Commitment Contracts: Their Modern Origin

albert ellis

Commitment Contracts have become popular in the behavior change world.

One of the most celebrated behavior change applications, StickK, has made it easy for people to create commitment contracts for any goal. Here’s how StickK works:

  1. Set a goal: Users start by setting a specific, measurable, and time-bound goal, such as losing weight, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, or saving money.
  2. Commitment contract: Users create a commitment contract, a binding agreement where they pledge to achieve their goal within a specific time frame. The commitment contract can be customized according to the user’s preferences.
  3. Set stakes: StickK allows users to add a financial incentive to their commitment contract. Users can set a monetary amount they are willing to lose if they fail to achieve their goal. They can choose to lose the money to a friend, a charity, or even an “anti-charity” (an organization they strongly oppose) to increase their motivation to succeed.

However, it looks like StickK did not invent this style of Commitment Contract. In fact, one of the most famous and influential therapists of the 20th century, Albert Ellis, was prescribing this sort of Commitment Contract to his patients in the 90s. He called this commitment device Penalization:

“I have this famous penalty that I was given by to by a client many years ago, and that is, if you really don’t want to overeat, let us say you want to force yourself, in a sense, you make it more penalizing. And one of the things you can do is every time you eat ten extra calories, burn $100 bill or give it to a cause that you hate, like the return of Richard Nixon to the White House or something like that, any cause that you hate, you give it to him and say, I love your cause. Here’s this contribution.


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