Sometimes a New Year’s resolution is not enough.
All starts well with the January “Skinny Solstice.” Reported by the social media site Foursquare, gym visits were up 36% and fast food traffic was down 13% during January 2015.
However “Off the Wagon” Thursday was not far away. On the first Thursday in February, the trends reversed as people ate more junky food and exercised less.
This year the “Skinny Solstice” starts on Sunday, January 2nd while “Off the Wagon” Thursday is February 2nd.
With app users reporting their activities, Foursquare collected the data:
Where are we going? To nudges and commitment devices.
We could call a New Year’s resolution a “nudge.”
The power of the nudge became famous because of Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, Told that his neighbors paid their taxes, a scofflaw was nudged by the British government to pay what he owed. Privately, an employer can nudge us to set aside some salary through an automatic saving plan.
Similarly, a New Year’s resolution is a nudge during January. By February though, that nudge becomes a tap and we surrender to the pleasure of a burger and fries before going home to a Netflix binge.
Our Bottom Line: Commitment Devices
Explaining, a behavioral economist might say that with exercise and healthy food, we have a short-term/long-term trade off between our “now” self and a “future” self. We have to decide whether avoiding the burger and fries and Netflix is worth helping our future self.
This is where a commitment device can enter the picture. Creating the incentive to postpone short term pleasure, automatic saving plans and New Year’s resolutions begin with nudges and then continue as commitment devices.
My sources and more: During one of my walks I heard about Fall off the Wagon Thursday while listening to a wonderful podcast from the Sporkful. Finding the Foursquare link for the data, I knew the academic rigor was minimal. However, one 8-year old interview from a University of Scranton psychology professor partially supported it. Among the 50% of us making resolutions, close to 40% keep them for at least six months. And finally, for the academic literature on commitment devices and time inconsistency, this paper is one of many possibilities.
To improve its clarity, this post was edited after it was published.