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The Power of Pre-Commitment
  • Calendar Apr 30, 2018
  • User Jared Wells
  • Category In Uncategorized
  • Comments 0 Comments
As I always say, “yesterday me” is smarter than “today me”. That is, what I knew, yesterday, that I should do today will almost always be a better plan that what I will decide, today, that I should be doing instead. Yesterday, I knew that I needed finalize the "Getting a Head Start on Finals" Workshop plans, but once I got to today, other, less valuable tasks showed up to try to distract me from accomplishing a much more important task. So if we can already determine what the most important things to accomplish are, why do we have trouble getting them done? Two reasons: first, we didn’t stop and think, yesterday, about what should be done today. We CAN plan, but we don’t; we act purely in the moment and react to the crises that come up as a result of a lack of a plan. This is like ignoring the advice of a personal trainer or a coach. They know better than you, so listen to them! Secondly, and the purpose of this email, is they arrive at the scheduled time to accomplish the pre-determined task, and they talk themselves out of it. And the reasons given for changing course, as I’m sure you know from your own experience, are usually not sound. A conversation between the two might sound something like this: Yesterday Student: We need to get started on the paper right when we get home from school. That way, if we need help on it like we’ve needed in the past, we’ll have time to go over it with our tutor that evening Today Student: Yeah, but we know what we need to do. We’re not going to need help. We can work on it this evening. Yesterday Student: Yes, but the essay took longer than we thought last time. Remember, we were up until 1pm last time! Today Student: That isn’t going to happen this time. Let’s play video games instead. Yesterday Student: That’s why we were up until 1pm last time! If your son or daughter overheard this conversation between two friends of theirs, they would almost certainly advise “Today Student” to listen to “Yesterday Student”. And yet, this conversation plays out (more or less consciously) in the minds of students every day. Even in the minds of successful students who do heed the advice of “Yesterday Student” it can be a struggle. One way that students can help make sure that “Yesterday Student” is listened to is by pre-committing. What this means is that the student finds ways to disallow “Today Student” from changing plans in the moment. For me, some examples of pre-commitment are
  • Having a gym partner I meet at the gym at the same time every day
  • Using Focusmate to schedule focused work sessions and using the Forest app to prevent myself from getting distracted by my phone during those work sessions
  • Packing myself a healthy lunch in the morning so I don’t choose in the afternoon to eat something unhealthy
  • Change my social media passwords to long, difficult to type passwords to make logging in to social media a more challenging, conscious process.
And so on. These are ways that I’ve found that help me lock in the wiser decisions of “Yesterday Me”, and prevent “Today Me” from changing them. So how can students use the power of pre-commitment to lock in the plan of “Yesterday Student”? -Study Groups! For a test or a big project coming up, find a partner or two and plan to study/work on the project together. Even better, set goals for what should already have been done prior to the study group (already read the chapter/already finished a rough draft) and what will be accomplished during the study group (ask each other practice questions/do mind maps/workshops essays) etc. It’s easy to let “Yesterday Student” down. It’s tougher to let a good friend down, and that can provide the motivation to get the work done ahead of time. -Identify and eliminate distractions before the appointed work time. The student should think about the things that are most likely to get in the way of accomplishing the goals of “Yesterday Student” and remove them. Is the family a distraction? Plan on doing the work at the library. If the phone a distraction? Give it to a parent, sibling, or friend (really!) Are other classes a distraction (from the project or class you have been avoiding?) Only bring the materials for working on a single assignment with you. Every student can probably easily list the top five things that prevent them from getting their work when it should be done. Get rid of those things! -Make a bet. Is there a big task you have coming up on which you know you are going to need to be pushed? Create your plan, then pick a couple of checkpoints along the way and make a bet with your parents (or a friend) as to what you will accomplish and by when. The bet can be money, it can be chores, it can be anything, but it should be something meaningful to the student. For example, if step X is completed by date Y, mom gives me $10. If not, student has give up the xbox for a week. The key is that the bet is something voluntarily entered into by the student. What are some ways that you use pre-commitment in your own life to motivate you to get things done? -Vince If your son or daughter could use some support with planning/organization/executive function, we've got a great workshop for them. Call (858.551.2650) or email ( to sign up for our "Getting things done for students" workshop this summer. Classes start the week of July 1st!

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