Schelling's Game Theory: How to Make Decisions

By Robert V. Dodge | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Self-Command

Individual decisions can form the basis of a two-player game that also can be effectively employed by a person playing the game alone. A valuable reason for doing such a thing is to achieve what Schelling labeled “self-command.” Selfcommand is the structured attempt to constrain oneself from committing undesired behavior or to compel oneself to engage in desired behavior. It is based on the concept of the divided self.

Schelling explained:

Many of us have little tricks we play on ourselves to do the things we
ought to do or to keep us from the things we ought to foreswear. Some-
times we put things out of reach for the moment of temptation, some-
times we promise ourselves small rewards, and sometimes we surrender
authority to a trustworthy friend who will police our calories or ciga-
rettes. People who are chronically late set their watches a few minutes
ahead to deceive themselves. I have heard of a corporate dining room in
which lunch orders are placed by telephone at 9:30 or 10:00 in the morn-
ing: no food or liquor is then served to anyone except what was ordered
at that time, not long after breakfast, when food was least tempting and
resolve was highest. A grimmer example is people who have had their
jaws wired shut. Less dramatically, some smokers carry no cigarettes of
their own, so they pay the “higher” price of bumming free cigarettes.

In these examples, everybody behaves like two people, one who
wants clean lungs and a long life and another who adores tobacco, or
one who wants a lean body and another who wants dessert. The two are
in a continual contest for control: the “straight” one in command most
of the time, but the wayward one needing only to get occasional control
to spoil the other’s best laid plan.1

It is this rational “straight” you of the present that plays a game with a less rational future you. How to best approach such a game? Says Schelling, “Often the ways people try to constrain their own future behavior are like the ways they would try to constrain someone else’s behavior; they appear to be treating their

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