Do you struggle with procrastination? I do. Once I sit down to write or paint, I’m fine, but getting myself to my work space without detouring is extremely difficult. I also have trouble deciding what to work on first if I have several projects, and I find myself spinning my wheels. Other people in the same boat who have a goal to achieve — whether it’s exercising more or finishing a manuscript — have turned to commitment devices.
What is a commitment device? A commitment device is a term economists use for a self-imposed mechanism to achieve one’s goals. Commitment devices are based on the idea that there are two selves, a rational one who knows what’s good for herself (I’ve got to work every day to get my picture book done), and a less rational self who decides she has better things to do (I really need to check Twitter and Facebook, and look, a really cute video of singing cats). A commitment device lets the present rational self constrain the choices of the future irrational one.
So how would a commitment device work for picture book writers doing the 12x12x12? Here are 4 options, starting from the least “commitment-y” to the most:
1. Publicly commit to the goal. By signing up for 12x12x12, you have already taken this first step. You have proclaimed to the world that you intend to write 12 picture book manuscripts in 12 months. Signing up for online challenges like this motivates you to stick to a schedule and to report back to your peers when you have accomplished the goal. Unfortunately, this is a pretty soft commitment, because there’s no downside to failing other than disappointing yourself. It also may backfire. As founder of CD Baby Derek Sivers explained in his TED video, psychology researchers have discovered that telling someone about a goal will make it less likely to happen. It turns out that the act of getting affirmation from others tricks your brain into thinking you’re well on your way to accomplishing your goal.
2. Bribe yourself. As any parent with a toddler knows, bribes can work wonders for getting something done (anyone give out M&Ms for successful potty training activities?). You can promise yourself a small reward at the end of each month when you have completed a manuscript. Take yourself out to a nice lunch or put $20 away for an end-of-the-year $240 splurge.
3. Get a partner. Another commitment device is to make yourself accountable to someone else. I am a really fair-weather runner, only going out when it’s pleasant. I have found, however, that I will run in cold and windy conditions when I have a weekly standing appointment with my friend. One way for you to make sure you stick to the 12x12x12 schedule is to pick a writing partner who is also doing this challenge. Report back to each other once a month, or swap manuscripts at the end of each month.
4. Set up a contract with yourself. You can do it yourself or use websites to help you commit to a goal with a consequence if you don’t meet it. For example, you can decide that if you don’t finish a manuscript each month, you will donate $10 to a designated charity. Websites like www.Stickk.com help you do this by helpfully taking your credit card number and setting up a system (including designating referees) to enforce your goals. (Using similar principles, Gympact is an iPhone app that lets you decide how often you will go to the gym. You get paid each time you meet your goals and penalized each time you fail; the money comes from the pool of people who participate.)
If you really want to give yourself further incentive, you can set up the payments to go to a charity that is antithetical to what you believe in. A recent Freakonomics podcast about commitment devices reported how one man committed to living healthfully for a month, and when he failed, he sent a $750 check to someone his girlfriend liked but he really didn’t, Oprah Winfrey.
Have you ever used a commitment device? What kind of commitment device might help you achieve your goals in the 12x12x12 challenge? Is mere will power and the satisfaction of accomplishment enough?
Sylvia Liu was an environmental attorney working on protecting the oceans for a decade. Now she has gone back to her first love, art and illustration, and is working on several projects, including writing and illustrating picture books. She blogs about ebooks, tools for writers/illustrators, and other fun stuff at: http://www.sylvialiuland.com, and can be found many other places on the web: Twitter: http://twitter.com/artsylliu, Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ArtbySylviaLiu, Portfolio: http://www.sylvialiuart.com, Google+, and Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/sylliu/.Categories: 12 x 12 in 2012, Children's Books, Goals, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: 12 x 12 in 2012, Commitment Devices, Goals, Illustrator, Julie Hedlund, Picture Books, Sylvia Liu, Writer, Writing