It is not difficult to change for a day. But it can seem almost impossible to change for a year — or a week. Though 2009 is only eight days old, I suspect that many folks are already struggling with their New Year’s resolutions.

This problem is the driving force behind StickK helps users to set — and stick to — “commitment contracts”. Here’s how it works:

After signing up with stickK, you will be able to create a commitment contract obliging you to achieve a specific goal within a particular time-frame. By creating a contract to meet one of your goals, you’re actually testing yourself and saying, “Hey, I can do this”. Not only are you challenging yourself, you’re also putting your reputation at stake.

You can even make a financial contract to give yourself an added incentive to reach your goals. If you succeed, you don’t pay anything. If you don’t make it, you have the option of forfeiting your money to a person of your choice, a charity, an anti-charity, or even that neighbor who keeps stealing your newspaper.

At the Freakonomics blog last February, one of the StickK’s creators described how he used a commitment contract to lose weight:

I originally had to lose a pound a week (or else lose money). Then I had to keep my weight below my contractual target of 185 pounds. In contrast to Weight Watchers, which can cost about $500 a year and helps you lose on average 6 or 7 lbs (about 3 percent of your initial weight), I put $500 at risk each week. In equilibrium, I’ve lost 25 pounds (12 percent of my pre-diet body weight) and so far it has cost me nothing.

There’s no requirement to wager money, but doing so provides extra motivation. It gives your goal extra stickiness. StickK features four prominent “communities” devoted to the following commitment contracts:

  • Stop smoking
  • Lose weight
  • Vote
  • Exercise fitness

You’re not limited to those four categories, though. You can draft a commitment contract for any goal, including those related to personal finance. The site’s users have made goals to avoid shopping, to stop gambling, to pay off credit cards, to live a junk-free life, and “to save a little every week“.

StickK is free to use, and is available to people outside the United States. For more information, check out the FAQ.

I first learned about this concept and web site from the book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.

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