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Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 27 March 2014 08:37:46AM 3 points [-]

Interestingly during the last Hamburg meetup we also had a discussion about the equationness of "The Procrastination Equation". It was argued that the usage of an equation in this case is fallacious. It implies a mathematical dependency that is not there. It suggests optimization steps that may be inapproriate. And it focusses away from other problems. Another way to phrase it: The equation is an extreme case of oversimplification.

For example it suggests that the four variables are independent. They are not. And it suggests linearity which is not there either. And it implies that these variables can be measured. Have you tried this?

In the meetup the general pattern of proposing a simple equation for a complex problem was terms "math fallacy". The erroneous belief that modelling something with an equation solves it. Even if you know that it is an (over)simplification doesn't mean that all people using that equation later know it too.

Now I don't want to argue against the four basic procrastination effects aren't there, but you could have stated the same better without an equation. Why use an equation? Because it is cool (I could understand that)?

See also http://xkcd.com/793/

Comment author: Procrastinus 27 March 2014 08:50:34PM *  0 points [-]

Love xkcd. Spherical cows and all that. But appropriate parsimony is a desirable feature. Here's a summary of whether the equation does a good job of summarizing the science:


Also, from the book "The Procrastination Equation"

The Procrastination Equation attempts to economically describe the underlying neurobiology that creates procrastination. I will tell you right now; the biology and the math won’t match exactly. A road map of a city, for example, no matter how recent or detailed, can’t represent every corner and crevasse of reality; it skips over details like architectural styles or fire hydrant placement. Judiciously focusing on streets and highways allows the map to emphasize navigation. If this big picture doesn’t satisfy you and you want all the details, don’t fret. The next chapter will give you what you are looking for.

The next chapter discusses it from a neurobiological perspective, which ultimately provides deeper understanding. I think as along as people recognize the purpose of the equation, and that it actually is a step up in complexity from what was previously used, as well as not mistaking the map for the land, it works.

Comment author: Procrastinus 29 November 2013 07:00:36AM 1 point [-]

Here's the background on its construction for those interested,the academic article "Integrating Theories of Motivation"


Spectacularly uncontroversial really, based on the core and best established parts of the key motivational theories. Due to limiting the theory this way (i.e., focusing on the core elements), it doesn't cover directly obvious elements like satiation, though really you would incorporate it in value.

If I could redo it again, I would differentiate between goal choice and goal pursuit as expectancy operates differently. However, the public conversation is necessarily limited to reiterating the basics, which is fine, Academically though, it is a bit old hat.

We are working on a software based training program that we can update that is based on our best understanding of goal setting. I like it as it provides a more direct conduit to implementing what we have learned. Actually all inspired somewhat by what Less Wrong is up to.

Comment author: lukeprog 09 April 2013 06:15:23PM *  4 points [-]

Nick Winter, The Motivation Hacker.

The book opens like this:

I wrote this book in three months while running a startup, launching a hit iPhone app, learning to write 3,000 new Chinese words, training to run a four-hour marathon from scratch, learning to skateboard, helping build a successful cognitive testing website, being best man at two weddings, increasing my bench press by sixty pounds, reading twenty books, going skydiving, helping to start the Human Hacker House, learning to throw knives, dropping my 5K time by five minutes, and learning to lucid dream. I did all this while sleeping eight hours a night, sending 1,000 emails, hanging out with a hundred people, going on ten dates, buying groceries, cooking, cleaning, and raising my average happiness from 6.3 to 7.3 out of 10. And I wrote this paragraph beforehand--I haven't edited it since. How did I do all of this? I hacked my motivation.

A few notes:

  • Nick writes that he was launched into this incredible self change by reading my post How to Beat Procrastination and then Piers Steel's The Procrastination Equation (my post is a summary of the book), and then applying the techniques that worked best for him, all at the same time. Luckily, his book explains what he did in great detail.
  • He remembers the procrastination equation (Motivation = [Expectancy × Value] / [Impulsiveness × Delay]) as MEVID. Handy.
  • Nick attended the same CFAR workshop I did: March 2013.
Comment author: Procrastinus 09 April 2013 11:04:56PM 2 points [-]

This is neat and actually might be better in some ways than the original book. People tend to respond better to stories than statistics and science, though the most useful stories are those based on the latter. Could be the best of both worlds?

Comment author: Procrastinus 09 April 2013 07:44:02PM 0 points [-]

Wish I could be there

Comment author: Procrastinus 03 October 2012 07:25:33PM *  6 points [-]

Let's go back and look at the source article one more time: "PubMed references more than 25 million articles relating primarily to biomedical research published since the 1940s. A comprehensive search of the PubMed database in May 2012 identified 2,047 retracted articles, with the earliest retracted article published in 1973 and retracted in 1977."

So over 99.99% of articles aren't retracted. Lets say the retracted ones are a tip of the iceberg and the real situation is ten times worse. That makes it 99.9% accurate.

Aside from the sensationalism, these results are a stunning and unequivocal endorsement that the scientific system works.

Comment author: Procrastinus 06 June 2012 06:45:46PM *  1 point [-]

Too good. Trying to think up new ones that would belong, but I can't verify my own predictions. Heh, maybe that is one right there. Some more (?):

"Well, essence does precede existence." "Total spaghetti monster." "You have to make your cognitive biases work for you." "What's the citation count on that?" "I'll wait for the meta-analysis, thank you very much."

Comment author: [deleted] 09 February 2012 02:55:08PM 0 points [-]

Show me some peer-reviewed research (please, not clinical case studies).

This seems like an unreasonable thing to ask of a non-academic. Based on what I hear of academia, pjeby doesn't have a good chance of obtaining funding for a controlled study nor of publishing his results in a respectable journal even if they are as good as he claims. Or am I wrong? It would be nice if I were incorrect on either of those things.

In response to comment by [deleted] on Breaking the chain of akrasia
Comment author: Procrastinus 09 February 2012 07:11:18PM *  1 point [-]

You are probably right. It was an overly onerous requirement on my part. However, peer-reviewed is our best stamp of quality research we have and a meta-analysis is even better, comprised of hundreds of peer-reviewed research. I am passionate about science, well aware of the limitations of clincial expert opinion, and was probably too strident.

In truth, it is almost impossible for a sole practitioner to discern whether the efficaciousness of their treatment is due to the treatment itself or other apparently non-relevant aspects, such as the placebo effect or the personality of the clinician. There are some really effective clinicians out there who are successful through their innate ability to inspire. You need to do or rely on research to determine what is really going on (i.e., evidence based treatment). There really isn't any other way (really, really, really), and unless he gets this, there is nothing he will personally experience that will make him change his mind. This isn't new though. Research has repeated shown statistical analysis beats clinical opinion pretty much everytime (here's one from Paul Meehl, who I studied under and was both a clinician and statistican: http://www.psych.umn.edu/faculty/grove/114meehlscontributiontoclinical.pdf).

This type of issue is never going go away though. We have everything from homeopathy to applied kinesiology, all of which where appears to work because people believe it works. The only way to separate out whether the motivational treatment is inherently effective is through research. If it is the placebo effect and you are happy with that being the source of whatever change you are seeing, then add a lot more pomp and ceremony -- it ups the effect.

Comment author: pjeby 09 February 2012 12:55:33AM 4 points [-]

The article formally integrates prospect theory, under the section CPT. CPT is actually the next update to prospect theory by Kahneman and Tversky, see pages 894-895 (e.g., "Consequently, other researchers have already proposed various integrations of prospect theory with some hyperbolic time-discounting function").

Yes, I'm aware of that. I was pointing out that the additional complication of hyperbolic discounting isn't necessary; in helping dozens of people work through procrastination difficulties, and myself through many more dozens of specific instances, hyperbolic discounting hasn't been particularly relevant to the process. Frankly, it's never come up. In virtually all cases, any discounting effects have been dominated by more fundamental factors like negative value perceptions, and getting rid of those perceptions means the discount on the positive value is irrelevant.

(Note that plain old prospect theory is enough to predict this: if losses count double relative to gains, you get bigger wins by reducing losses than you do increasing expected value gains.)

What precise techniques do you take issue with?

I don't recall seeing anything in The Procrastination Equation that qualified in my mind as a "technique"; it looked more like "advice" to me, and I try not to deal in advice, if I can avoid it.

The distinction for me is that a technique would involve cognitive steps that would repeatably bring about a change in behavior, without requiring the steps themselves to be repeated for that particular instance of procrastination. (Or if some repetition were required, it should be an extremely simple technique!)

To my recollection, there was nothing in the book that claimed to be such, or provided claims of better results, repeatability, ease-of-training, or ease-of-use than techniques I already used or taught. That's the criterion I use when reading self-help materials: if a technique or method isn't claimed to be at least as good as something I've already tested and found useful, I don't bother testing it.

Generally speaking, the absence of sufficiently-specific mental steps and the absence of a claim of repeatability means there's no "technique" there, in the sense of "here are the steps to break down and clean a model 36X carburetor". There's just "advice" as in, "you might want to check the carburetor if your car isn't starting". It was this latter type of advice that I recall having found in TPE; if there was an actual technique in the book, it was quite well-hidden.

Think of the book as version 1.0. What do you want in the next upgrade?

Er, nothing? ;-) I don't care about the book. I guess from the hints you're dropping that you're the author? I'm not interested in having an improved set of techniques in the book, unless they claim greater ease or effectiveness along the criteria I mentioned above. I have and teach plenty of techniques that work quite well.

What my comment was saying is simply that science has not actually caught up to the in-field knowledge of people like myself who actually fix people's procrastination. When I read books on procrastination, I use them to harvest the knowledge of other practitioners, and of course knowing about the science is nice if it leads to new ideas for practical techniques.

The reason I said your book was rubbish from a practical perspective is because it contained nothing I wasn't teaching people in 2006, except an added fudge factor called "impulsivity". And it ignores virtually every piece of brain mechanics that's actually involved in fixing the types of chronic procrastination problems I help people with, such as fear of failure, stereotype threats, mis-set expectations, "should" beliefs, and so on.

Again, I could be in error on this point, it's been a long time since I read the book, but I seem to recall it basically offered advice at the level of, "don't think that way" or "think something else". And in my experience, that detail level is useless for teaching someone to actually think in a particular way that resolves a problem.

It sounds to me like our goals differ in any case; note for example:

ones that has been successfully used to increase self-regulaton.

If I understand this statement correctly, our goals are actually opposed: I do not want to increase anybody's self-regulation; I want them to naturally do the right thing, without any conscious self-regulation required. A technique I use or teach has to have the effect of altering ongoing motivation with respect to a task, preferably after a single application of the technique, and without requiring someone to change their environment or alter their incentives externally. (e.g. rewards, environment changes, etc.)

Did your book even claim to offer anything like that? If so, I missed it.

Comment author: Procrastinus 09 February 2012 04:37:54AM 6 points [-]

Given our difference on opinions, I think we managed to conduct this dialogue with a fair amount of decorum. However, I don't we are going to have any agreement. I have to go with the science.

You give any group of people a perfectionism or fear of failure test along with almost any procrastination scale and you get pretty much anywhere from a negative to at best a very weak positive correlation. And if you control for self-efficacy or self-confidence, that weak correlation disappears. Science does not back you up.

Similarly, characterizing impulsiveness as a fudge factor, well that is just being silly. A simple Google Scholar search will show over 45,000 citations on the term, including the ground breaking work by George Ainslie. It really is a measure of system 1 heavy decision making, something that you yourself accept. In fact, there is enough science on it that I'm conducting a meta-analytic review. And, unlike fear of failure, you find a very strong correlation between impulsiveness and procrastination.

Now characterizing every technique that science has produced as not up to your standards is a little harsh. The book is a review of the literature. Essentially, researchers in peer-reviewed studies have conducted a variety of treatments, like stimulus control (which activates the cue sensitive system 1), and found them very effective at reducing procrastination. I organize and report what works. Since there is a thousands ways to implement stimlus control, you can describe the general methodology, report its effectiveness and give a few examples of how it can be used. If you know a better way to convery this information, I'm all ears. Of note, this is indeed an environmental fix to procrastination, one of several and not what you characterize as "don't think that way or think something else." Again, you come across as not having read the book.

On the other hand, I think you have been given pretty much a free ride up to this point. You make a lot of suggestions that are inconsistent with our present knowledge of the field (e.g., fear of failure). You make a quite bold claim that you have techniques that with one application will cure procrastinators, presumably by focusing solely on the expectancy or self-efficacy aspect of motivation. We can all make claims. Show me some peer-reviewed research (please, not clincial case studies).

On the longshot you might be right and have all the magic bullets, do some experimental research on it and publish it in a respectable journal. I would welcome the correction. I have a lot of research interests and would be happy to be able to focus on other things. Personally, I don't think you actually are going to do it. Right now, you have the warm belief that the rest of us studying this field are effectively a bunch of second rates as "science has not actually caught up to the in-field knowledge of people like myself." If you actually do the research (with proper controls, like accounting for the placebo effect which runs rampant through self-efficacy type clinical interventions), you run the risk of having a very self-satisfying set of beliefs turned into flimsy illusions. Do you really think you are willing to take that risk? Given human nature, I'm sceptical but would love to be proven wrong.

Comment author: pjeby 23 January 2012 06:34:41PM *  8 points [-]

In 2006, we finally got a decent psychological theory of procrastination,

Unfortunately, that's about as good a theory of procrastination as "you need fuel, air, ignition, and compression" is a theory of getting your car to start!

That is, it may be true, and an okay way to organize the elements involved in the problem, but it is utterly lacking in the details required to actually solve the problem in any given instance. You may need to know about spark plugs, fuel injectors, pumps, lines, filters, and so many other elements, along with the ways they can fail.

The first book on how to apply this new theory to daily life was published in late 2010.

I read that book, and found it to be mostly rubbish from a practical perspective. The equation presented consists mostly of fudge factors; at best, it's "air, fuel, compression, ignition", only not that specific. It overlooks really basic things about procrastination, if you have any experience at all in fixing it.

To put it another way, it's an outside-view equation, rather than an inside-view parts list and circuit diagram. I was hoping that it would provide a better organizing framework for my own practices, but really, plain old fashioned prospect theory is a better container. AFAICT, adding the fudge factor of "impulsivity" is just an "elan vital" or "dormative principle" thrown in to cover what the equation can't otherwise explain.

Prospect theory by itself is still just an explanation rather than a fix-it guide, but it constrains expectations better than the "procrastination equation". For example, plain old prospect theory predicts:

  • task-switching inertia as a special case of status quo bias
  • decreased motivation over the course of a project that was initially exciting due to an idealistic vision
  • avoiding actions which you know you need to do to reach a goal, but which conflict with your ideals or expectations about what you "should" do or should have done already

Even prospect theory doesn't address where your baseline and future expectations come from, or how to change them. But at least it's focused on the right elements of the problem space. The vast majority of procrastination elimination in practice comes down to identifying and updating your System 1 expectations and predictions about the present, the future, and the actions in between.

(That statement's still close to the "air, fuel, compression, ignition" level of abstraction, but it's more suited to the needs of an actual mechanic.)

Comment author: Procrastinus 08 February 2012 06:05:09PM *  5 points [-]

This is interesting. Actually, you are quite right in that TMT is an overall integrative model. It was actually designed to be a Roseatta stone, allowing us to draw findings and applications from different fields into a coherent whole. It was at one level of detail and has it uses, just as a map of the city is useful but not equivalent to a blueprint of a house (though neither are wrong). For example, it excluded nonsense solutions, which the field is rife with.

You have a naturally critical mind, which is useful, but you are taking a few short cognitive shortcuts. By what you write, it doesn't seem like you actually read the book or the article. The article formally integrates prospect theory, under the section CPT. CPT is actually the next update to prospect theory by Kahneman and Tversky, see pages 894-895 (e.g., "Consequently, other researchers have already proposed various integrations of prospect theory with some hyperbolic time-discounting function"). Chapter three of the book is an extended review of system one and system two, including a historical review of it going back to Plato. The last three chapters then, using TMT as an organizing model, reviews all the applied science on this, ones that has been successfully used to increase self-regulaton.

What would be useful is this. What precise techniques do you take issue with? Are there any you think ineffective or too vague to be applied? Though everything was already scientifically vetted, maybe I could have been clearer in sections. Given other feedback, I found that many people needed a better walkthrough of how to apply these techniques. In the paperback version, I added a step-by-step guide. So is it the techniques or the explanation?

Alternatively, you might have some insight into specific techniques that the book neglected. This is quite possible as I didn't want to include less developed techniques, ones without proven value. Developing a full package of self-regulatory techniques is exactly where science needs to go and why what Lesswrong is doing is quite remarkable. We don't have this. Instead, the area of motivation is splintered into competing theories and practices, other redundant to one another or simply isolated. What we get marketed to us from the self-help arena is often out of date or even wrong. Aside from Lesswrong, I don't know of another concerted effort to change this.

Think of the book as version 1.0. What do you want in the next upgrade? You like the basic model, which is a start. It can help direct people towards broad areas of weakness (e.g., the diagnostic test in the book; which notably accounts for about 70% of the variance in people's procrastination scores). Then, we have a series of techniques to address these weaknesses, outlined in chapters 7, 8, and 9. What's next? Can we expand on them? Can we refine or improve their implementation? Can we express them in ways that helps people adopt them? Can we combine them into something more powerful? These are questions worth asking.

To some extent, I can contribute to Lesswrong on a positive venture like this. It is serious, useful and noble.

Comment author: wedrifid 30 August 2011 02:40:38AM 2 points [-]

An article saying students use modafinil and ritalin that also mentions a movie.

You had me excited thinking there was an actual research drug that I could experiment with!

Comment author: Procrastinus 07 January 2012 02:56:25AM *  0 points [-]

Here's the research it cites along with a few hyperlinks to other articles. Did you read it?

Mellers, B. A. (2000). Choice and the relative pleasure of consequences. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 910-924. Ghahremani, D. G., Tabibnia, G., Monterosso, J., Hellemann, G., Poldrack, R., & London, E. D. (2011). Effect of modafinil on learning and task-related brain activity in methamphetamine-dependent and healthy individuals. Neuropsychopharmacology, 36(5), 950-959. Repantis D., Schlattmann P., Laisney O., & Heuser I. (2010). Modafinil and methylphenidate for neuroenhancement in healthy individuals: A systematic review. Pharmacol Res, 62(3), 187-206.

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