Aging in Place Wth a Commitment Device


A man and woman laying in bed smiling for the camera.

I think of myself as something of a connoisseur of procrastination, creative and dogged in my approach to not getting things done.

– Susan Orlean


Aging in Place

A commitment device is a technique where someone makes it easier for themselves to avoid akrasia (acting against one’s better judgment), particularly procrastination (Wikipedia “º wiki “º Commitment device).

A commitment device is, as journalist Stephen J. Dubner and economist Steven Levitt describe it, simply a way to lock oneself into following a plan of action that one might not want to do, but which one knows is good for oneself. Face it, we have all done this, there are things we know we NEED to do but find creative ways to avoid doing it. As an undergraduate I came up with the most fascinating ways to put off studying–suddenly that closet needed reorganizing and it was triaged to the top of my priority list. I convinced myself I was doing something “productive”, and the self-imposed (Catholic) guilt was staved. Only to return when the job was complete, and those 4 chapters and that paper were once again staring me in the face. What I needed was a good Commitment Device, a thing that would lock me into changing my behavior by linking it to a reward or punishment. One of the oldest fictional examples of a commitment device is the story of Odysseus who tied himself to his ship’s mast so he wouldn’t be entranced by the siren’s song.

Siren: Mythical Creature in The Odyssey

Sirens are one of numerous mythical creatures in Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey. On his journey home after the Trojan War, the hero Odysseus and his men are tasked with steering their ship through the straits between Italy and Sicily, home of the dangerous mythical winged creatures the Sirens, who inhabit one of the coastal islands. The Sirens, according to a warning from Circe, a goddess who once held Odysseus captive, are winged monster women who are part bird and part human. The Sirens’ goal is to lure sailors off course and to their deaths. Their Siren song can hypnotize sailors, causing them to crash their boats into rocks and land. Sailors often venture into Siren territory as they navigate the strait’s other resident monsters, including Scylla, a six-headed man-eating monster, and Charybdis, a ship-swallowing whirlpool.

In “The Odyssey,” Odysseus instructs his sailors to plug their ears with beeswax, given to him by Circe, to prevent their hearing the Siren song. Odysseus himself straps his body to the mast of the ship in an effort to be able to listen to the song of the Sirens without steering the ship toward danger. With Circe’s aid, the crew sails safely through the straits and narrowly avoids an untimely death.


Odyssey knew something about human nature and how to deal with its limitations to achieve his goal. This phenomena of going against what we know is good for us is as old as humanity itself, in fact the ancients had a term for it “AKRASIA.” Acting against our better judgement is nothing new.

Aging in Place Remodeling

The concept of aging-in-place remodeling is such a perfect example of an area that is vulnerable to akrasia. Many know about the concept now, but the data shows few are acting on it. So, here are some steps to consider when making the future a part of your current philosophy about remaining home by choice:

Commitment devices have two important features:

  1. They are voluntarily adopted: We attempt to lock ourselves into a habit by choice.
  2. They tie consequences to failure: Failure to follow through on our commitment brings some form of consequence or cost. It’s this consequence which intends to bind us to the desired behavior.

The most common types of commitment device are as follows:

  1. Imposing obstacles to temptation
  2. Making a public commitment
  3. Entering a monetary contract
  4. Entering a social contract


Use these devices to map out your aging-in-place strategy. Start small, work your way up–your future self will thank you.

Start now for a happy ending.



The Value of Aging in Place

error: Content is protected !!