“I can resist anything except temptation.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Willpower. Who wouldn’t like to have more of it? We need willpower when we concentrate on a task, solve a problem or resist a temptation.

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely offers two techniques for improving willpower: reward substitution and commitment contracts.

The first technique involves rewarding yourself today for doing something that will be good for you in the future. We tend to discount the future benefits of good behavior and the costs of bad behavior. This leads us to act today in ways that may harm us later. For example, we don’t exercise enough or we fail to build our professional relationships.

The reward need not be large. Because it is immediate, a small reward can have a large effect on our behavior. We end up doing the right things for the wrong reasons!

The second technique is called a commitment contract. The idea is quite simple. Set yourself clear rules in advance that that you will follow in a particular situation. For example, “When I am at a buffet, I will not touch the sweets.” A clear rule is easier to stick to than a fuzzy vow to “eat less.”

Commitment contracts work best when you make them public – tell people what you plan to do. There’s even a website that uses commitment contracts to help you reach your goals.

“In the future we are all wonderful people.” ~ Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely shares his personal story of how he developed his willpower and was able to stick to a rigorous treatment plan that helped him overcome a major illness.

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Photo credit: Family of Captain William M. Scaife C&GSs / CC BY-2.0