Stop Defeating Akrasia (2/4)

post by Edith · 2024-02-12T12:03:23.651Z · LW · GW · 3 comments



The introduction post is here [LW · GW].

This post illustrates the first of three techniques which, when used in conjunction, should whack you out of Akrasia.

The technique is called "stopping".

I must mention what this post definitely isn't. The wierdos of the world have built entire industries around the practice of deliberately doing ostensibly nothing. Monks in the Himalayas encourage you to sit still cross-legged while you perform their particular brand of vague mental hocus pocus. Grander fraudsters and/or wierdos will implore you to freeze suddenly in the middle of dancing in order to achieve congruence with the fourth way enneagram or something, a practice unceremoniously robbed from bored toddlers or Sufis. You don't really need to get weird or dramatic or mystical about it - your weightlifting instructor might ask you to painfully pause for a few moments at the bottom of a squat in order to make your exercise more exercisey.  These things are examples of stopping plus some theory around stopping. I implore you to cut the theory out (or have any theory whatsoever, it doesn't matter) and just consider the act of deliberately stopping. It's ok to have the "this will help me towards defeating Akrasia" theory in your head, but even that is not actually necessary.

All there is to stopping is to feel like you have deliberately physically stopped doing anything. For this technique, it doesn't matter if your brain is firing five billion thoughts per second. You don't need to stop all mental processes or non-judgmentally watch your thoughts flow or focus on your breath or anything like that. Just deliberately physically stop doing something. You're probably already almost doing that right now, modulo the deliberately part. It doesn't matter if you think this action does/does not semantically correspond to the word "stopping" - you can call it "blarghing" or "flooming" or whatever you like.

There is no failure mode other than not trying - just register that you have held something still deliberately for any amount of time, even an instant, and you have succeeded. There is no "mastering" it - it's so simple that you are already a master. It doesn't matter if you deliberately stop for 2 seconds, or 10 seconds, or anything. You are free to worry/not worry about the fact that this is physically impossible because you're made of a cacophany of buzzing atoms or that your eyes are constantly making micro-movements or that your cells are actively dividing or whatever - none of those things matter.  You just have to deliberately physically stop doing something.

That's it.


Again, there is no way to fail at doing this unless you don't try. The distance between starting any of these exercises, and succeeding in "stopping", is zero. You instantly succeed.

"This has nothing to do with Akrasia. This has nothing to do with the thing I ought to be doing according to my best judgement"

You are absolutely correct!

If you need a point, here's the point. The end result of using the three techniques in conjunction is to find yourself "in the middle" of doing the thing you ought to be doing without ever feeling like you had to get there. A zero-friction directed accident.

Just for fun, see how it feels to think consciously about that thing you ought to be doing, and then try "stopping" in any way you like. You probably wont go ahead and do that thing, but that's fine, it's just for fun. 

See you next time.


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comment by FeepingCreature · 2024-02-12T19:31:34.444Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So what's happening there?

Allow me to speculate. When we switch between different topics of work, we lose state. So our brain tries to first finish all pending tasks in the old context, settle and reorient, and then begin the new context. But one problem with the hyperstimulated social-media-addicted akrasia sufferer is that the state of continuous distraction, to the brain, emulates the state of being in flow. Every task completion is immediately followed by another task popping up. Excellent efficiency! And when you are in flow, switching to another topic is a waste of invested energy.

"Coming to rest", the technique here, would then be a way to signal to the brain "actually, you are mistaken. I do not have any pending tasks at the moment." This would then make it easier to initiate a deep context switch.

edit: Oh, I get the title lol, that's clever.

comment by Mike Robbins · 2024-02-13T20:39:38.482Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting, thanks.

One metacognitive behavior which I think you’re pointing to but I want to call out explicitly is something like, “I default-assume I should finish thinking the thought I’m thinking now. I should get to the end of the sentence.” (And then, before you know it, the next sentence begins…) Thinking is one example, but could apply to other verbs, reading/watching/doings as well.

Instead, it seems useful to experientially see that “stopping” can be “practiced” at any point, even before you get to the end of whatever it is. There is no need to finish the

Replies from: StartAtTheEnd
comment by StartAtTheEnd · 2024-02-13T21:28:21.788Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That reminds me of how people get songs stuck on their heads. This is mostly due to the "loop" aspect of songs, whereas the thought problem you're pointing to seems more like a markov-chain which doesn't terminate, or a thought process which generates more questions than answers, and thus keeps going.

When I read the last bit of your post, my brain doesn't like it, and it tries to autocomplete it.

Two more processes which might be relevant are:

1: OCD, in which the brain gets stuck on certain thoughts, and doesn't break away again easily.
2: The Tetris effect. If I talk with people all day, then I will hear people talking as I try to sleep. But this is the brain rapidly training itself on the training data that it collected doing the day, which becomes noisy at night since your consciousness and subconsciousness get closer as you approach a dream-state.

These all relate in the same way: The brain likes to process things until they're resolved/finished properly.