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Make your bad habits the villains

1 Post author: AshwinV 06 September 2015 09:20AM

An often effective learning technique is the memory palace.  The reason it works is because humans are simply better at remembering long routes than they are at memorizing long lists of abstract words, numbers etc. We have evolved in this fashion.

Apparently, humans are just inherently better at some things than at others.

In[this link](http://lesswrong.com/lw/31i/have_no_heroes_and_no_villains/), PhilGoetz argues that making heroes and villains out of people is a natural tendency. He views it as one of the habits that can be de-programmed, but requires effort - "a conscious effort to shatter the good guy, bad guy narrative".

But can we do better than simply de-program this tendency? Can we put it to use the way, the memory palace has been subverted to our own end?

[Anthropomorphism](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropomorphism) to the rescue. 

Make that short-tempered habit of yours, the alcoholic wife-beater that you loath. Make your habit of procrastination, the lazy employee in the office who never gets things done and gets his whole team into trouble. Make your deepest insecurities, the most despicable version of Peter Pettigrew that you have come across.

See if it works. Let me know in the comments section.

Comments (17)

Comment author: Bobertron 06 September 2015 12:56:57PM *  3 points [-]

First, your markup is broken. I can see the link-syntax, instead of the links. Also, the firs link is to an article by Phil Goetz, not Eliezer Yudkowsky.

Now about the actual content. I'm all for trying to use one's natural tendencies, instead of just trying to compensate for them. But I'm critical of the concrete examples you gave. What you are trying to do seems to be to motivate yourself through shame and guilt. And no one seems to be in favour of that. Some reasons why I think it's a bad idea:

  1. I believe you train yourself to be judgemental, not just about yourself but about others. I see no reason why the behaviour of judging your own actions wouldn't generalize to judging other people's behaviour.
  2. Punishing yourself is unlikely to be effective, because you are unlikely to do it every single time you transgress. AFAIK punishment works best when it's a reliable consequence of the behaviour you want to control ('continuous punishment' in behavioural psychlology). It works very poorly otherwise, because every other time, the behaviour still gets reinforced. E.g. every time you take a cookie out of the cookie jar (a habit you want to minimize because you are on a diet) and you forget to conjure up a mental image of Dudley Dursly (a fat character from Harry Potter), you still get rewarded by a delicious cookie.
  3. You start associate related concepts with the punishment. Essentially, you are building an ugh-field. Suppose you associate procrastination with laziness. What do you associate procrastination with? With the very tasks that you are putting off. Now event thinking about doing the dishes makes you feel worse than you felt before you conjured up the image of a disgusting messy dying of food poisoning in their never-clean house.
  4. It simply doesn't feel good.

See also: a summary of what /u/pjeby says about the topic, many posts on http://mindingourway.com/

If you never apply the negative image (the "enemy") to yourself, that might be a slightly different matter. Maybe the image of an alcoholic can help keep you sober if you never drink alcohol in the first place. But even then, you learn to be judgemental of people and, should you start drinking, you will have the before mentioned problems with punishment.

EDIT: corrected "disgress" to "transgress"

Comment author: [deleted] 06 September 2015 07:50:21PM 1 point [-]

I think you're actually imagining this technique differently than I am. In my view, this actually removes pain and guilt. Instead of saying "oh, I was lazy". You say "oh no, the mustachioed villain Mr Lazy pants is trying to attack again" and don't internalize that guilt to you.

Likewise, you can imagine mr Lazy Pants attacking other people as well, which would cause you to be less judgemental of them, as they have to deal with the same evil villians that you do.

Comment author: ChristianKl 07 September 2015 09:49:24PM 0 points [-]

In my view, this actually removes pain and guilt. Instead of saying "oh, I was lazy". You say "oh no, the mustachioed villain Mr Lazy pants is trying to attack again" and don't internalize that guilt to you.

Why would you want to disassociate guilt that you feel for rational reasons?

Likewise, you can imagine mr Lazy Pants attacking other people as well, which would cause you to be less judgemental of them, as they have to deal with the same evil villians that you do.

That means you don't treat other people as possessing agentship.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 September 2015 10:06:42PM *  1 point [-]

Why would you want to disassociate guilt that you feel for rational reasons?

http://mindingourway.com/replacing-guilt

That means you don't treat other people as possessing agentship.

how? edit: Understanding that other people are fighting the same demons you are doesn't mean you dont' acknowledge their ability to fight those demons.

Comment author: ChristianKl 12 September 2015 11:19:14AM 0 points [-]

http://mindingourway.com/replacing-guilt

The article you linked doesn't make a case for disassociating guilt but for people "to start exploring that feeling". Nearly the opposite.

It seems to me that you don't have the mental distinction between associated and deassociated.

how? edit: Understanding that other people are fighting the same demons you are doesn't mean you dont' acknowledge their ability to fight those demons.

I'm not sure whether I can make that point easily in text where you don't see the basis but I will try: If you treat someone as separate from their emotions you treat them as a object that's driven by external forces instead of being a subject.

Comment author: [deleted] 12 September 2015 05:06:04PM *  0 points [-]

The article you linked doesn't make a case for disassociating guilt but for people "to start exploring that feeling". Nearly the opposite.

The article I linked is part of a series, the purpose of which is "To explore a whole slew of tools for removing guilt-based motivation and replacing it with something that is both healthier and stronger." I believe that dissassociation (in the way described in this post) could be a great tool to help with ultimately removing the emotion as related to motivation.

I'm not sure whether I can make that point easily in text where you don't see the basis but I will try: If you treat someone as separate from their emotions you treat them as a object that's driven by external forces instead of being a subject.

First, people are objects driven by both external and internal forces. To treat them otherwise commits the fallacy of libertarian free will.

Second, it's possible to view someone's demons as a part of them, while personifying those demons. I have visualizations I use where I imagine hate as an ugly, green substance inside of me that I can push out and throw away. On one level, this is "disassociating" the emotion. However, this doesn't mean I'm not acknowledging ownership for the emotion - rather, I'm recognizing my ability to use other parts of my psyche to control the hatred. I think your model of "disassociated" = "agentship" is limiting. Using your imagination to see yours and others in different light can be a tool FOR agency.

Comment author: Bobertron 06 September 2015 05:52:00PM 1 point [-]

following up to my own post: I was sceptical because the examples AshwinV provided were examples that lend themselves to punishing oneself and using guilt, shame etc. But by flipping the title of the post to "Make good habits the heroes" all that criticism becomes irrelevant and AshwinV's idea remains the same. I think that is very related to the idea of identity, which has been discussed previously here on lesswrong. Use Your Identity Carefully is a good an relevant example.

Comment author: AshwinV 06 September 2015 02:16:26PM 0 points [-]

Thanks for the input!

I'm not able to correct the hyperlink part, but I did change the name to Phil Goetz as was due.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 06 September 2015 02:11:47PM 0 points [-]

Nitpick: I think you mean transgress, not digress.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 06 September 2015 10:44:01PM 2 points [-]

Problems in people's lives (like bad habits) aren't simply unalloyed evils or they wouldn't be a problem in the first place. You'd just eliminate them. They are generally problems because they are intricately wrapped up in things you do value. I find that moralizing at oneself is generally a big blocker on making progress.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 06 September 2015 02:13:53PM 1 point [-]

This seems like a chancy approach because you might be wrong about what you need to change. What if what you see as laziness is sometimes a need for rest? Or that anger is part of what you need for setting boundaries? Or that panicking is a response to stress, and adding more stress (only a vividly imaged fool would panic) just adds to your stress?

Comment author: AshwinV 06 September 2015 02:18:20PM 0 points [-]

It is. Judgment comes before.

I'm only suggesting this as a trick, once you've already figured out what it is that you need to do. I suppose I could offer my own feedback, but I was hoping that I would at least try and see if it worked over a larger sample space.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 06 September 2015 03:06:25PM 1 point [-]

My point is that you won't necessarily know whether a change is a completely good idea until you try it out, and your suggestion could make the change more rigid than it should be.

Comment author: AshwinV 06 September 2015 05:10:27PM 0 points [-]

Well.. I don't think the process is too rigid. You can always discuss it in advance. Also, there are a few things that you do know are better for you, but are still not able to achieve. But yes, there is a risk. I do not think the risk is so great as to not even give this a try though.

Besides, we don't even know if this works yet!

Comment author: [deleted] 06 September 2015 07:46:03PM -2 points [-]

Nancy, do you typically just not change your bad habits?

Comment author: Elo 06 September 2015 10:45:43PM 1 point [-]

I call this superpowers and kryptonites and will part of an upcoming post.

As a snippet into the idea; Humans are really good at pattern recognition - use that to your advantage. However willpower is something that a lot of people struggle with; conversely finding ways to avoid using willpower is the correct way to go about dealing with the knowledge of your kryptonite.

I like this idea and will try to find time to apply it and report back if it works out

Comment author: ChristianKl 06 September 2015 08:59:19PM 1 point [-]

In CBT there's the acceptance paradox. Accepting often helps with behavior changes while putting pressure on change can entrench behavior. You don't fight your deepest insecurities. You accept them to allow them to process.

I think the most likely outcome of what you propose is negative.