Sticks work better than carrots – official

I do this all the time: unless I work enough to earn these things, I constantly deny myself gardening, vegetables, milk chocolate, football, all sorts of things. I may help me cope with the loss of these with periodic dark chocolate, tea and good books but that’s private, that’s my business.

We do often hear that we can reward ourselves when we do something and I’ve done that. But there is an argument that the masochists amongst us are right to punish themselves into action. Plus, we’re writers, that’s practically a synonym for masochists.

Fast Company suggests what I think is a halfway house between punishment and reward. Risk. Specifically, do something to trigger our loss aversion, which is a technical term to describe our aversion to losing things.

Self-motivation comes in a numbers of forms but masochism, on its face, seems like a dubious strategy. But what if various boundaries aren’t enough?

In those cases, when something absolutely has to get done, we have another, albeit extreme suggestion: Waste large sums of money.

“The science of loss aversion says that we hate losing $100 about twice as much as we like winning $100,” said Nick Crocker, behavior change expert and founder of the fitness app Sessions, which MyFitnessPal acquired in 2013.

What Results? Try Punishing Yourself – Rebecca Greenfield, Fast Company (28 August 2014)

Greenfield’s full piece makes this case but uses a New York Times article about loss aversion and that article is more akin to the sunk cost theory I’ve covered before. This is off the point of punishing yourself to get results but I think it does tie in to how we hang on to things we should ditch but just can’t because we fear losing anything.

New York Times:

The psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky showed that even something as simple as a coin toss demonstrates our aversion to loss. In a recent interviews, Mr. Kahneman shared the usual response he gets to his offer of a coin toss:

“In my classes, I say: ‘I’m going to toss a coin, and if it’s tails, you lose $10. How much would you have to gain on winning in order for this gamble to be acceptable to you?’

“People want more than $20 before it is acceptable. And now I’ve been doing the same thing with executives or very rich people, asking about tossing a coin and losing $10,000 if it’s tails. And they want $20,000 before they’ll take the gamble.”

In other words, we’re willing to leave a lot of money on the table to avoid the possibility of losing.

The Sketch Guy: Overcoming an Aversion to Loss – Carl Richards, New York Times (9 Decemeber 2013)

Sometimes you just have to let things go. Because they’re already gone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Blue Captcha Image