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The Rise of the Programmable Self

Programmable self is a riff on the Quantified Self (QS). It is a simple concept:

Quantify what you want to change about yourself + motivational hacks = personal change success.

There are several potential “motivation hacks” that people regularly employ. The simplest of these is peer pressure. You could tell all of your co-workers every morning whether you kept your diet last night, for instance. Lots of research has shown that sort of thing is an effective motivator for change. Of course, you can make peer pressure digital by doing the same thing on Facebook/Twitter/Google+/whatever. Peer pressure has two components: shame and praise. It’s motivating to avoid shame and to get praise. Do it because of a tweet and viola, you have digital peer pressure motivation.

Several books have recently popularized using money, in one form or another, as a motivational tool. There is some evidence, for instance, that people feel worse about losing $10 than they feel good about earning $10. This is called loss aversion, and it can easily be turned into a motivational hack. Having trouble finishing that book? Give 10 envelopes with $100 each to your best friend. Instruct them to mail the envelopes to your favorite (or most hated) charity for each month that you do not finish a chapter. Essentially, you’ve made your friend a “referee” of your motivational hack.

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