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Comment author: [deleted] 06 February 2011 01:10:44PM *  31 points [-]

Awesome article as always. I really like your recent high-quality posts, Luke.

A few additional notes.

1) I was already more or less aware of this research through the language learning community, mostly the Japanese one. For example, Khatzumoto has been advocating this for some time now, see this article for an explanation or this trilogy in 9 parts for practical advice how to fix it. (Because LW isn't really about learning languages, I'll just leave it at this.)

These techniques try not to fix your own attitude (like, giving you lower Impulsiveness, changing the Value you assign or affecting your optimism), but instead change the learning strategies in such a way that they work regardless of these problems. So instead of learning how to tackle larger goals, they instead choose really tiny ones. Khatz for example strongly advocates timeboxes of 90 seconds or less, or changing the learning material to intrinsically fun stuff (manga instead of textbooks). This is something that the traditional procrastination literature doesn't really address very much. It has helped me a lot, in addition to all the approaches you already described.

2) I strongly agree with this model, but I'm not sure that this covers all of procrastination. I have seen additional (albeit not nearly as common) failure modes where all 4 variables given seem to be just fine, but still nothing got done. For example, I know quite a few experienced meditators that were horrible procrastinators in certain domains (e.g. Shinzen Young, see part 2 of this interview). (This includes myself, too, but I'm not nearly as experienced as I wish I was.) Through strong concentration meditation, you can easily make any task fun by going into Flow at will (or even stronger states than that), through variants of metta meditation, failure becomes no big deal and someone that can sit an hour or more paying detailed attention to pain (physical or emotional) doesn't really have a problem with Impulsiveness per se. I'm not sure that these factors are really the main cause here.

To give a personal example (a fairly common one among advanced vipassana practitioners) of such a failure mode, there's all-consuming nihilism, where you still have high concentration, lots of pleasure and so on, but find every possible action intrinsically empty, so you can't be bothered at all to do anything. In the extreme case, people simply lie around all day, doing nothing. (This is distinct from depression in that pleasure and motivation still exist as sensations, but are rejected, although from the outside it looks very similar.) The fix to this is not to try to arbitrarily assign Value to activities again, as the equation would predict (because activities are already enjoyable, but that doesn't help at all), but instead to turn this nihilism on itself and realize that "wanting meaning" is just as meaningless as everything else. So in that case, more specific insight and the uprooting of beliefs is necessary, not a better technique. (PJ Eby provides plenty of practical examples and great fixes for related situations, imo.)

3) Rewards can backfire horribly if done wrong. I have tried to use operant conditioning for not-so-pleasant, but necessary tasks. (Similar to taw's point system and strongly influenced by Don't Shoot The Dog.) The problem is that I came to replace my intrinsic (albeit limited) motivation entirely with an external one. Now once I either found a way to game the system (get the same reinforcements in an easier fashion) or skipped the rewards for some reason, all my motivation was gone completely. (Gabe Zichermann in his talk on gamification gives another example of this replacement.) So I'd highly advice against using reward systems except maybe for short, one-off goals.

(However, I have successfully exploited this to stop behavior. Don't Shoot The Dog explains this in detail. Essentially, you practice the behavior you don't want to do, put it on a reward system, give it an explicit cue and then you don't give the cue, ever. It's a bit tricky and dark-artsy, but works.)

In response to comment by [deleted] on How to Beat Procrastination
Comment author: BeatProcrastination 26 August 2013 01:05:04AM -2 points [-]

Well done on the article. I have something to add that may or may not help. I have found that the first step to solving any problem is discovering why the problem occurs or what causes it. For over 19 years I have found this to be the case for Australians anyway. There are 4 major reasons why people procrastinate. One of the 4 reasons comes under the category of "Wrong Goals" there is a valuable article written, in easy to understand terms and It can be found at http://bit.ly/wronggoals. (Relax, there is nothing to buy or sign up to) Hope it helps people Sam