Dear Economist: Can you help me to wake up earlier?

I struggle to wake up in the morning although I sleep, on average, seven and a half hours. As I do have a flexible timetable, I arrive at work at 10am. I would like to start at 9am, but my laziness makes it impossible.

Do you have any advice?
Ruth

Dear Ruth,

Your guide here must be the Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling. Schelling’s expertise as a game theorist was honed by his experiences as a cold war strategist – he advised John F. Kennedy during the Berlin crisis.

Schelling realised that the same bargaining and bluffing techniques that worked against Nikita Khrushchev might also work in an individual’s struggle with herself, to quit smoking, diet or get out of bed in the morning. He called the idea “egonomics”.

Your predicament is a contest between two competitors, Evening Ruth and Morning Ruth. Evening Ruth has fine ideas about an early start, but her late nights impose costs on Morning Ruth, who then stays in bed.

One option is to tie Morning Ruth’s hands, just as Odysseus ordered his sailors to tie him to the mast. Evening Ruth might buy one of those motorised alarm clocks that falls off the dresser and scuttles under the bed, beeping loudly.

An alternative is to recruit a third player. The British government handed over control of interest rates to the Bank of England. Similarly, ask an early-bird friend to call every morning.

Odder still, Evening Ruth could enlist Bad Cop Ruth to punish Morning Ruth for lie-ins by, say, denying her(self) television privileges. Bizarre as it may seem to turn one person’s decision into a three-way inner struggle, Schelling avers that this technique works.

One final point. Your letter was evidently composed by Evening Ruth. Are you sure that Morning Ruth’s preferences are so mistaken?

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Tim Harford’s blog

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Tim, also known as the Undercover Economist, writes about the economics of everyday life.