The Power of Social Contracts

Aman Manazir

For the past 18 weeks, I’ve regularly sent out this weekly email newsletter. I’ve surprised myself with this level of consistency, something I haven’t put towards many of my other pursuits.

I quickly realized that the reason I was so averse to missing a week was because of two things. First, sending out this newsletter is a very specific task, with predetermined deadlines and structure. And second, it’s a public commitment, and everyone would know if I missed a week.

This is the power of specific social contracts, and these contracts can be applied towards many other areas than just email newsletters.

Social Contracts

A social contract is an agreement you make with a group of people to commit to something.

One example of a social contract is regularly going to the gym with a group of people; if you miss a day, then you usually have to explain yourself, which helps you stay consistent. Another example is a monthly book club.

These contracts provide motivation through the power of the observer effect. People act differently if they think they’re being watched. This can help us stick to our goals if we create a situation that feels like other people are observing our behaviors.

Social contracts don’t always have to be a group activity. You can use them to help individual habits, as long as you ask the people around you to keep you accountable.

Be Precise

There are a few characteristics that make social contracts more effective.

First, it’s important to be as specific as possible with your goals. For example, committing to “regularly going to the gym” isn’t precise enough. It’s hard to follow through with goals that aren’t very detailed.

However, if I tell everyone in my immediate circle that “I’m going to go to the gym every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 7 am,” there’s a much higher chance that I’ll actually stick with it. It would be even better if I found someone to go with so that I’d let them down if I missed a day.

The best social contracts have a deadline. If I commit to playing at an event 30 days from now, I have to follow through. Because of Parkinson’s Law, that deadline would also force me to create a concise, efficient plan.

Make Them Public

The more open you are with social contracts, the more effective they will be.

For example, my YouTube videos are pretty public: if I go more than a week without posting, someone usually asks me why I haven’t released a video. This keeps me in check by pointing out when I’m falling behind.

Subscribe to Thoughtful Thursday

Subscribe if you'd like to receive a short weekly email from us with an original thought, plus updates on our content and products.