Before and After: Using and a Referee to Create a Habit of Productivity.

I’m writing my next book, Before and After, about how we make and break habits–an issue  very relevant to happiness. Each week, I’ll post a before-and-after story submitted by a reader, about how he or she successfully changed a habit. We can all learn from each other. If you’d like to share your story, contact me here.

This week’s story comes from Marissa Postler:

I’ll be honest, I’m not 100% changed quite yet, but I wanted to share a tool that is currently helping me considerably. I’ve explained your character index to several friends of mine and elaborated on why I consider myself an Obliger and why that’s a problem when I want to get things done that aren’t enforced.

A friend of mine found and suggested we give it a try. is basically a website all about helping “Obligers” stick to resolutions. You set a goal (mine was to spend at least an hour each day doing something productive – studying, cleaning, practicing music, exercising, etc.) and determine the rules/time frame of it first. Then you’re given the option to automatically charge your credit card an amount of your choice whenever you fail to report a successful week. The money can either go to a good charity or an “anti” charity, which might motivate you even more to not fail!

The part I’ve found most helpful though is the “referee” aspect of the site. My friend and I are each other’s “referees” so whenever one of us submits a successful report, the other has to confirm the validity of it. There is also a spot on each of our profiles for comments, much like a Facebook wall. We use that to keep tabs on each other’s progress throughout the week and encourage one another. I haven’t been doing this long enough to really claim that I’ve changed, but so far it’s been going really well and I highly recommend it to all the Obligers out there!

As Marissa points out, for Obligers, the secret to building a habit is to create a system of external accountability. She’s using and her friend to give her double accountability. Brilliant!

By the way, if you’re wondering what an Obliger is, read here.

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  • My friend used Stickk to keep himself accountable for talking to at least 3 strangers a day. He made his friend the referee in charge of $100. If my friend failed to talk to the 3 then his friend would have his money sent to a charity he disagrees with.

    It worked and he kept his money. 🙂

  • LizCat

    I used StickK several years ago for weight loss. Bad idea–my middle-aged body fluctuated too much week to week, even though I was losing weight overall. I sort of forgot about it after that, but I’m glad for this reminder. I have a few goals of which I can be completely in control, such as clearing clutter for 15 minutes a day or practicing piano. I think I’ll sign up again.

  • Erica Edelman

    I’m an Obliger, myself, and another external accountability method that’s definitely worth checking out (it’s my personal favorite) is . It’s like, but for data nerds (also, people who like pretty graphs!). Beeminder draws out a Yellow Brick Road that you have to keep your daily data points on. Personally, I like the fact that if I go above-and-beyond one day, that I can take it easy on another day. But other people explicitly like riding a consistent “Emergency Day” mode so that it’s always forcing the action they want.

    Full Disclosure: I’ve recently started working with the (super-awesome) Beeminder folks, so this isn’t an unbiased endorsement. 🙂

  • Caroline

    What about someone who responds to inner but not outer expectations? They don’t seem to be covered in the four types – or would they be a questioner?

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, that’s a Questioner. Because essentially they make all expectations into inner expectations; they only meet expectations that they endorse.

  • Just to let you know, My app, Habit reCode is a mix of Stickk and It gives you daily coaching AND offers the external accountability factor without the need for a referee.
    Habit reCode leverages your natural inclination to avoid loss in order to boost your discipline and consistency. It gives you coaching to stay focussed and imposes a small penalty ($2) for inaction. The use of consequences helps to override the voice in your head that says “it’s ok to skip this one”.
    I am currently developing the new and improved IOS version 🙂

    P.s. Gretchen, your book was one of the books that helped me come up with the concept… I am just such an introvert that I couldn’t go through with an actual accountability partner and had to find/create an alternative to achieve similar results.

    Take care 🙂

    Stacey B