Could You Lose a Pound a Week to Save ? A Guest Post - Freakonomics - Opinion - New York Times Blog

Guestblogging at Freakonomics, Ian Ayres asks Could You Lose a Pound a Week to Save?:

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution thinks it’s so hard to get people to change that he has predicted that the site will not succeed:
I’ve long predicted this won’t work; one group of potential customers doesn’t really want to change, the other group is unwilling to give up control. It’s not exaggerating to say that human nature is on the line here, and that if I am wrong this is probably the most important idea you will ever encounter.

But the good news is that the first returns are very positive. In a little more than a month since launching, people have given us $80,000 to help stickK to their goals. What’s more, most people are keeping their commitments and getting their money back.
People who really want to change are willing to give up some of their ex-post freedom. StickK not only helps you make credible commitments for yourself, it also lets you communicate that commitment to other people. Commitment contracts aren’t just for people who have trouble keeping their commitments; they are for anyone who is concerned about hearing some promise that just sounds like so much “cheap talk.” We’ve all been in the “Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown” situation, where we’ve heard people make promises that we suspect are insincere, or we think the promisor one way or another isn’t likely to follow through. One of the coolest things about StickK is that it gives the rest of us a new way to respond to cheap talk. At last, we can demand that the promisor put some money where his or her mouth is.

I wonder how broad the applications of this are. It seems to me that there's heavy selection bias here--I might like to lose ten pounds and slip back into my high school clothes, in some vague sort of way, but I'm certainly not willing to bet on my willpower. This probably provides and additional boost to people who are close to mustering the necessary determination. But I wonder how close most of us are to being really determined to meet our various goals.

That said, I'm reading Supercrunchers, Ayres' book, and really, really liking it.