Vivitrol and Commitment Devices
Classical and Cutting-Edge Commitment Devices
Tied to the Mast
The ancient Greek hero Odysseus longed to hear the Sirens’ Song, but had been told that listening for too long made men jump overboard–never to be seen again. Most plugged their ears with wax when preparing to sail past the Siren’s island. Odysseus did not. Determined to put these stories to the test, he had his crew tie him to the ship’s mast instead.
Odysseus screamed upon hearing the song, begging to be released. It was agonizing for all. Many psychologists believe that Odysseus’ suffering on the mast is meant as a metaphor for our own struggles against our temptations in life. Are we Odysseus, subjecting ourselves to unnecessary anguish? Or his first mate, tempted to relieve his friend’s suffering based on a short-term judgment? Perhaps we are both.
For better or worse, we’ve been using commitment devices like these for millenia. Human nature involves ‘wanting’ different things at different times, often tempted to act against our own long-term interest. A commitment device is “a choice that an individual makes in the present which restricts his own set of choices in the future, often as a means of controlling future impulsive behavior and limiting choices to those which reflect long-term goals”. A commitment device is an arrangement we make in a clear state of mind which limits our ability to act on our own self-will when we are ‘put to the test’.
Achieving our goals is almost always physically possible, but the truth is that we lack the needed discipline. Some modern examples of commitment devices include long-term gym memberships, cutting a credit card, or checking into rehab. For alcoholism, the monthly Vivitrol shot also acts as a commitment device (over the daily naltrexone pill).