Identity crafting

post by robot-dreams · 2014-12-31T18:34:27.426Z · score: 10 (11 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 9 comments

I spend a LOT of time on what I'll call "identity crafting".  It's probably my most insidious procrastination tactic--far worse than, say, Facebook or Reddit.

What do I mean by "identity crafting"?  Here are some examples:

In other words, "identity crafting" is some combination of making lists and daydreaming.  And since the vast majority of the "identities" that I "craft" never become reality, I should really say that "identity crafting" is some combination of making lists and self-aggrandizing delusion.

What's so bad about this?  Besides the obvious waste of time, this gives me a false sense of accomplishment and productivity--I often feel as though the "identity" that I "crafted" were already real, and I often feel as though I've already done enough for the day (week, month, year).  Thus in the short term, this is a great way to ensure that I don't do any "actual work", and in the long term, this is a great way to become a poser with an epically inflated opinion of myself.

So... does anyone else do this?


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comment by John_Maxwell_IV · 2014-12-31T23:21:44.760Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Instead of cutting out daydreaming altogether, you might try to tweak it and turn it in to "mental contrasting", a technique that the psychology literature has shown to be useful for achieving your goals. Some info.

You might also find it useful to use mental contrasting on whatever "behavioral bugs" you have that are preventing you from achieving your goals. For example, maybe being a hypereffective person consists of mastering these eight skills: controlling impulses, overcoming aversions, translating goals in to urges, maintaining a growth mindset, overcoming perfectionism, maintaining high morale, focusing effectively, and maintaining high energy. (If you haven't noticed, most people are not hypereffective and lead lives of quiet desperation.) So given those eight stats, (a) how do you rate in each right now and (b) how will you build your character to solve those eight core problems? For example, you could start meditating for impulse control and focus. You could learn about exposure therapy for overcoming aversions. You could use mental contrasting for translating goals in to urges. You could lift weights for growth mindset (this works surprisingly well) and energy. Etc. I'm essentially suggesting that you turn this "identity crafting" mindset on the very factors that are preventing you from achieving your desired identity.

In addition to the eight core problems I mentioned, there's a final problem I didn't: building and maintaining habits. That's the meta stat that will give you the ability to keep up something like a daily meditation practice in a sustainable way. Recommended reading. A daily habit review is the best method I've found to build habits: I ask myself in a nonjudgemental, curious way where I used the habit successfully, where I used the habit unsuccessfully, and where I could have used it even though I didn't think of it at the time.

comment by Dahlen · 2015-01-01T22:41:28.440Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If you want to avoid this habit, then don't dignify it with the name of "identity crafting". It's really just fantasizing through the use of to-do lists, which does nothing other than to pile up tasks on your future self. (In fact there is another, connotationally worse, commonly accepted name for this practice, but I'd rather err on the side of not offending you.) To craft an identity for yourself involves, at least partly, getting to be that person sooner or later.

You don't actually want to do these things, the sooner you realize this the better; you want to have done them. (If you wanted to do them, then you would have gone ahead and done them.) In this situation, either you abandon yourself to something you intrinsically like to do, or find a way to overcome this problem. And to overcome this problem, you need to... sorry to not be of much help... have overcome some of it. Get the ball rolling, so to speak. It's a matter of inertia.

comment by emr · 2015-01-01T01:41:51.410Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You're being somewhat hard on yourself.

insidious procrastination tactic...daydreaming... self-aggrandizing delusion...obvious waste of time...false sense of accomplishment...a poser with an epically inflated opinion of myself.

Perhaps this is for rhetorical purposes, but if not, consider whether this type of self-evaluation is a problem. The activities that you list seem basically good (deliberately planning and searching for things to do). Getting trapped at some stage between thinking about doing things and actually doing things is extremely common.

A few comments already have given or linked to some good concrete advice, so also remember that we feel pain for a reason, and that to effortlessly do what we feel we "ought to do" would be a mixed blessing: How many people have felt like they "ought to" spend half of their waking hours praying?

comment by Fluttershy · 2014-12-31T22:31:42.918Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Creating and revising my "four-year plan", i.e. schedule of university courses (at my university I had a lot of flexibility in which courses to take each term)

This is a great habit to have. I agree that the other habits you listed ostensibly don't have any benefits, though. Personally, having a four-year plan, and revisiting it each semester of university, was quite useful to me.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-01-01T01:31:16.783Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Some people do this to their fantasy characters whether it be role playing (live or table top), computer game characters or fiction writing characters (compare to Mary Sue).

I once crafted a role playing character after myself - but with all the (in-game) stats and abilities I'd like to have (as far as the game mechanics would allow it). I never actually played that character.

comment by CAE_Jones · 2014-12-31T19:20:54.591Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah. It's more bothersome because in high school and before I could actually act on some of these. There were still problems with Akrasia and just not being clever enough, but at some point it got worse. I'd say by an order of magnitude or four, but so far as I'm aware there isn't much of a means of quantifying this sort of thing.

comment by Vas · 2015-01-01T23:39:35.533Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I dont think there's anything inherently wrong with any of these activities. For modern connected people, at least in developed/ing countries, I think a similar problem is how to rank order all your goals and pet projects so as to achieve some maximum (probably hazily defined) utility. This is a problem I face myself when choosing how to spend my free time between various books, social activities, coding projects etc. First post

comment by AABoyles · 2014-12-31T19:54:18.714Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW


comment by AABoyles · 2014-12-31T19:59:15.823Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My (imperfect, incomplete) solution to dealing with this is to establish a canonical format and data source. For example, my list of book to read is saved as an extensive Amazon Wish List. This both ensures I don't waste time reconstructing the hundreds of books I've already listed and lowers the barrier to actually obtaining the books (I could literally click once and have the book on my Kindle), leaving only the hard part of actually reading it. I'm still working on the mental process which transitions from the list to the action.