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AeroRails comments on How to Beat Procrastination - Less Wrong

156 Post author: lukeprog 05 February 2011 06:49PM

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Comment author: AeroRails 04 May 2014 09:28:29AM *  0 points [-]

All good in theory but how would you apply this equation to procrastinating on something like exam revision?

  • Increase your expectancy of success.

This isn't relevant in most cases of procrastination. I already know I can successfully revise for exams, I've done it before, it's just too boring, so I don't feel like doing it. It's the same with say, washing the dishes - I know I can do it, but it's just boring. And revision requires a lot more mental effort than washing the dishes.

  • Increase the task's value (make it more pleasant and rewarding).

Flow - You misunderstood the concept of boredom. Boredom doesn't happen ONLY when you find the task too easy, it also happens when you find the task too difficult. Most people probably find maths boring because it's too hard for them, their competence level is too low for the task. Same with learning languages - people find languages boring because it's new and therefore difficult for them. From wikipedia: "In a learning environment, a common cause of boredom is lack of understanding; for instance, if one is not following or connecting to the material in a class or lecture, it will usually seem boring. "

Flow isn't about difficulty, it's about matching your competence level to the difficulty level of the task. If you find it too easy, then make it harder. If you find it too hard, then make it easier. On the other hand, when you are learning concepts that are fundamentally new to you, it is necessarily hard. What makes learning fun is not the process itself, as in playing video games or driving a car or playing musical instruments is rewarding in itself, but the OUTCOME of it. In other words, people are not intrinsically motivated to learn, as they are for video games, but they are extrinsically motivated to do learning and revision.

How do you make exam revision more rewarding without an external partner to administer rewards? Self-administering rewards is impractical because you can easily and will just give yourself the reward without doing the work. If you don't have someone overseeing you this is not a practical solution. The system reinforces cheating and punishes proper behavior by design.

  • Decrease your impulsiveness.

How do you do this without meditation or medication? I know what you mean by precommitting but technically that isn't reducing impulsivity, it just makes giving into temptation much more costly. Leaving aside the philosophical objection that this option takes away your individual freedom and makes you dependent on external compulsion, how would you do this in a way that isn't easily reversible without external help? Unplugging your router - you can just plug it back in again. Also what if you need internet for revision. Blocking websites - you can just unblock them. So precommitment isn't practical most of the time.

My point is that these solutions are only good in theory and not useful in reality for common problems such as procrastination on exam revision or studying. Learning is fundamentally difficult, and you can only increase your competence level by learning, so it's a catch-22 situation. Momentum doesn't apply in this kind of situation because learning is self-punishing or self-weakening. The more you learn, the more you don't feel like learning as your mind wanders because it is not in a state of flow.

Most of the solutions you mentioned skirt around the outside of the issue and don't address the root cause of the problem, which is lack of flow. Indeed, if tasks like studying and revision created flow, there wouldn't be any procrastination associated.

Anyways, I'd like to read a point-by-point counterargument to the points I've made because I don't feel my criticism is productive in itself since I'm still looking for the solution to procrastination.