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Future Lock-In

Future lock-in is a technique that consists of giving a short-term benefit in order for the target to commit in the long-term. The crux of the technique is that, in the long-term, the short-term advantage is useless, but to the target, in the moment, it does feel like a big element.

The simplest example of future lock-in is, for example:

  • “Sign today, and start paying today“;
    • Versus
  • “Sign today, ands start paying 2 months from now“;
  • The second case will seem a lot more attractive, although in the long-term, it’s completely irrelevant;

Underlying Psychology/Biases

This relies on the cognitive bias of time discounting. In other words, people will value a lot more what they get in the present, and discard the long-term consequences of their actions.

Having the benefit at the beginning gives the person a false sense of security. While you are in that initial period, it sure feels like this will last forever. But sooner or later, it will end, and now you are locked in a commitment.

Sub-Techniques

Examples

  • Car sales
    • This is used in almost every car sale;
    • “Sign today, start paying 2 months from now”;
  • Microtransactions
    • For example, the “stamina” in games;
    • You will be offered a lot of stamina for free in the beginning, but later it will start being charged for;
    • You commit to the game and the story, and in the long-term, you will have to pay for what in the short-term was free;
  • Credit
    • The paramount example of future lock-in;
    • You have a short-term benefit (cash on hand) while ignoring the future consequence (paying back more);
  • Junk food
    • Another simple example. You have a short-term benefit (the taste of the food) while ignoring the future health consequences;
  • Climate change
    • Another example. You get the short-term benefit (using fossil fuels) while ignoring the future consequences (climate destabilization and disasters);
  • Upfront payments
    • An anti-example;
    • Paying the whole of something upfront is the opposite of future lock-in;
    • You are taking a big hit in the short-term, in return for having benefits in the long-term;
  • Weight loss
    • Another example;
    • If you want to commit to losing weight and convince yourself, you are much more likely to do it if you have to start later;
      • “Decide now and start losing weight today”;
        • Versus
      • “Decide now and start losing weight 2 weeks from now”;

Commercial/Known Uses

Key Takeaways

  • Future lock-in can be summarized as give now, take later. You are giving the person a temporary benefit in order to get them committed in the long-term;
    • Remember that commitment is crucial. They must sign right here and now. If they are not committed, once the initial bliss period is over, they have nothing locking them;
  • It relies on the cognitive bias of time discounting. People value more what happens in the present and disregard what happens in the future;
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