Whenever my boyfriend wants to go on Twitter, he texts me something he likes about himself and something he’s looking forward to. It started as a cheesy, late-night agreement that made us both laugh: If Twitter was making him so anxious and pessimistic, why not create a tangible consequence for logging on? I came up with what I believed was the perfect price: forced optimism. Desperate to wean himself off, Avi agreed, and what started as a tipsy joke became something of a rule. He hates it, but he honors it, and it’s made for some really funny midday texts:
Monday, 10 a.m.: “I like my sense of humor and I’m excited for the holidays.”
Wednesday, 2 p.m.: “I like that I cook good Indian food and I’m excited to learn more recipes.”
Thursday, 7 p.m.: “I like my ability to photoshop your cat’s head onto various animals and I’m looking forward to getting ramen with you in an hour.”
I like to respond in surprise agreement, as if he sent them for no reason. He says he’s running out of things he likes about himself — to which I say, “Pffffffffff, try harder” — but fortunately for him, he’s been logging onto Twitter less and less. And although the optimistic texts make me laugh, I’m happy to be receiving fewer.
One of the first things I liked about Avi was how informed he was. He cares about a lot of stuff and endeavors to understand the nuances of our culture, be they political, social or historical. I’m enamored by his seemingly limitless capacity for new information, but over the past year, he realized that Twitter — and the nonstop hot-take brand of news it’s famous for — had become an unproductive conduit for his curiosity. Social media can be depressing on its own, but 2017 was not an easy year to be glued to it.
To both of our surprise, the plan has worked. It’s been months since he’s spent a significant amount of time or energy on Twitter, and if he looks at all, he counters the impulse with a mindful pause. We both know it’s kind of silly — it’s just an app, and he still gets the news elsewhere — but the impact on his mental health has been obvious. It’s all made me wonder: Are clever consequences the secret to keeping promises?
As the new year dawns and resolution-setting is underway, it seems a particularly relevant question.
The idea of “positive consequences” wasn’t something I made up. The life coach I interviewed in May introduced it to me. She told me that if people want to keep their self-improvement promises, they have to anticipate that they’ll break them, account for those failures in their plan and then share that plan with others to inspire accountability. I didn’t realize it at first, but this is exactly what Avi and I did with the Twitter deal. Had he privately tried to quit full-stop, he probably would have given up by now. But the win-win compromise, which we share as a kind of inside joke, makes it feel more fun and less marked by the haunting binary of success versus failure that so often accompanies goal-setting.
I’ve historically denounced resolution-setting as a well-intended form of delusion, but watching him keep his own promise has served as unexpected inspiration for me this year. What if instead of setting lofty personal goals that made us feel good in January and bad by April, we picked a friend, sibling, coworker or partner and cut a mutual deal? One that was supportive of failure, was kind to our human propensity to mess up and brought us closer to someone we cared about in the process?
Could it work? Would you try it? Have you already set one? Tell me everything.