Victus Spiritus


Pursuing a Path of Self Manipulation

30 Oct 2010

There is a great deal of evidence that the most productive folks have developed methods to hack their own motivation. In David McRaney's recent post on You Are Not So Smart he highlights procrastination and delves into the nature of present bias. Towards the conclusion of the piece he discusses how we can best the procrastination beast:

Procrastination is an impulse; it’s buying candy at the checkout. Procrastination is also hyperbolic discounting, taking the sure thing in the present over the caliginous prospect some day far away.

You must be adept at thinking about thinking to defeat yourself at procrastination. You must realize there is the you who sits there now reading this, and there is a you sometime in the future who will be influenced by a different set of ideas and desires, a you in a different setting where an alternate palette of brain functions will be available for painting reality.

The now you may see the costs and rewards at stake when it comes time to choose studying for the test instead of going to the club, eating the salad instead of the cupcake, writing the article instead of playing the video game.

The trick is to accept the now you will not be the person facing those choices, it will be the future you – a person who can’t be trusted. Future-you will give in, and then you’ll go back to being now-you and feel weak and ashamed. Now-you must trick future-you into doing what is right for both parties.

There are a couple of problems I have with this self hack. First it suffers from an impact bias. Unless you are contrasting self destructive hedonism with sensible self preservation, the benefits of denying your present decision making ability is over estimated. While decisions and activities now can and will affect your future, over estimating one's ability to predict and control the future is a fallacy.

[caption id="attachment_5796" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="This is one impact that's hard to over estimate"][/caption]

But there's a danger in seeing instincts and drive as something that needs to be manipulated. The essence of who and what we are cannot be separated from our emotional needs and cravings.

It's irrational to dissect aspects of our mind and expect to walk away whole. By treating one's present intuition as nothing more than a tool to be manipulated we attack part of our identity. Our personalities are interwoven with instincts that have enabled us to survive for thousands of generations. By denying and damning present biases, we risk becoming victims of our own intellectual hubris. An alternative decision making path fully embraces the present moment, as well as our human frailties. If we continually care for the present with all our attention, the future will take care of itself.