The Power of Social Contracts

Aman Manazir
Issue #18
November 19, 2020

Hello everyone,

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.

Have a great week,

My Favorite Things This Week

A few days ago, I listened to Joe Rogan's discussion with Adam Alter. Alter is a professor of marketing at NYU, and wrote a book called Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology. Their conversation on social media addiction and technology was deeply enlightening. It inspired me to seriously reconsider how much I use my electronic devices, and the effects that they have on my everyday life.

I recently finished The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie. This was an incredible fantasy book with great character development and imagery. I definitely learned a great deal about description and how to paint morally grey characters.

For the past month I've been enjoying Fargo, a TV show about organized crime in the Midwest. This has quickly become one of my top 3 favorite TV shows of all time, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Breaking Bad or shows like it.

Quote of the Week

"What you aim at determines what you see." - Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life

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