Hi all, this is another entry in my "Practical transhumanism" series that personally I think is the most difficult to implement a lot of the time. Put simply, "Akrasia" is defined in the dictionary like this:
the state of mind in which someone acts against their better judgement through weakness of will.
Essentially, it's what happens when we know what we should do, but don't do it - quite often due to lack of willpower. The solution is to upgrade your willpower so you can achieve difficult and unpleasant things more easily. The most common form of this is excessive procrastination.
Many may question if this belongs under the area of transhumanism, because in many ways it's simple mental healthcare and self-help - but it goes beyond that. Eliminating akrasia is eliminating a human weakness that causes a lot of suffering in the world, so it is a valid problem for transhumanists to tackle.
The problem of Akrasia is a common point of discussion in rationalist communities such as lesswrong.com (a site I recommend everyone to read regardless), and solutions are rare, indicating the problem is a complex one.
I myself have struggled a lot with this one, but seem to have found a way to fix it that works for me - and i'm hoping it works for you as well dear reader.
Undoubtedly there are pharmaceutical approaches to this problem, but relying on drugs to augment willpower is a bad idea in the long term, so I will not cover that subject here (for those interested, sulbutiamine seems to be the best approach here and I do use it myself for short bursts - but it does not work longterm as the brain quickly develops tolerance).
What we need therefore is a set of psychological approaches. Note that below I will use the phrase "want to do" in place of "should do", and you should do - for very obvious psychological reasons, it's better to want to do that which is helpful to us.
I've outlined here a sort of algorithm for beating procrastination which will work in a lot of cases, but the problem is still essentially unsolved.
Step one - make sure what you want to do is ACTUALLY a good idea
First you should be sure you do not enhance your willpower in a harmful way by checking that you are not applying it to enable you to resist biological impulses or social norms that are actually in your best interests.
While it's possible to apply willpower to (for example) starve yourself, this is clearly a bad idea. At the same time though, at this stage you need to be careful of the opposite as it's easy to generate rationalisations for why something is a bad idea.
Make a list of any rationalizations against doing whatever it is you want to do in a simple list format, and for each one review it and criticise it as if someone else had written it. The goal is to check you have a rational purpose in mind.
Once this is done, move onto step two.
Step two - compare the world as it is, with the world after doing your task
The goal here is to induce in your mind an impetus to act, and this works even for something fairly minor such as doing household chores. If you fail to tidy up, your house will be a mess, but if you tidy up your house will be nice and clean.
If you take that new job, you'll have lots more money and be doing interesting work and moving forward, if you don't take it then you'll be left with less money and less interesting work.
At this stage, the goal is to induce the idea that failing to act will leave you worse off or harm something you hold to be of great value. If you do your work here, you'll find yourself feeling uneasy about not doing whatever it is you've been putting off. But you will also find this is insufficient to trigger action a lot of the time.
Step three - figure out the first action
Most activities have a first action. Writing a program involves that first line of code, tidying up involves moving that first pile of stuff somewhere, signing up for cryonics involves getting that first life insurance quote etc etc. The trick is to find a first action that will lead to a chain of actions and is not itself too difficult in any way.
This is deceptively simple sounding for some tasks - and it should be. You need to trick yourself into thinking the whole task is as simple as the first stage of it and use that to build a chain of tasks.
Step four - schedule (aggressively) the first action
Do me a favour, right now.
Look at the current time with a clock that counts seconds, and tell yourself that when you next see it hitting 30 seconds after the minute, you will stand up (assuming you're sitting down while reading this post). Just trust me here, it sounds silly but try it, i'll wait.
Now you've stood up, you'll notice it felt pretty automatic - the point here was that the instruction to stand up does not in itself seem unreasonable, so by telling yourself to do it in response to the time changing you've essentially configured a default action in your brain and there's no reason not to carry it out.
Now apply the same to your first step from step three above. Set a time today (and I mean today - unless you have SERIOUS reasons not to start today, it must be within the same waking phase of your sleep cycle to work - if not, start from the top tomorrow and get someone else to force you to start with step one above).
At that time today, begin your first step that you decided upon on in step three above and just do it.
The next part is making sure you stay on-task, and for that I have no answer since it varies from person to person too much - for many tasks i've personally found loud music and caffeine helps.
My personal suggestion is always either some good quality death or black metal, or Nine Inch Nails - and the latter tends to be more "friendly" for most, so go listen to their recent single and use it as a gateway drug to get into Trent Reznor's genius:
Then go look what you've gone done...........
Or you can remain less than