Looking for better alternatives to self-discipline

The general philosophical answer is to use problem solving methods. Use brainstorming, critical thinking, constraints, buffers, breakpoints, idea trees, meta levels, practice, mastery, etc. I write about these things often.

The application of philosophical problem solving to most problems looks more like “here are ways you could put in effort productively” than “here is a shortcut or a guaranteed solution”.

When people get stuck, usually they don’t need a eureka moment or a mind-blowing insight. And when they feel mind-blown and impressed by ideas, those ideas often don’t actually help much. They’re impressed by big, abstract ideas, but those ideas are too far removed from their lives and would take a large amount of study and integration to get much use out of. Also, because the ideas are so disconnected from people’s lives, they often can’t tell if the ideas are actually good or not, and are sometimes impressed by ideas with little substance that wouldn’t work. (@doubtingthomas IIRC you posted something about wanting to be mind-blown, so I’m tagging you.)

Thinking one is stuck on hard problems that require sophisticated philosophy to solve is a (unusual, rationalistic) way of excusing and evading one’s faults. It’s understandable not to improve if one’s problems are so big and hard that only very complicated, advanced ideas would help. It’s similar to thinking that a major scientific breakthrough is what’s needed to improve your personal life. Big breakthroughs are rare and if one was really necessary then you could do a good job of working on it your whole life without succeeding.

It’s kinda similar to people who set a big, hard goal like “develop AGI”. Some people pick goals with no clear milestones so it’s really hard to tell if they’re doing anything productive. It’s a way to make it hard to tell if they’re failing and wasting their careers. The hardness of the problem gives them an easy excuse/rebuttal to critics who think their work is bad. They can say stuff like: It’s still a work in progress. I’d like to see you do better! No one knows the solution. I think this research area may lead to results in the future. etc.

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Thanks for this.

I think my whole approach to learning philosophy has thus far been insufficiently connected to real-world problem solving. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

By the way,

This basically describes my state of mind a few hours ago, and

This basically describes the mindset that I had as recently as a few months ago (mostly wrt absurdly ambitious physics / math stuff).

I can totally see why both of those mindsets are bad / overreaching, though. I was evading it before.

I’ve had people claim the opposite of both of these examples. And the contra-examples are apparently common enough to have names.

The first is often thought of as a mental illness & called having an “eating disorder”.

The second is either called recklessness or having a death wish.

Another situation I’d put in this category is I’ve had people tell me they’re really tired & bored, but have to force themselves to sleep. I’ve heard that called a symptom of depression.

I haven’t experienced these situations personally and it’s hard for me to tell what’s actually going on with people who claim they have. It could be:

  • They’re lying
  • They’re bad at introspection about stuff like hunger, wanting to live, and tiredness
  • They actually do have uncertainty they’re not willing or able to say explicitly
  • Something else I haven’t even thought of

I just thought it was notable that I immediately remembered apparent contra-examples to the two situations you described as not requiring any willpower.

I gave examples so as to bring to mind everyday situations that normal people are in, and my examples are definitely not going to survive if that context is dropped.

The general statement I made (willpower isn’t required if there’s something you could do that definitively meets all your goals) is not in conflict with the existence of eating disorders or people with death wishes. Those are just people with abnormal goals.

Thank you for starting this thread. I’ve tried to understand this idea a few times before also but have failed because of not continuing the discussion. I wanted to mention that.

Have you tried using interdental brushes or picks instead? There are other alternatives to flossing and you can look them up with a search engine.

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A common reason people don’t do stuff – which applies to philosophy study but not flossing – is they are tired. People often lack self-awareness of how tired they are and have unrealistic expectations about how much they should be able to do per day with how little sleep. Self-discipline is pretty ineffective against tiredness.

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yes. Here’s one for example.

The example that best helps me understand your point is that if I can follow along a solved example in a maths textbook, and even repeat every step if asked about it, doesn’t mean I have understood how to solve that problem. Or even if I have I cannot solve harder problems that builds upon that problem because I only have a superficial understanding. To be able to use a idea fluently you need to master/automatize it. I agree with all this and it helps me understand how to make progress.

But isn’t it the case that static memes affect my emotions. If I can explicitly say something is good for me but I am not able to integrate that into my life doesn’t it make sense to want to understand what is happening? What the static memes are doing and how they are doing it? How does improving at basic stuff and building up to a level where I can take more control over my life changes things with respect to static memes? What changes happen over various steps of progress? My interest in knowing this not just intellectual fascination or wanting to be mind blown. I wanna know about because it can help keep track of or at least notice what progress one is making. I don’t think that knowing this stuff will provide some kind of shortcut. I expect the effort would be the same but knowing this stuff will give some context to the journey.

I don’t think I’m stuck on an unusually hard problem. A lot of people talk about deciding to change their life and then building grit, determination, discipline and will power to make themselves work hard on goals that will make their life better. Jocko Willink and Jordan Peterson are two people that come to mind. I don’t think I’ve used this rationalization to excuse and evade my faults.

This makes me think that how do I explain to myself that I have been making these faults? When I was making the mistake I was enjoying doing the things that I would say are bad when I’m wearing my thinking cap.

Got any opinions/conclusions/results of that thinking to share?

I did some thinking, but I didn’t write down most of it down, so I can’t remember (or maybe I just never bothered to identify) the extent to which my recent thoughts did or did not come from this thread.

One recent conclusion I’ve come to that relates to this thread is that it’s really important that I learn how to be less of a rationalist. My solution here is to start by reading Understanding Objectivism, because rationalism is a big theme of that course. I just finished chapter 3 like yesterday.

A more parochial conclusion: I was using some poorly thought-out (by me) philosophy stuff as an excuse to procrastinate from work that I really didn’t want to do. I realized that I should stick with traditional ideas about productivity until/unless I actually have better ones. I successfully stopped using poorly thought-out philosophy stuff as an excuse to procrastinate, but it didn’t really matter in the end because I just found other excuses to procrastinate.

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How to not be tired? Is having energy only about getting enough sleep? What other stuff impacts energy? (My guess would be exercise and healthy diet.) What are some signs that can help me know that depletion of energy is the reason that I am actually unable to do intellectual stuff productively? How should one organize their daily work keeping this fact in mind that one has limited energy to do productive intellectual work in a day.

One thing is that I get frustrated by is the idea of putting in effort into something which I consider to be easy to improve at like learning to read and write better and do that with the expectation of no big positive change will happen. I think to myself that if I’m gonna put in effort then why not put it in stuff that is advertised to lead to big improvements instead and solve the big problems I have in life.

I wrote something relevant here.

This is very relevant here as well. I really liked the following part:

Don’t assume the conclusion that certain ideas are the right ones (something similar might be right but in their current form those ideas are unable to address the other side’s points well enough to reach a conclusion, so they’re actually wrong).

I always thought that if something is true why shouldn’t I just tyrannize myself. The explanation inside the brackets explain why I shouldn’t. Even though I think I know the right theory it’s not totally correct because if it were it would’ve defeated/convinced the other theory.

Wait, could it be the case the the other (emotional/inexplicit) part of me that is having other ideas (of not feeling motivated about doing something which I can explicitly conclude is right) is irrational so it is not convinced by a true theory?

Edit: My bad. It says in the next paragraph that don’t declare parts of yourself as irrational among other things.
Edit 2: Question after noticing the error: how does one reason with emotional part of themselves? By using non-judgmental introspection?

When Jordan Peterson talks about cleaning your room he’s talking about forming a habit of cleaning your room everyday. I was thinking that to start a self reinforcing cycle you need a reward on completing the task. Is that correct? Is this a good self help idea. Reward here is something like thinking that you are making progress and feeling good about that instead of thinking that cleaning your room is nothing to feel good about.

Also does it make sense to think of being able to do a task vs being able to form a habit of doing that task regularly as two separate things. I think it does. If a person isn’t able to form habits how can that person improve? what does that person lack?

Does it make sense to think of forming a habit as a perpetual motion machine cycle that keeps running on it’s own and no new effort needs to be put in to start it again. It just keeps running on its own. Or is it unrealistic to expect that?

I am using the coercion idea to come to this conclusion that one should expect that doing tasks should feel effortless. If not then you should try to try to find out where the resistance is and then remove it. If you’re not successful in removing the resistance then you shouldn’t continue anyways. You should do something else.

This sounds like arm chair philosophy stuff to me. One reason for that is you keep switching without making any progress then you are never gonna accomplish anything. I guess I don’t understand what it means to have no coercion and am making other errors as well. Can you point out the errors with my reasoning. Also what CF say about this? That encountering some resistance is normal. Things feeling as effortless as breathing is an unrealistic benchmark.

A relevant thing Elliot said here:

If you think 3 hours means the video cost 20% of a day, you’d be wrong. It definitely cost more than that. I can’t write for 15 hours a day. Not even close. Even the easier stuff like animating or editing would be too hard to do for that long per day.

3 hours of good focus and creativity in a day is plenty. Add 5 hours of easier stuff and that’s enough to burn most people out if they average that much, 7 days a week, for a few months. (That’s assuming they weren’t tired out at the start and they get enough sleep, or it’d be worse.)

3 hours of creative + 5 hours of easier stuff will burn out most people. So thinking that things can start feeling as effortless as breathing contradicts with the idea that people burn out. So what is right expectation? When one desires to be free of coercion or if not completely free then to a great extent what would that mean? How does the experience of a person changes when they become free of coercion? Expecting that after removing coercion tasks will start feeling effortless seems wrong to me now but I don’t understand why.

Edit: I wrote ‘want’ in the last line of the first paragraph but changed it to ‘expect’ because that makes more sense.

I like the chaos order metaphor that Jordan Peterson uses. It fits very well with CF ideas like overreaching. He says order is when you’re in control of a situation. If you want to pick up your phone, you’re in control of that situation. You rarely fail at that task. If you do fail you know why and and can improve so that you don’t fail for that reason again. I see the idea of setting up cycles like clean your room/ make your bed daily as establishing order in your life. Order shouldn’t take up your energy. Energy should be used to tame chaos and bring it into order. Doing arm chair philosophy and reaching to the conclusion that making your bed or flossing your teeth and similar stuff should feel effortless is a way to introduce chaos into simple things that should help you set up order. If you’re not able to build the habit of flossing then you could try to change the activity in some ways like listening to music so that you like flossing. You could try to figure out what is it about flossing that you don’t like? In my case I figured out that I don’t see the role of habits and for me whether to floss or not is a decision to make everyday. That’s counter productive. A habit is a helpful cycle that produces a useful output towards your goal everytime you complete the cycle hence you should automate that cycle. You shouldn’t have to think about starting another loop of that cycle everytime.

I’m pasting the autogenerated transcript from the video I linked because I really like one thing he said. I’m adding some punctuations because there aren’t any so I’m adding ones that make sense to me so somethings can be wrong.

Order is when you’re where what you’re doing is producing what you want to have happen. okay so why is that orderly? because you can predict it. you do a and you want B to happen and B happens. so what does that mean? it means you know where you are, you know what you’re doing, and things are working. and then you’re calm because there’s nothing to be nervous about, and you’re moderately happy because you’re getting what you need and want, and there’s evidence that you are competent because that’s why things are working. that’s order.

I guess that having order can make you calm and happy. Concluding that you’re competent because you have established order makes more sense to me. To build a habit you need competence like being able to keep a goal in mind. For example flossing is gonna keep your teeth and gums healthy. Keeping them healthy is most likely a long term goal of yours. Being able to keep that in mind and automatizing it and not having to make that decision again and again and fighting your laziness are skills.

If you are competent at these skills you will be able to form habits. You can feel good about having these skills and that good feeling can be the reward required to set up a positive reinforcement cycle.