Outsourcing Motivation: The End of Discipline

Want to get better at upholding personal commitments? (rhetorical question) – Try outsourcing them…

Brought to you from the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, and the gurus of Behavior Design; in order to accomplish any goal, we need to have the following three things:

1) Ability – the physical capacity to carry out the task or tasks that will result in our intended outcome

2) Motivation – an incentive that outweighs the cost of acting. And, we need to have what they call:

3) A “Hot-trigger” – this is our call to action…

Short story

Thursday, March 22rd, 2012 – 10:00am… 

“Leave it with your doorman and I’ll come by first thing tomorrow morning – Would you like me to pick up one load or two” – asked Kirsten. “One trip should do it”, i said, “It’ll be such a relief to finally get this stuff off my hands”. “Well I’m glad I could help out” said Kirsten.

I’ve never met Kirsten. Kirsten works for TaskRabbit, one of many businesses, now welling up in major cities across the US that employs people in your area to carry out virtually any task you can think of ranging from grocery shopping, to office help, to handing out flyers, waiting in ticket-lines, running errands, delivering packages, shopping at IKEA, cleaning your apartment and even assembling furniture right in your living room.

In this instance I’d hired Kirsten to collect items from me to take to good will. The price we both agreed on was $12. – The REAL reason I hired Kirsten for this task was motivation.  – Motivation for myself to finally follow through on an overly long-standing personal commitment to clean out my darn closet, sort out old books and junk, free up my space and, most importantly, free up my mind! 

All of the minute tasks of getting organized, trivial as they may seem, consume much more than their fair share of valuable space on our mental hard-drives. I hired Kirsten, not to perform a simple task (transporting my stuff from point A to point B), but to catalyze action! – I knew I wanted to lighten my load and I had the physical ability to do so. What I needed was some incentive; a hot-trigger. The fact that I’d already spent $12 on the task acted as a mild incentive, but the primary motivator I found was: not wanting to let Kirsten down. – I’ll reiterate, I’ve never met Kirsten, but as fellow human beings having solidified a just agreement, we have a strong psychological urge NOT to disappoint the opposing party.

Tapping into this psychology is a great way to nudge our motivation over the critical point that leads to action.

As a fitness coach I can tell you that most PT clients hire trainers, not to help them exercise, but as motivation to simply come into the gym. Don’t underestimate the power of an appointment. Commitment to another is often stronger then commitment to one’s self – even more so when money is involved.

If you’re in the NY area you can hire Kirsten on TaskRabbit. You can also check out other services like FancyHandsOutsource Everything, or Agent Anything. – Enjoy!

Experiment with this concept. Get creative. Have fun with it. And please share what you come up with in the comments section below.


  1. […] 1) Design a structure that prohibits wasteful procrastination (not all procrastination is useless, see my article on How to Use Procrastination to Foster Productivity) […]

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