Trying To Quit Smoking? Paying People To Drop Their Bad Habits Works — Sort Of

People commonly assume that financial incentives work. It often seems like you can get others to do just about anything for money, and that bad or even evil stuff has often been motivated by cold hard cash. However, like so many things in life, it's complicated. The power of habit is in some cases stronger than the love of money, and science can prove it. Trying to quit smoking? New research shows that paying people to quit their bad habits works, but only sort of. Researchers offered some smokers money to quit, and it turns out the way in which the payments were structured mattered greatly.

Doctors publishing their work in the New England Journal of Medicine offered groups of smokers one of four different deals: individual reward ($200 at four different points in the path to quitting successfully), individual deposit (the reward, except smokers paid in $150 to start and lost the deposit if they failed), collaborative reward (payments which increased with the success of other members of a small group), and competitive reward (payments which increased depending on the failures of other members of a small group).

All four groups experienced more success in quitting smoking than a control group of quitters, but the individual depositors experienced the most success. Why? People are motivated by the fear of loss more than the prospect of gain. That quitting smoking incentive feels like monopoly money way in the future when you get a craving, but the $150 deposit you already paid out in cold hard cash seems very real — and very much at stake — when you're tempted to light up. Unfortunately, outside of the lab setting, few smokers choose a deposit-style program.

With all of our New Year's resolutions receding into the rearview, desperate times call for desperate measures, whether your goal for this year is to quit smoking or something else. Unfortunately, most of us don't have a friendly and rich scientist who wants to experiment on our willpower and pay us hundreds of dollars in the process (or an employer offering us money to do stuff we should do already). If you need to bribe yourself, then, you might want to choose an accountability service, like habit-formation site Stickk. Stickk users choose goals, invite accountability buddies if desired, then enter their credit card numbers and agree to periodic financial incentives for sticking to their commitments.

You can set set up Stickk to provide a friendly financial incentive in the form of a donation to a charity you do like, but that kind of defeats the purpose because then you'll rationalize your failure away. Alternatively, you can set up Stickk to donate to a charity whose purpose you don't like, instead. Nothing like an email notifying you that you literally just paid money to your worst enemy to get you to the gym, eh?

Image: Raul Lieberwirth/Flickr; Giphy