Although most of you haven’t heard of this word, “akrasia,” you’re all familiar with what it refers to. Akrasia is the state of acting against one’s better judgment. Even though you figure out what the rational plan-of-action is, your emotions or lack of emotions hold you back from executing the plan.
Our emotions are evolutionarily primed to guide us toward rational decisions and to stray away from irrational ones. Unfortunately, our ancestral environment was much different than today’s modern society. Our emotions aren’t programmed to keep us studying for long hours, to write 20-page research papers, to go to the gym three times a week or any other relatively “new” problem.
A lot of us depend on our willpower in order to fight akrasia. Problem is, people vastly overestimate their willpower and then complain about how they never get anything done. In reality, willpower is incredibly weak and possibly non-existent. Rarely do we act out of willpower alone, and when we do, hardly anything productive happens.
Think about the last time you used willpower.
I remember mine: I had to start a moderately difficult homework and I just couldn’t start doing it. I forced myself to open my backpack and take the homework out-a 30-second process that felt like 30 minutes. I didn’t even start my homework; the excruciating task of taking it out depleted my supply of willpower for the day.
When we actually do work we don’t want to do, willpower is almost never a factor. For example, a lot of people are most productive right before the deadline. But they aren’t acting out of willpower; they are productive because they have to be. Similarly, we stay in boring/unnecessary lectures not because of our willpower, but because it may be embarrassing or disrespectful to just leave.
In my opinion, the best way to combat akrasia is to put yourself in situations where the willpower necessary is minimized. Below, I’ve made a list of tricks you can use that allow you to minimize the willpower necessary to start doing schoolwork you’re not motivated to do.
Give yourself artificial time pressure. Make plans to do something fun with friends about an hour from the time you want to start working. This way, your deadline is brought closer in time and you’ll need less willpower to get started. Worst case, if you don’t finish your work before your artificial deadline, you can cancel your plans with your friends: a better alternative than missing the real deadline.
Have your ego work for you. If you have a big ego, this tip is a good one for you. Tell your roommates or family that you’re going to start studying by a certain time. You’ll be pressured to act consistently with your word because now you will face looking like a liar or just lazy.
Drive somewhere far away to do work. Muster the willpower to drive somewhere far away to do work. Once you get there, you’ll feel obligated to start working.
Eat almonds. Almonds give you energy, reduce your appetite and are healthy. Getting started with your work will be easier when your willpower isn’t fighting hunger or sleepiness.
Study with hard-working friends. Many people get this one wrong. They study with people who are easily distracted and always want to play. If your willpower can barely get you working, it won’t help if it’s preoccupied suppressing desires to play. Instead, find friends that work hard in groups. They’ll peer pressure you into focusing on your work.
Make a 5-minute commitment. Force yourself to commit to doing just 5 minutes of work and that’s it. You may not have the willpower to complete the assignment, but maybe enough for 5 minutes. Even though you only commit to 5 minutes, it is better than nothing and plus there is a chance you’ll surpass the 5-minute mark on your own.
Pay the price of procrastination. This one is for those who are chronic procrastinators. Give your trusted friend some amount of money and have him incrementally pay it back to you as you accomplish your goals. For instance, once you finish a page of your essay by a certain time, he’ll give you a quarter of your money back. Being productive will never seem easier.
LIOR GOTESMAN wants to hear what tips have worked for you in the past. Tell him at email@example.com.