That’s Why You Need a Contract to Improve Your Self-Control

In Self-control by Yuliya Richard

Do you want to improve your self-control? Sign a contract. Imagine you have to pay 1000 AUD every time you sabotage your diet. You would certainly think twice before devouring that chocolate cake…


Do you think your diet transgressions might stop if it meant a $1000 penalty? Enter into a contract with yourself, one that has significant consequences if you fail to meet your obligations. Your contract can be to pay lots of money to a stranger (or a charity you don’t like) if you don’t stick with your diet.

Feeling the pain that is the consequence of breaking your ‘contract’ means you are more likely to stick with your plan.

Dan Ariely, a Professor of Psychology and Behavioral economist, talks about the difference between our long-term goals and our immediate actions in his TEDx talk ‘Self-control’. He discusses what causes this difference and what we can do to help ourselves to enhance our self-control.

Professor Ariely discusses how to set up ‘contracts’ that make you more likely to behave in a way to improve your self-control. Of course, he emphasizes that the contract’s terms cannot violate your human rights or be absolutely obnoxious. The really great example he gives is an alarm clock penalty which can help you wake up properly in the morning: every time you press the alarm’s snooze button money will be taken out of your bank account and donated to a charity (it’s important that it is not your favourite charity, as you might be tempted to support your favourite organisation).

So if you struggle to wake up in the morning to go for a run, what contract do you need? Do you need to give someone money every time you choose to snooze instead of going for a morning run?

What are you prepared to give up every time you choose a cupcake or chippies?

What about big boozy nights out? What is your contract to stop binge drinking, cease using drugs or suppress your explosive outbursts?

A contract can be very effective for many people who struggle with self-control. Here are some tips to make your contract work well:

1. Involve other people

You might feel that at the moment you cannot be fully trusted, despite your best efforts; so, having witnesses to your quest will be more likely to keep you on track.

2. Choose to lose something that you can really feel “hurting”

If you choose money as your penalty, then make it more than five bucks – try 50 or 100 so that you feel the pain of the consequences.

3. Make it memorable

The consequence of breaking a contract has to be significant enough that you don’t simply forget about it. More than that, you really need to think consciously about self-control every time you are tempted.