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Outsourcing self control

Self control is one of the biggest struggles most people have. Me included.

I’m beset by the near-term desire to behave in many ways that I wish I didn’t. I snack too much, and drink too much. I spend too much time on twitter.

There are a few approaches to to deal with this:

  • rely on my willpower
  • pre-emptively avoid tempting circumstances (hacking the akrasia horizon)
  • create quick feedback loops which deter it
  • Commitment mechanisms: out-source the self control.

The technology version of last option is the newest. It’s a recent development that I can use technology to craft systematic self control, and so the most interesting to me. I often mention it as an example, and frequently receive follow-up questions asking what I really mean. Let’s dive in.

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The Law of Reversed Effort

In most areas of life putting in more effort means achieving a better outcome.

The harder and more consistently you exercise, the fitter you get. The more hours you put in studying, the better your grades.

Of course there are a few, very unusual areas where the opposite rule holds. Aldous Huxley’s called this “The Law of Reversed Effort”: the harder you try, the worse you do. Think of quicksand and finger-cuffs, where success is defined by gentle, slow movements.  Continue reading The Law of Reversed Effort