Stop Defeating Akrasia (1/4)

post by Edith · 2024-02-10T12:10:04.823Z · LW · GW · 8 comments




This will be the first post in a four part series on defeating Akrasia, which is defined as the practice of acting against one's better judgement. It might work. It might be idiosyncratic nonsense. It worked for me. Try it; the techniques are easy and either immediately work or don't. No learning curve, no practice required. No investment. This first part is an introduction, and will be followed by three posts illustrating three very simple techniques to be used in conjunction. For now, let me show you something.

Close to one-hundred percent of  adult humanity knows and understands the benefits of exercise. I wont bother linking any of the bajillion empirical studies that corroborate the benefits of exercise. They are not required. You already know that it affords benefits to cognitive health, physical health, sexual attractiveness, mood, and so on - anything that anyone really wants. You are not alone - everybody and their mother has known this too, and probably for many millennia, and definitely long before anyone was literate or knew how to do science.  Thirty minutes of heart pumping exercise per day is an exceptionally good deal - it is drinking from the fountain of youth, and everyone already knows about it. Everybody knows about it, yet few do it.


You know how this auto completes. You know I am going to ask why so many people behave so obviously pathologically. You know I am going to name and blame Akrasia. You know what that is already. You clicked this post, after all. You know the problem has nothing to do with knowing, and now you're going to know more by reading this post. You're going to know more, and you're still not going to hit the gym or do that thing that you know you should be doing.  You know all about hyperbolic discounting/TAPs/whatever else, you read all the footnotes and caveats, and you're still not going to hit the gym. Didn't know about those things? Great, now you know more, but be honest - it's redundant information, isn't it? It helped only a little bit, right?  

If the treatment was knowledge, you would be immediately certified as treatment resistant. You know that knowing that exercise is the fountain of youth is not enough to actually get yourself to do it. You know that knowing you are incontinent or reading 500 articles on Akrasia is not enough to stop being dominated by it.  You know the language I used in the last two paragraphs is incredibly loaded and filled with assumptions about the nature of your mind or your unique life circumstances or whatever. Doesn't matter. You know all that. Does it help you exercise when you know you should?

Good news. The treatment is not new or special knowledge. I will show you three techniques that whack you out of Akrasia when used in conjunction. No new knowledge is required. They are simple techniques. They even have simple names: stopping, continuing, and starting. One per post. In that order.  Be an instrumentalist about it. 

Now what? 

I can show you all three techniques right now. Ready?


Humor me. Humor yourself. Raise your right index finger and keep it raised for four seconds. If you don't have a right index finger, raise something else that you do have. Four, three, two, one. Drop it. Did you do it? Could you do it?

If you tried, it was easy, right? You did it. 

I know. "You can't be serious. This has nothing to do with Akrasia. Akrasia occurs when I act against my best judgement. This has nothing to do with my best judgement".


See you next time.






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comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2024-02-10T14:36:22.560Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not actually a response to your post, but just after reading it, by happy coincidence I encountered this quotation on the theme from Jack Vance’s novel “Lyonesse: Madouc”:

Travante- “.....I excel in nothing. I am neither a philosopher, nor a geometer, nor yet a poet. Never have I destroyed a horde of savage enemies, nor built a noble monument, nor ventured to the far places of the world. I lack all grandeur.”

“You are not alone,” said Madouc. “Few can claim such achievements.”

“That means naught to me! I am I; I answer to myself, with no heed for others. I am persuaded that a life-span should not be futile and empty! For this reason I seek my lost youth, and with such special zeal.”

“And if you were to find it, what would you do?”

“I would alter everything! I would become a person of enterprise: I would consider wasted the day that did not include the contriving of some wonderful plan, or the building of a fine object, or the righting of a wrong! So would pass each day, in marvelous deeds. Then each night I would gather my friends for an occasion which would be remembered forever! That is how life should be lived, to the best effort of one's powers! Now that I know the truth, the time is too late – unless I find what I seek.”

Madouc turned to Sir Pom-Pom. “have you been paying heed? These are lessons which you should take to heart, if only so that someday you may avoid Tavante's regrets.”

“It is a sound philosophy,” said Sir Pom-Pom. “I have occasionally thought along similar lines. However, while toiling at the royal stables I could not put such theories into effect......”

Replies from: Edith, Augustin Portier
comment by Edith · 2024-02-10T15:24:56.073Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That means naught to me! I am I; I answer to myself, with no heed for others.

The irony! 

comment by TeaTieAndHat (Augustin Portier) · 2024-02-11T05:38:34.227Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Really interesting quote, thanks for sharing it! 

comment by Algon · 2024-02-10T22:50:53.684Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is well written. I am interested in reading your next post.

comment by martinkunev · 2024-02-12T02:11:49.213Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I hope the next parts don't get delayed due to akrasia :)

comment by TeaTieAndHat (Augustin Portier) · 2024-02-11T05:18:05.126Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well-written post. Really looking forward to the next ones.

comment by Saul Munn (saul-munn) · 2024-02-11T23:24:56.611Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
  1. the name of this post was really confusing for me. i thought it would be about "how to stop defeating akrasia," not "how to defeat akrasia by stopping." consider renaming it to be a bit more clear?
  2. the part at the end really reminded me of this piece by dr mciver:
Replies from: Edith
comment by Edith · 2024-02-12T12:11:13.898Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

the name of this post was really confusing for me. i thought it would be about "how to stop defeating akrasia," not "how to defeat akrasia by stopping." consider renaming it to be a bit more clear?

It is both!

the part at the end really reminded me of this piece by dr mciver:

There is indeed a certain amount of "think fast" type action generation going on in what I'm trying to do here, but  the overall idea involves sustaining it until you are well into doing the thing you ought to be doing.