurs because humans and other animals have different preferences at different times (Strotz, 1955; Ainslie, 1992). Precommitment behaviors take many forms, ranging from purely external mechanisms like flushing cigarettes down the toilet, to purely internal mechanisms like making a promise to oneself that one is unwilling to break, to intermediate mechanisms like making a public statement about one’s intentions. The precommitment strategy I've come up with is a variant of the old 'freeze your credit card in a block of ice' trick to avoid spur of the moment purchases. Here is how it works (UPDATE: see this post later in this thread for an update to part of this technique. I'm leaving this full description here for completeness, but I don't recommend the water + thermos part of the method for reasons discussed in the aforementioned post): Put the stuff you want to sequester away (e.g. cacao beans in my case) into a cooler or other container with handles. I use a big Igloo cooler. See image below. Use a key & cable bicycle lock to secure the cooler closed by looping the bike lock cable through the handles, as illustrated in this photo (click to enlarge): [Note: As an alternative to the cooler and cable bike lock, you could use a tool box or storage container like this one, which is designed to be secured with a padlock.] Now comes the tricky part. Take the keys to the bike lock and drop them into an insulated thermos filled with water. Note: Leave some air at the top of the thermos to allow room for the water to expand when it freezes! Optional: I actually have gone a step further, and attached a rod to the lid of the thermos from which to hang the keys, as shown in the photo below: Then, screw on the lid of the thermos and pop it in the freezer: In a few hours, the keys are frozen solid into the thermos. The rod attached to the lid prevents unscrewing the lid until the ice in the thermos has completely melted and released the keys, thereby preventing the removal of the lid as soon as the ice inside starts to melt, and then pouring hot water directly into the thermos to quickly release the keys. When I want to access the contents of the cooler, I remove the thermos from the freezer. It then takes several hours for the ice in the thermos to melt completely, even when immersed in hot water, thereby releasing the keys from their icy lockup and enabling me to unscrew the lid and retrieve them in order to unlock the bike lock, open the cooler and access the cacao beans. Note: the thermos is stainless steel, preventing the use of a microwave oven to hasten the thawing process. My alter ego can be quite sneaky sometimes when the munchies set in... In short, this trick provides an effective, time-release locking system for food items I'd prefer to have only occasional, pre-meditated access to. Obviously it will work just as well for sequestering other tempting vices besides foods. The website StickK.com offers an alternative precommitment technique that some people find effective to boost their self-discipline, but its approach strikes me as too much hassle, involving other people, financial commitments, etc. I've found this (relatively) simple trick to be a helpful precommitment strategy to reduce the self-discipline required to stick to my CR program. Obviously it is only useful for people who experience lapses in self-discipline - and perhaps such people are rare among CR practitioners. But from personal experience I suspect that isn't the case. If I'm right, I hope that perhaps some variant of this trick may help others as well. --Dean
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