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How do you separate the enriching part from the addictive part? To me the problem is that my laptop and my phone are magical doors that lead to both smart people at HN and some niche subreddits/blogs that really make me think, change my opinion, make my life more interesting... and right next to it there are social media bubbles, overwhelming stream of news and insight porn that I can read/watch for hours anxious that if I don't, I will miss out on something important... but somehow it's almost never the case.

I can distinguish how those two types of content make me feel - the first makes me feel fulfilled and inspired, the second tired and depressed. The problem is that the feeling only comes after I absorb the content and does not help me navigate towards the enriching and avoid the addictive - I start riding the enriching wave, I just need to look up some term or get distracted by something seemingly relevant... and suddenly I am sucked into the vortex of youtube-recommended videos and when I am finally able to free myself four hours later, I feel exhausted, sad and guilty that I wasted so much time.




The answer is discipline.

That’s not the answer people generally like, but it is real and honest.

I wake up at the same time every day, have the same routine every day, and have the same commute most days. To an extent, software has made it possible to chuck my own bad habits in the bin and start anew, but it doesn’t have a say in how I spend my time.

I read Hacker News and comment here because I like to, but if I need to stop for any reason during the day, I’m losing nothing by doing so, and if something is worth reading, then it is worth writing down what I’ve read. To me this is just a part of my reading time that I’ve allocated for each day, and not even the largest share of it. Same with /r/AskHistorians or /r/DepthHub. If you treat each thing like it is just a book you haven’t stopped reading yet, then you know you can always come back to it and read some a bit more whenever you want to. There’s no guilt, no stress, it’s just another part of my daily routine. Just like my job is. Just like listening to podcasts is. Or going for a walk. Or drinking a cup of coffee. Or cooking my meals and eating. Or brushing my teeth.

You are the master of your own destiny. You don’t have to spend time in any way that you don’t choose to, so you might as well spend time taking care of yourself rather than trying to figure out how.

Social media might be the digital equivalent of crack, but there isn’t a gun to your head telling you to use it.


>You are the master of your own destiny. You don’t have to spend time in any way that you don’t choose to, so you might as well spend time taking care of yourself rather than trying to figure out how.

Fundamentally, I don't think this is true. I think free will is a meme.

When you exercise self-possession to change your habits (insofar as you really did it consciously to begin with[0]), you're moving within a predefined space whose boundaries are encoded by myriad factors beyond your control. If, in that space, there's both "succumb to bad habits" and "break bad habits", and you managed to move to "break bad habits", great. But what if the space is only confined to "succumb to bad habits" for some people? That's the fundamental difference here: the conventional concept of agency assumes everyone's decision space is equally voluminous or that they can navigate with equal effort.

Especially disgusting to me is that holders of this view can recline in the comfortable callousness their ignorance or mythology affords them. If someone hasn't improved their circumstances, it's their moral failing, so they deserve their misery.

On the other hand, the callousness that materialist elitism affords you, that someone who can't improve their circumstances deserves their misery, is less comfortable, so it's a better kind of callousness. Many of us couldn't survive without the coddling of our parents and our civilization, and, on average, our civilization is a better place for our participation in it. Given our highly collective world of artifice, why would someone have a worldview that emphasizes some kind of Darwinism? It's a little silly and less palatable than the handwaving of moral virtue, so the end the result is that you're more forgiving of people's failures and proactive in their success.

0: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/free-will-...


> But what if the space is only confined to "succumb to bad habits" for some people?

No person would be so constrained. The space of possible behaviours is simply too large, so you're arguing a moralistic stance from an unreasonable assumption.

Furthermore, free will and determinism are not at odds. Even if someone were fully constrained to act in only a single way, that doesn't entail they would not be morally blameworthy.

The mistake you and others who argue against free will make, is that you assume moral blameworthiness necessarily entails punishment. While this is often the case in religious beliefs, it simply does not follow without additional assumptions. Your beef is not with free will. Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater.


> No person would be so constrained. The space of possible behaviours is simply too large, so you're arguing a moralistic stance from an unreasonable assumption.

Can you elaborate on why the space is simply too large to make this a possibility? From my observations of people suffering from severe addictions, it seems entirely possible that they have no agency when it comes to combating their addiction. They either are completely unable to grok the consequences of their actions or unable to choose actions that they know will benefit themselves.

> The mistake you and others who argue against free will make, is that you assume moral blameworthiness necessarily entails punishment

I don't think GP assumes moral blameworthiness necessarily entails punishment. I think, rather, he assumes that immoral acts are worthy of punishment. That is, if we happen to decide to punish a certain set of actions, we should punish immoral actions. I think this is a fair assumption. The primary goal of morality discussions is to determine which actions we want to strive for and which actions we want to avoid.


> From my observations of people suffering from severe addictions, it seems entirely possible that they have no agency when it comes to combating their addiction. They either are completely unable to grok the consequences of their actions or unable to choose actions that they know will benefit themselves.

I think you'd agree that the space of choices falls on a sort of spectrum, with comatose patients on one side, and the most intelligent or able people on the other. The set of choices available to comatose patients is the empty set, the set of choices available to the other end are enormous. Addiction will carve out a segment somewhere on this spectrum that is not the empty set. If it were the empty set, they would not be able to satisfy their addictive impulses. They're clearly rational enough to be able to figure out how to get their next fix. Agreed so far?

> I don't think GP assumes moral blameworthiness necessarily entails punishment. I think, rather, he assumes that immoral acts are worthy of punishment.

Immoral acts are morally blameworthy. I don't see the difference you're trying to point out.

> That is, if we happen to decide to punish a certain set of actions, we should punish immoral actions. I think this is a fair assumption. The primary goal of morality discussions is to determine which actions we want to strive for and which actions we want to avoid.

Nothing in this paragraph justifies punishment over say, rehabilitation. And that's the point: you simply can't get to retributive justice, or any form of justice, merely from the conclusion that free will exists.

You always require an additional assumption, but I've had countless arguments with people like the OP where they start with the assumption that punishment isn't justifiable, and then work backwards and conclude that therefore we should eliminate the concept of free will as if that solves the problem. It doesn't, it introduces a whole other set of problems, and punishment remains as a viable option given the right assumptions even without free will.


> From my observations of people suffering from severe addictions, it seems entirely possible that they have no agency when it comes to combating their addiction.

The easy solution here is to simply claim that free will is something you can give up, and once lost it can be near impossible to regain.

I also pretty firmly believe that it's a self fulfilling prophecy. Without the belief in the ultimate power of your own free will, it would seem perfectly obvious that you can be constrained the the point of impotence. I don't judge or disparage people who choose not to believe as I do, for me it is a tool to enable myself to take responsibility and own my outcomes.


How can we possibly escape Darwinism? Isn't it always present in one form or another? There will always be some particular traits will lead to better rates of survival in a particular society. In a world of abundance, discipline could be key - I have seen strong men destroy themselves through a lack of discipline. In a world of scarcity, those same men may have been heroic survivors. In modern society, we try to transform the selection process of Darwinism into something more abstract and therefore less noticeable to our primitive brains.


The answer is discipline.

If the OP had discipline then they wouldn’t be asking the question. That response is as useless as telling a fat person not to eat so much.


It's not useless at all. That the answer is simple does not imply the journey to fulfilling the answer is also simple.

If a person lacks discipline, it is generally within their control to look at themselves and their choices and figure out how to become more disciplined. If they cannot figure out some way, it is generally within their control to figure out how to ask someone for help about how to build discipline. I recognize that there are people with a mental makeup for whom asking for help is extremely difficult.

I do not know what to tell those people, but to continue to make progress in their lives means they have to overcome those blockers somehow.


What you’re saying is certainly true but that doesn’t mean it’s helpful.

It’s good to remember that ultimately discipline is what’s needed, but it’s also helpful to discuss specific intermediate steps, habits, and tools that are helpful in creating that discipline.


I often find myself in fear of good stuff being buried down. But I suppose an RSS setup should solve this.


> I wake up at the same time every day, have the same routine every day, and have the same commute most days.

"Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds."


The correct quote is "a foolish consistency." And the context of the quote has nothing to do with self-discipline. It is a call to boldly speak the truth today, and then boldly do the same tomorrow. If you contradict yourself, then so be it. The truth might not be found in only making logically consistent statements. "To be great is to be misunderstood."


I can just feel Emerson smiling contentedly at this comment. :-D Thank you.


It isn’t what you do everyday, it is how and why and with what amount of intent.

Just some thought for food.


If you figure out a way to solve this problem, please let me know - as someone who works from home, internet distractions are the biggest thing that stand between me and success.

I've heard the advice for writers of "turn of your wifi and just write without distractions". But, coding requires the internet in most cases. Hacker News is simultaneously enriching and distracting for me. Youtube is the source of all knowledge, both useful and incredibly banal.

I started using hnwatcher.com to notify me when certain topics I care about come up on Hacker News and that was a big level up in being more smart about time spent on here.

Reddit I have no idea how to use. I have the feeling I should just permaban it from my life, but it does have it's uses. Same with Twitter. Youtube has probably sucked more of my life away than anything else watching dumb videos that aren't useful or even entertaining/relaxing. It's one thing to do something to relax, but some of my internet surfing seems to fall into this weird middle ground of neither productive or fun, just addicting.

Perhaps one option is, as someone else mentioned, more curation. I don't usually have to worry about reading the news even though I do, since I know I'll get word of important things from my friends who do read the news a lot.

I recently joined a private freelancer community online, and that has replaced a lot of what I used Reddit effectively for - finding new ideas and rubbing shoulders with peers.

I'm also a fan these days of mailing lists since they are not sources of infinite content like Youtube/Reddit.


> If you figure out a way to solve this problem, please let me know - as someone who works from home, internet distractions are the biggest thing that stand between me and success.

I second that request and opinion.

Nostalgia isn't anymore what it used to be, but I quite fondly think back to the time where I really dove deep into learning computer science and technology. That was 20 years ago, and already back then I considered myself to be quite active on the internet:

Back then it was still dial-up – well for me ISDN, but still dial-up, with the connection metered by the second. Most "consumers" back then just installed their ISPs software on their machine and actively chose to "go online".

For me it was a little bit different. I had a small Linux box running in the cellar (which also worked as a Fax gateway for my mothers small business (thanks HylaFax)), which was essentially a communications hub. It ran an MTA+IMAP (somehow SuSE made creating a sendmail.cf manageable, on that box I never touched that part directly), a NNTP cache (Leafnode), Squid HTTP proxy. And a little script that would actively pull a set of predefined URLs (news sites) and domain local followup links into the Squid cache.

Dial-up happened on demand whenever a request could not be fulfilled from the local cache. And if a connection to the internet was made, all the caches got refreshed and mail fetched and sent out. The upshot of this was, that while you were working on your computer with an open browser, MUA and Usenet client, you might have the impression, that you were actually "online", but as a matter of fact, actually getting connected to the internet happened only sporadically.

But for this to work, you had to predefine, what you'd be interested in, so that it would be cached. For anything outside of the cache you'd hit by the time-it-took-to-dial-up penalty, which kind of discouraged mindless browsing between work.

So maybe that's a way to tackle this problem: Instead of blocking "harmful" websites, just add some significant delay to loading them and make them load slow.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique Pomodoro technique for the win. Just work for 25 minutes and then time box your procrastination for 5 minutes. Be disciplined and you will be surprised how far it gets you!


Reddit is definitely one of my main browsing vices. I've found that the only way for me to use it somewhat responsibly is to make use of multireddits. However, I can't seem to use it responsibly on my phone for some reason. I think it might just be the inherant nature of the form factor as I don't seem to have nearly as much trouble when I use Reddit on my PC, but having a Reddit app on my phone is a surefire way to kill my productivity.

I have always seen my PC more as tool to actually get work done and my smartphone primary as a communication and entertainment device. I think we can all agree that it is very difficult to get actual work done on a smartphone, so perhaps the form factor itself is what makes me more inclined to mindlessly browse.


One suggestion and one question:

- Consider using a tool like Dash to create an offline cache of docs so you can turn off WiFi and still program effectively https://kapeli.com/dash

- What freelancer community did you join?


The trouble is that often the thing you are looking for isn't in the documentation, it's in some random Github issue.


I'm in Kai Davis's Freelance Camp (http://freelance.camp). It's a wonderful group of people.


Self Control helps. The app. https://selfcontrolapp.com/


Let's dive into the "discipline" advice and get practical:

1. Find ways to create cues for yourself to separate the two kinds of activity, and use those cues to hint yourself - create that half-second of separation that gives you a chance to stop, recognize what you're about to do, and make a personal decision about whether you want to continue.

For example, split by device: your phone is for addictive and fun activities; and your laptop is for enriching activities. Or by browser: Safari is for fun and Chrome is for enriching. Or by time: fun before noon, enriching after noon.

2. Write down your intent and start to track for yourself how successful you are at tracking toward your goal. You can use iOS' screen time for this, or RescueTime, a pomodoro timer, or a tangible cue - pen and paper even - that gives you the feedback.

3. Be realistic: start with tracking and don't try to set a massive, aggressive goal ("no addicting activity") up front. You're going to need time and energy to build new habits, and you can't rely on having both consistently: it might be easier to notice your habits when you're less tired at the beginning of the week, or on days you're lucky enough to have fewer meetings. But start, try, and be consistent about getting better through time.

To be clear - this isn't novel advice - you may recognize parts of it from OKRs (write down your goals and revisit them weekly), from "one habit a month" self-help blogs, from mindfulness training, or even from cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. Various tweaks on this formula might be necessary for your personal brain chemistry. But practice can give your brain the space to notice the underlying concepts and get better at it.


My "problem" with this is that I don't know how to separate activities into fun vs. enriching. I've gleaned a ton of valuable advice/information from Hacker News and similar sources, and also wasted an awful lot of time on them, and it's difficult to know which I'll end up having done on a given day.


One of the problems with this is that my workflow these days involves fairly frequently using the authenticator apps on my phone for 2fa to log into sites. While the phone is the worst culprit on distraction, I still can't just turn it off and put it away since I have to refer to it often. It would be better if I could at least block particular distracting sites and apps but I haven't found a way to do that that doesn't involve rooting it.


I think a lot of commenters have made productive comments on how to get started in changing bad habits. A commonality between these suggestions is a process of self-evaluation -- that is, it's important to set aside time to analyze how you spent your time and whether it was productive.

One thing I'd like to add is that the process of self-evaluation becomes a lot easier when you learn to shut off the part of your brain that negatively judges yourself. Many people (including myself) have an inner monologue that chastises yourself when you do something that is sub-optimal to your value system. This negative superego makes it REALLY hard to start honestly evaluating your behavior because you equate negative actions with negative self-worth, and nobody wants to put themselves down.

Part of my path towards mental fitness has involved replacing this negative super ego with the same love and compassion that I would show a friend. Then, the process of self-evaluation becomes psychologically much easier to tackle. I like to think of the time I've set aside for self-evaluation as an opportunity to work on my self-compassion as well as a way to identify corrective actions -- two birds one stone.

Nobody is perfect, and even if we end up wasting a ton of time on this earth on mindless activities, it's not the end of the world. At the same time, it makes sense to take actions that lead to our most fulfilling life. And, it sounds like you've identified one change that you could make, so good luck :).


Allocate a fixed amount of time at whatever cadence you like and stick to that. whipping out your phone everytime your bored has a net negative effect, no matter what insights you may glean during a particular instance.


I'm honestly not sure, for me it's mostly i've been on the internet a long time, I know 99% of everything is some bullshit. I look at most of it the same way I look at tv shows or movies. Do I want to spend the limited time I have taking in some bullshit? Or, do I want to spend my time productively? It really is your own choice. It's up to everybody how they spend their time. If you feel like it's a waste and it makes you miserable, just don't...

It's the same way I stopped eating candy and garbage. I still want it, I see it, it looks appealing. Then I remind myself it's a bag poison garbage. Likewise with facebook or stupid shit on the internet, I see it, it looks appealing...but i tell myself it's poisonous garbage...and just leave it.


I find this weird. The main thing I do on my phone is HN, some subreddits and books. Most other things fail to engage me on a phone for some reason. I find surfing the web to be way too frustrating to do it on a phone.


> and right next to it there are social media bubbles

Do you have the native apps or native client apps for these social media bubbles installed currently on your phone? If so, uninstalling them will go a long way to lessening your addiction since the mobile web experience of most social media apps has enough friction to make it more jerky and painful...

Think of it like having cookies at home when you were a child. Having them put on top of the cabinet by your parent out of reach (beyond your childhood height) made them practically inaccessible.


I'm coming to the conclusion that it may be best to somehow curate and control your own 'feed'. Eg for Youtube, block the suggestions and just rely on RSS from subscribed channels, or bookmark videos recommended elsewhere.

What may also work well is to think of a topic that is really interesting, /then/ go searching for it on Youtube. Trouble is the suggestion algorithms also work to wear down discretion, as it seems you've found...


Another thing is to add the DF Tube (or Distraction Free YouTube) extension which lets you hide most of the annoying parts of the UI like recommendations, comments, trending videos, etc.


For YouTube, I reccomend disabling watch and search history. That way, the only thing that shows up is from channels you're subscribed to or videos that are related to other vidoes you've "liked". If you want to remember a video, add it to a private playlist.


You spoke my mind better than I could do.




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