Nov 15

Sex, Shaving, and Bad Underwear
Or how to trick yourself into exerting self-control

Recently, I gave a lecture on the problem of self-control. You know the one: At time X you decide that you’re done acting a certain way (No more smoking! No more spending! No more unprotected sex!), but then when temptation strikes, you go back on your word.

As I mention in Predictably Irrational, this predicament has to do with our inherent Jekyll-Hyde nature: We just aren’t the same person all the time. In our cold, dispassionate state, we stick to our long-term goals (I will lose ten pounds); but when we become emotionally aroused, our short-term wants take the helm (Oh but I am hungry, so I’ll have that slice of cake). And what’s worse, we consistently fail to realize just how differently we’ll act and feel once aroused.

Fortunately, there’s a way around the problem: pre-commitments, or the preemptive actions we can take to keep ourselves in check. Worried you’ll spend too much money at the bar? No problem, bring just the cash you’re willing to part with. Afraid you’ll skip out on your next gym visit? All right, then make plans to meet a friend there. And so on. Pre-commitments can take many a form, and some get pretty creative.

For example, I surveyed my audience at the lecture hall for their pro-self-control tactics, and I received two noble suggestions. One woman reported that when she goes out on a date with someone she shouldn’t bed, she makes a point to wear her granniest pair of granny underwear. Similarly, another woman said that when faced with that kind of date, she just doesn’t shave.

Both are great ideas, I think, and are likely to work — well they’re certainly better than only relying on the strength of your self-control — but there is a risk. Let’s say the woman with the ugly underwear finds herself uncontrollably attracted to her date and decides that, you know what, ugly underwear be damned, there will be sex tonight! Chances are she will wake up in the morning wishing she had worn her silk lingerie after all.

Irrationally yours

Dan

p.s if you have any personal self control stories that you are willing to share — please send them my way