It’s New Year’s Resolution time again. A time when we all shout to the heaven that this year will be different, that we will be different. The problem is that New Year’s Resolutions simply do not work. Currently their success rate sits at a meager 10%. The question we are left with is why these proclamations do not work and what alternatives do we have.

The problem with motivation:

The primary problem with New Year’s Resolutions is that we envision our future self to be better than our current selves. Our future self is witty, never wants to eat a fried donut, and likes to read books in dead languages for fun. Our current self is a bit daft, will order 10 donuts when given the chance and would read a Kim Kardashian memoir if given the chance. In sum, we humans tend to follow our immediate desires (e.g. eat a donut) over our future desires (e.g. I want to be fit).

The oddity is that there are all sorts of things that we do that do not require herculean amounts of motivation. One of the biggest ones is school. Nobody likes school but many people went to school for 15+ years despite the inherit drabness of the homework and activities. Of course, you might be reading this at work which is another instance of people doing something that they do not require much motivation to do. The reason that you go to work or school is because there are consequences for not doing so (e.g. job loss). There are tools that allow us to hone consequences to our own self-development benefits called commitment devices. I will define a commitment device as a tool that makes you take action unless you want to suffer a consequence.

My Favorite Commitment Device:

The commitment device that I have found that works is Beeminder. Beeminder is affectionately called by the founders as “goal-tracking with teeth”. You set a goal and if you do not complete it you owe the Beeminder team money. This description might sound a bit insane but let me delve into why this tool works.

Powerful Graphs:
 What makes Beeminder a much better tool than its competitors is that as you progress through the goal and add data points you are able to create very visually striking graphs of your progress. This is useful because you may be able to pick out trends in how you approach the goals. Further, it is generally motivating. Below is a goal that created in which I have to attempt to call a family member 3 times a week. Prior to this goal I probably called my family 2 to 3 times a month.


One of the best things about Beeminder is that it forces you to have a realistic outlook on your goals. When you are hit with a $5 charge because you tried to read Moby Dick in one week you will quickly see how unrealistic goals can be. Beeminder also gives you the ability to see what your results will be in the future. For example, a goal of reading 5 pages a day might seem silly but Beeminder will show you a tremendous number of pages in a year (1,680 pages to be exact).

A New Paradigm:

This year, instead of relying on motivation that will dry up within a week ensure that your systems set you up for success. There is nothing more motivating then having money on the line.