What the heck is a forcing function?
Have you ever tried to start the microwave with the door open? Or take the key out of the ignition while the car is in drive?
These are two examples of behavior-shaping constraints, otherwise known as forcing functions. Like the name suggests, these functions force you to act in a certain way to get a desired effect.
Forcing functions for dancers
If you want to improve your dancing, forcing functions are a powerful mental model to use. Let me explain with an example.
You want to become a better social dancer. You go out dancing 4 nights a week…good for you! But there is a problem. Whenever you have a bad dance you get so embarrassed you immediately jump in your car and drive home. Some nights this can be after just one dance! What to do?
There are several forcing functions to consider. But first, what is the goal of said function? We want to be out social dancing for at least 2 hours each night.
What is the action we want to avoid with this function? We don’t want to make a quick exit after our first bad dance. Ok, now let’s brainstorm options:
- Sell your car to rely on Uber/friends/public transport to get there and back.
- Give a friend $100 when you arrive and tell them if you leave early, they can keep it.
- Promise a friend you will give them a ride home each night
- Take 2 shots of Patron before you dance with anyone
- and so on…
Take a moment and consider these options (and others). Which does the best job of achieving the desired goal while avoiding the negative action?
Selling your car would avoid the negative action of hopping in your car. But then you have no car and you can still get outta there immediately via other methods. No go.
Promising a friend a ride home is great if you have a friend staying for 2 hours each night. Forcing functions should always be there, not sometimes. Exnay.
Taking 2 shots of Patron means it will take 2 hours to drive under the legal limit (thank you metabolism!). But you can still get home via Uber. And the alcohol may affect your dancing. Nix.
That leaves the $100 to a friend. The good thing about this is you probably have enough friends at a social to always find someone. If a friend leaves early, you can give it to another friend. This method also sidesteps the need to become an alcoholic, always good.
But you do have to choose to give the $100 to someone. The constraint is self-inflicted each time. It would be better to set a forcing function and forget it. But of the options, this is my favorite.
Forcing functions in the wild
The $100 forcing function relies on $100 being a meaningful amount of cash. If it’s not, bump it up until it is. Once it is, you’ll notice the scene play out like this:
You go to the club. You find your trusted friend and palm him the Benjamin. On your first dance, you step square on your partners foot and they let out a LOUD scream. You feel terrible and decide to go home. DAMMIT!
You already paid $10 to get into this social and now you are going to lose another $100 if you want to leave. What to do?
You decide to go outside to get away from the peering eyes. After 10 minutes, your friend sees you outside. The two of you get to chatting and they ask you to dance. You say no. They insist. You accept out of obligation. And you have a great dance!
This is just one example. The takeaway is you can design a system to overcome whatever challenge you face in your dancing. These can be challenges of execution along with the above example of motivation.
Do you have examples of forcing functions you have used or seen to improve your dancing? If so, I’d love to hear them!