Breaking the chain of akrasia

I’d like to share my spe­cific mo­ti­va­tion for writ­ing Can the Chain Still Hold You?

I agree with Yvain that akra­sia is prob­a­bly a ma­jor rea­son that ra­tio­nal­ity alone doesn’t cre­ate su­per­heroes. You might be much bet­ter than av­er­age at mak­ing good de­ci­sions based on an ac­cu­rate model of re­al­ity, but that doesn’t mean you can fol­low through with them.

Many peo­ple re­port that their think­ing is clearer and bet­ter as a re­sult of Less Wrong. But de­spite our many, many at­tempts to hack away at the prob­lem of akra­sia (more: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10), I haven’t heard of many LWers con­quer­ing akra­sia.

But I still have hope that this is pos­si­ble. In 2006, we fi­nally got a de­cent psy­cholog­i­cal the­ory of pro­cras­ti­na­tion, much bet­ter than the old de­ci­sional-avoidant-arousal the­ory. On the timescale of progress in psy­chol­ogy, 2006 is ba­si­cally yes­ter­day. The first book on how to ap­ply this new the­ory to daily life was pub­lished in late 2010. There is no com­mu­nity of peo­ple sys­tem­at­i­cally prac­tic­ing these tech­niques and re­port­ing their re­sults.

So it seems to me there is a lot of low-hang­ing fruit to be scooped up in the field of pro­cras­ti­na­tion re­search. If we try and test enough things, and es­pe­cially if our tests our the­ory-guided, we may be able to learn new things and flip a few causal fac­tors such that the chain of akra­sia no longer holds us — at least, not as tightly as be­fore.