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The Art of Not Thinking (tiffanymatthe.com)
529 points by tmatthe on Aug 3, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 162 comments



If you are in a similar boat, it's likely that when you consider an upcoming dreaded task, there is at least a small part of you that admits the possibility that you will not do the task. And because there is, and because your brain realizes it, it expends mental energy trying to convince you not to do it. Once you are actually doing the task, or it's done, or you realize that you must start doing it immediately, you suddenly find that while plenty of physical energy may be required, there is almost no mental energy required at all.

A trick I've learned is to lie to yourself. Say you're excited to do it, that you can't wait, and that you enjoy it. Your brain is easily convinced if you're willing to let it be.

Sometimes this is not the case, because your brain entertains the idea that it can stop doing the activity it doesn't want to do. Once you are able to convince your brain that is not an option, this mental energy is returned to you as well. i.e. Pain is mandatory, but suffering is optional.


Sometimes it isn't even a lie. When procrastinating I sometimes have to stop, remind myself that I _enjoy_ programming and figuring out the best way to solve some problem, _this is actually fun_.

And then my brain realizes that that's actually true, it's being silly by procrastinating, and I get to work.

It's strange that it's necessary, but it is.


Well, this, but the last step doesnt happen.


Remove everything that is distracting you (block YouTube, delete TikTok, etc) to the extent that the only choices you have are sit there and be bored or code.

For most people their brain craves stimulation. When we introduce highly stimulating and rewarding activities like YouTube, video games, and social media our brains procrastinate the harder work like programming because an easier reward is achieved by watching YouTube (ie. Less energy is expended to produce the same dopamine response).

The cycle of YouTube, social media, and video games (or anything you're addicted to) can easily ruin your life because you get caught in a loop of not wanting to work (procrastination), so you watch YouTube. That creates a habit of watching YouTube and the brain optimizes itself for that. Every time you sit at the computer you have the urge to watch Youtube. Then you start to feel bad about not making progress on your work. You turn to YouTube to make yourself feel better because it's the most efficient way of producing a reward in the brain. After each video is over, you don't want to start work because you've already optimized for watching YouTube (ie. momentum). So, you tell yourself lies like "one more video", or "after the next one I'll start work", or "well it's already 4pm so the day is basically over anyways I can't start working now".

If you're really having trouble and want a solution, block all of the distracting things in your life and get back to the basics. You don't need a "dopamine detox" or anything complicated. Simply block things (using a browser extension or DNS blacklist) you don't want to be doing and let yourself either be bored or do the work.

Suddenly you will find it's easy to get started on work, and actually pretty enjoyable to be productive. Use that momentum, and keep off of distracting websites/apps.

Do it for 5 days and see how far you can get.


Thanks for the tips, I start to try to apply them. Installed an extension 2 days ago to block websites (hn/reddit/twitter).

My brain is really an asshole and now i slack on discord servers :'(. I need to fix that now...


The brain is a hard thing to control, willpower is limited and the brain is highly efficient so when you block YouTube, it will find the next best thing.

Continuously audit yourself, like you already are (noticing that Discord is now an issue), and block more and more things that you find distracting. But also recognize that there will always be something that is more entertaining and you can always find a new website to waste time on. Block out as much as you can so that you're not fighting yourself and use a bit of self-control for the rest. Again, once your options are sit there and be bored or code that's when you see the greatest benefit.

Keep going, any progress that you make is good. Try to make a habit of opening your computer and starting with something productive even just for 10 minutes. Usually once you're engaged it's not that hard to keep going as you make progress. Getting started is the hard part and being bored helps you want to get started.

In general the less stimulation you have in your life the more interesting work will be. Depending on what resources you need for coding it might be easier to set up a whitelist for those couple of websites instead of a blacklist where you're trying to block everything distracting manually.


What are you avoiding, deep down?


Avoiding ? I wouldn't call this avoiding, it's lacking attention.


I've learned in life, both by doing and not doing, that effort is the only metric for success you can control.

As far as how you set your expectations, I'd like to propose an experiment: Draw a Punnett square, where X is each possible choice you can make with your time relevant to one variable (work/don't work) and Y is each possible result of the subject of your choice for X (meet deadline/don't meet deadline). You can imagine easily what a p.sq. of these four possible combined outcomes looks like. The point isn't that some of the intersections are impossible (ex. don't work/meet deadline). The point is to notice your ideal outcome (don't work/meet deadline) is: a) impossible, or if not impossible, then b) unlikely, given each intersection has the same general probability of occurrence. In a nutshell, stop expecting the impossible and the improbable. By investing yourself fully in just one of the possible outcomes represented in a p.sq., you will both fail to accept a reasonably good but unfavorable outcome and fail to persist when your ideal outcome appears unachievable.


Hopefully saving someone some time: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punnett_square


You are and I thank you for that!


Some psychologists seem to be okay with the idea of self-bribery to get through difficult tasks. I think culturally some of us are taught that this is a form of weakness, but it just results in things not being done.

I don't agree with a lot of Alcoholics Anonymous' philosophy, but the concept of 'white-knuckling' is quite a powerful metaphor for the trap we get into of trying to force ourselves through a difficult activity, and it speaks to a somewhat tortured value judgement around the relative value of doing a task at all versus doing it yourself. Like you'd rather have mold in your house than pay some guy to fix the shingles on your roof.

I've consumed as much if not more of my favorite ice cream in the last year, but it tends to be reserved for conscious choices: I'm going to make a difficult phone call or work on my billing, then go for ice cream, rather than whenever I just feel stressed. It is certainly not the only tool I have added to the toolbox, but it complements others and the end results have improved my outlook. And since motivation and mood are spirals (which I think you were trying to say?), that's a big deal.


I laughed while reading your response, because I was reading your response while eating a small amount of ice cream, specifically because I was about to go back to purging my day's worth of incoming emails, a task I genuinely hate doing : D


I found myself doing the same, but I finally got so fed up with it I took action. I'm not sure about the content of your emails, but many of mine were from groups I was following that I had no interest in any longer, from code changes being made to repositories in which I no longer work, or just generic crap that I can't disable.

When I get an email I don't care about, I take action to make sure I don't get any more. I unsubscribe if it's a distribution list or some website that bought my email. I throw garbage I can't control into its own folder using Outlook rules. If it's a repo that I don't need, I unfollow it in github.


Over the years as my email volume increased I did a lot of fine tuning to my email process (stars, labels, read/unread management, etc). Once it surpassed a certain threshold (maybe 250 per day), I just cut out email management entirely. I don't archive, I rarely label, I just go through the latest, respond to anything pressing, and if there's anything that needs further followup it goes to my OmniFocus inbox where I prioritize all my work.

Email is critical to my work, but gardening it is not worth the opportunity cost.


> culturally some of us are taught that this is a form of weakness

It reminds me of in David Copperfield, where Mr. Murdstone asked his wife to be "firm" all the time.

I think the fact that qualities that are classified as weak or strong, is ultimately a type of bullying. Sometimes, it's a person bullying another. Sometimes, it's the culture bullying individuals, giving extra punishment to people already in distress.

Action by self-bribery is better than strong idleness, and there ought not to be no shame in self-bribery if that helps people to live a better life.


My personal preference is to start with that, but quickly transition off the bribe. It was merely a crutch, albeit a helpful crutch, to get me started. But once I've proved I can do it without suffering, I know that I don't need those training wheels anymore, and in fact, in the future, they will hold me back, a meaningless ritual before the known work to be done.

Instead, find the next impossible task, and apply ice cream there.


> a form of their weakness

Princess Aura: Look! Water is leaking from her eyes.

The Emperor Ming: It's what they call tears, it's a sign of their weakness.


Instead of lying I'd use the make it fun. Find any reason to make that task enjoyable, flip it around, organize it differently.

At work (temporary gig):

- manual labour == free workout. Whenever I have to crouch for a file.. I do it in a slow and perfect squat. I grab the file and stay down to strecth, then I go up swift .. I'm happy to have that file because I gained something. Other task like archive defragmenting I tried various ways to find the most agreeable one, then I go full speed.

- mundane tasks (print copy, input):

I make a chase waste game out of it (what programmers do). I organize the thing to be as lean and fast as possible and turn a 100+ repetitions into a smooth flow .. like a choreography.

I time most things to make it a game. Coworkers are shocked (whatever their reasons) but I produce twice in half the time and zero rants coming from my cubicle.

For tasks that I really don't like to do.. I gained a mental compartment to remember not to ever trigger that task again. I do it as a debt to my mistake and get done with it.


You can't rationalize or intellectualize everything. Trying just makes it harder later on when the things you cannot bargain with start piling up, despite all of your engineering attempts to prevent them. Essentially the author is asserting that thinking harder isn't going to fix some classes of problem, no matter how hard you think.

Fundamentally, there's a trap. It's a short trip from "I can avoid this if I'm good enough" to "I didn't avoid this, so I'm not good enough (bad)." That's toxic dialog. If this is the way you think about anyone, including yourself, you're not being a good friend, and there will be consequences.

And I realize the irony in this statement, but if you like to out-clever problems, you should think about whether you are failing to maintain a diversity of rich, long-term relationships with people. If so, this is probably not a coincidence.


That's what I tried to say in my last sentence. For way too absurd things, if you're obliged that time, do it, and the next time simply refuse and go elsewhere.


Some miserable things you have to do and can't get around it in the future. e.g. taxes.


Your comment reminded Principal Skinner in The Simpsons telling Bart to make a game of sharpening a stack of pencils: "Count the number of pencils you sharpened in one hour and try to beat your record"


I can't tell you how much better I feel doing this rather than behaving like other people in the workplace. Every hour is a drag to them, they're apathetic, ranting all day, talking to colleagues they don't even like. Tell me which one is better if you made an obligation of sharpening pencils. Also anything you do fast and clean becomes a skill. Most of life is a chore quick, cleaning, maintaining.. the faster you can do something perfectly the more time for good stuff.


Like all great advice, he was willing to follow it himself:

“I made a game of it. Seeing how many times I could bounce the ball in a day, then trying to break that record.”


> For tasks that I really don't like to do.. I gained a mental compartment to remember not to ever trigger that task again. I do it as a debt to my mistake and get done with it.

I like it. Here's to not ever making the mistake of doing my taxes again! raises glass


Yes I do this too! It's amazing what mindset can do.


We could talk about the social version of this. In my job nobody really works, it's an adversarial environment where everybody is hurting so wants to help nobody. A colleague and I did a thing together, the flow of shared tasks when done in friendly spirit helps immensely. Passing stuff between each others. Things happening while you're doing something else. Joining back together.. This should be mandatory in work and what leaders should be doing, ensuring people work in synergy.


I think this is all abysmal, dangerous advice. The author says to 'become a robot' and you're saying to 'lie to yourself'. It's all very anti-Zen. I think Alan Watts would say it leads to double-binds and discordant psychological feedback loops that will cause you suffering.

Your brain isn't a separate part of you. And you should simply be mindful and fully aware of life, do what you want and enjoy doing, when you feel like doing it.

No wonder there is such an issue with anxiety and depression when culture seems intent on mind-games that trick people into spending life doing things that they don't really want to do.


My problem with this is the fact that, as it turns out, what I enjoy doing is browsing Reddit/Youtube/Netflix etc. to the exclusion of everything else.

The internet has provided me with sufficient distractions-and they are immediately enjoyable enough-that longterm enjoyment/skill-building just doesn't provide me the sense of 'I want to do this' that other shortterm, immediately rewarding activities do.


you know, i'm sort of in the same boat except i realize its more of an addiction than an actual joy that leaves me fulfilled. i hate scrolling through reddit mindlessly and yet i always get pulled back into it. and i bounce between here and reddit for like 20 minutes until i snap out of it. short term im feeling satisfied, but deep within i feel like shit.

the best feeling i get is when i pick up a book or watch a documentary or go and enjoy the weather outside. it truly boosts my mood and makes me feel like a human


There are various religious perspectives on this effect. My Buddhist teachers from back when I was a Buddhist would likely say that the latter—books, documentaries, and uitwaaien “bathing in the outdoor energy”—are somewhat “closer” to true lasting happiness than just clips and news articles, but still have a “mark of impermanence” and the enjoyment you get from them is still fleeting. Better, but not best.

I have heard a Hindu man I used to go to grad school with describing that, in his view, the point of his Hindu faith is to live a “satisfied” life, and that the book/documentary/uitwaaien stuff is objectively more satisfying. I don’t know to what extent his take is general and what I do know is that “Hinduism” is kind of just one blanket term that tries to wrap together dozens or more religious practices that do not have very much to do with each other, so it is likely that this is just one person’s take?

I am still trying to work out the authoritative Christian message here. (Christianity similarly lacks a central human authority and has a million denominations with different beliefs.) Several parts of the story are well-stated by some top-notch theologians, so I can say that a lot of this chaos is a result of having the wrong view of the purpose of life. The Reddit/YouTube thing chases short term happiness chemicals in your brain, whereas the book/documentary/uitwaaien paths lead potentially to developing your relationship with God, which is held to be the top thing. Crucially I have seen some really substantial arguments that say that in Christianity, this drive to produce something memorable—to be productive and ‘change the world,’ say—are a mistake; that this redirection of focus from status to relationship also means that Christianity does not value that sort of immortalization-in-history as it would be another status rather than a relationship. It’s the mindset of a developer who hears an intern say “hey I’m sorry to bug you but I have this question” and they stop coding and say “there is literally nothing more important that I could be doing right now than helping you with your question.” But I feel like while I understand some of these things I just have more questions than I have answers? Like I am not sure how this would fit with a Kantian categorical imperative; would it potentially mean that we all stop working and have genuine conversations with each other instead? Like part of the Protestant reformation was the rediscovery of work-as-value, as the Shakers said, “hands to work—hearts to God”... it is kind of an open question in my head how all of that balances.


I found it interesting that you are saying that HN and reddit are comparable things. I recently turned off both my FB and Twitter account (never been a user of reddit or I would have done the same thing to it), but still enjoy the time here and probably will keep browsing interesting news/opinions here.

English is not native to me. Even though I can read and write English article, the speed is just slow. To me, the short-term entertaining part of HN almost doesn't exist. I always have to be dedicated to some interesting but hard article to understand it in some degree.


i only compare the two because sitting around for hours on HN is still (in my eyes) mostly a time waster. the articles are still hit or miss, but youre definitely right, its not as mindless as reddit


I am the same; what helps me is being very cognizant of how I feel after over-indulging in Reddit or HN and how I feel after some exercise/time spent outside/watching a good documentary.

Some journaling and/or a quick meditation in the morning help me keep in mind these things - and consequently more grounded.


Have you tried questioning this? Do you really enjoy those things to the exclusion of other activities? I've found that while I think I enjoy them, they leave me feeling unsatisfied when I've stopped. Yet the things I enjoy which take more effort provide a higher quality enjoyment that persists after its done.


You say this as if you have complete control over your thoughts and the content of your sub conscious mind, which you don’t...

Half the battle of accomplishing anything in life is priming your subconscious mind with the right line of thinking for the task at hand. If you reframe it that way this is fantastic advice.

Edit: I might also add your subconscious mind could very well be considered a separate entity considering it exists out of the full range of your conscious brains influence.


It doesn't make any sense to 'control your own thoughts'. It's weird how people seem to picture their 'real self' as some disparate nonphysical entity in their body pulling levers, in this case even separate from the brain and thoughts


You may wish to look in to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, as it can achieve what you claim makes no sense.


When people picture a disparate nonphysical entity, it's usually a map-territory effect. Ie. in this case their model of themselves.


(It also might be partially residing in the gut.)


Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to spend their life doing what they enjoy, whenever they want. I'd bet that avoiding adversity at all costs is a bigger contributor to anxiety and depression because unless you live an incredibly privileged life, you'll eventually have to deal with things you don't want to.


If an action is going to minimise anxiety and depression in the long run, then it's what you want to do, so no mind-games and lying to yourself should be required.


It is all mind games. I feel like you are leaning on a negative association to the phrase rather than making an argument. If you say "I don't feel like I want to do a thing, but doing that thing will minimise anxiety and depression in the long run, therefore I do want to do the thing" that is definitely a mind game. It is also a good way to be happier and more satisfied in life.


So you do what is in your long term best interest at all times?

I live in Las Vegas and it feels like my entire city was built on the backs of people who are unable to think in accordance with their long term plans.


Albert Ellis wrote some interesting stuff about this. He called it "long term hedonism." https://albertellis.org/yolo/


And yet many people find them necessary for e.g. exercise.


If they are what's required to improve, then do them. Recognize when you no longer need the lies and move on.


": And you should simply be mindful and fully aware of life, do what you want and enjoy doing, when you feel like doing it."

It's not 'lying' to yourself, it's the higher part directing the lower part to do its job.

I think that we would waste away pretty quickly into nothing if we just 'did what we wanted'.

Even creative efforts take considerable amount of focus and discipline. Nothing is really just 'all fun'.

It takes a considerable amount of social training to hold our civility together.

Our complex socialisation is the only thing that separates us from being animals.

Even primates don't just 'do whatever' - even they have social rules.

Our 'higher selves' are the parts of us moving us forward, we can put our 'lower instincts' on cruise control from time to time (and that's probably healthy) but no question the 'thinker' has to be in charge in the end.


That's an interesting viewpoint, and I'd love to be able to "do what you want and enjoy doing, when you feel like doing it" rather than use biological tricks to push myself to do something. Could you maybe elaborate a bit more on how could one achieve this goal?

There's lot of "hurdles" to "just being" nowadays. Even if you don't apply elaborated psychological methods on you everyday life, a big portion of your environment does do it — Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, ..., they all try to hack into your brain and suck you in. How do you prevent falling for these things without employing a bit of brain-hackery yourself?

Also, even if you manage to not succumb to the calls of Facebook et. al., a big portion of worthwhile, fulfilling and healthy things require you to be uncomfortable in the short term (e.g. exercise) in order to reap the benefits in the long run. How can you start doing these things without any rationalisation? (i.e. without trying to persuade the brain: Yeah, I know we'll be sweating, but it's worth it, trust me — you'll thank me in 20 years!)


When I say to lie, I'm a bit tongue in cheek. I don't really consider it a lie anymore. It's simply a acknowledgment that this task will not be painful the way that I think. It's much more Zen than my initial post made it sound, but I hoped that would help translate to people who are getting started with self discipline.


Your comment rang very true to me. Thank you for posting it.

What would you recommend to read more about the Alan Watts topics you reference?


Practically anything he wrote or lectured sooner or later zeroes in on this very topic.

The rather-neat core notion is that if you try to use your brain to fool your brain, "improve" your brain, plead with your brain, or "understand the brain", you're chasing ghosts, shouting at the wind, snake chasing its tail, tooth biting itself, etc. There's something to that.. if only as an occasional sane reminder to ease up on oneself because however much you listen to or serve the "lazy / procrastinating" or the "virtuous / ambitious" or any other fragments of the mysterious inside machinery, whichever side "you" serve is never satisfied, infinitely greedy and keeps demanding more..


I dont think so. These monologs which hinder you from doing stuff by arguing with yourself are highly egoistic. So are the voices which try to convince the other voices ... The best thing is to just recognize them as narcistic white noise.


Another mental trick is to repeat to yourself "I'm an interesting person and people like me."

It's usually true. Lots of social anxiety evaporates. And sure, sometimes you put yourself in an embarrassing position because of it. But the benefits are worth it.


Amen. Fake it til you make it. Key life skill.


> A trick I've learned is to lie to yourself. Say you're excited to do it, that you can't wait, and that you enjoy it. Your brain is easily convinced if you're willing to let it be.

The technique I finally learned was to attempt to cultivate an enjoyment of the task I didn’t want to do. But I wonder if what you’re suggesting isn't really just a different way of looking at the same thing.

You might be “lying to yourself” telling yourself that you’re excited to do something, but the brain will start synthesizing that into what it might indeed find enjoyable about the task. I found I could easily get myself to fold laundry by focusing on the satisfaction of a folded shirt - it sounds silly, but I somehow hooked that process up to the right dopamine trigger, and now I rarely procrastinate this particular chore.

The process was similar for exercise. Whether it was “I’m going to tell myself I’ll enjoy this” or “I’m going to find something I enjoy about this” is perhaps not as clear-cut as I originally imagined, but either way, my epiphany was this: I will always find a way to avoid a task I don’t want to do, while I will always find a way to do something I’ve learned to enjoy.


> The technique I finally learned was to attempt to cultivate an enjoyment of the task I didn’t want to do

There's a fantastic idiom in English to express this idea: "to make virtue out of necessity".


or : embrace the suck


100%. Posting my other post,

> When I say to lie, I'm a bit tongue in cheek. I don't really consider it a lie anymore. It's simply a acknowledgment that this task will not be painful the way that I think. It's much more Zen than my initial post made it sound, but I hoped that would help translate to people who are getting started with self discipline.


Vonnegut had a great quote along the lines of "we become who we pretend to be".


I think this was pretty much the topic of one of his books


Mother Night: "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."


Heh I didn't know that. I heard/read the quote from Sivers.


"Fake it till you make it" meme?


It was used in a similar, but twisted, sense in the book.

In the book, Mother Night, the character is working for the US (and the Allies) but under the cover of working for the Nazis. So it's a bit of a twist on "fake it til you make it". In the latter, you pretend to be what you want to be. In the book he's pretending to be what he doesn't want to be, but the consequence is that post-war he's perceived to have been a Nazi (or at least a collaborator).


And arguably, was.


>> A trick I've learned is to lie to yourself. Say you're excited to do it, that you can't wait, and that you enjoy it. Your brain is easily convinced if you're willing to let it be.

I think this is what most of hypnosis or meditation techniques do. They try to bring mind in a more suggestive state and then suggests that you like(or hate) the good(or bad) activity.

I have a friend who was a 6 cigarettes a day guy actually quit smoking after few sessions of hypnotherapy. He said his hypnotherapist suggested in sessions that you hate the smell of the smoke, and he started hating it. I had hard time believing it and I remember researching about it.


I never understand this line of reasoning. What do you think is it that comes up with a thought like 'be excited about this task'. When you say that your brain is easily convinced by this you imply that there exists something besides your brain that comes up with thoughts, which makes absolutely no sense at all. It's more likely that your brain just decides a priori to do the task and then comes up with the thought that justifies doing the task.


Exactly. If you don't give your brain an option, you can't find a way to not do it.

I agree with your point on lying. I have tried it before but it takes a lot of mental effort to trick my brain and even then, it's a precarious situation where one loose thought can bring it all tumbling down.


Part of discipline is not allowing 'in the moment' you to disagree with 'careful planning' you.

I know one or two people who have a lot of chaos in their lives who cannot do this. One in particular gets positively defensive if you ask in the car what you plan to accomplish by going into this store.

You can hardly call it 'buying extra things' if you refuse to articulate what the expected set of things was in the first place. She spends so much time de-cluttering and often doesn't have money for group activities despite being in essentially the same income bracket. Ten seconds making a plan doesn't have to turn into a whole avoidant 'ruining the experience' vibe of the trip. Also, no store is designed to make you enjoy it. It's merely designed for long- versus short-term ROI, and certain kinds of enjoyment can benefit one or the other. Enjoying a trip to the mall is expensive as hell.


Similarly I tried to get myself to exercise for years and years.

I must have discovered the same approach as this author.

I stopped any kind of thinking about it and focused on observing myself drive to the gym, get in the pool, do the strokes, etc.

If my verbal ("thinking") centers of my brain needed to say something I would only let them describe what I was doing ("You are driving to the gym", "you are putting your swimsuit on", etc.)

Never did I let any other "thinking" or "reasoning" enter the picture. It was all observation. I was able to keep an exercise routine for years this way.

---

I think her post fails in the last section "Do the easiest part first". This is too much thinking, reasoning and I think will backfire. She should delete this section. I think this idea is hard for people to understand. You want ZERO REASONING to come into the picture when the time comes, not even a shred. Only pure observation of you doing the task.


I see your point. I meant it more as a method to quickly get started on a task without having to think too much, but I realize that having to select the easiest part might be too much thinking already. I'll add a footnote for that.


For years I would get up at anywhere from 4:00am to 5:30am depending on the season and go climb a mountain. I'm naturally pretty lazy and a professional procrastinator. What worked was just throwing myself out of bed without thinking. By the time I started to think about what I was doing and started to come up with excuses, I was half way out the door.

If you give yourself a chance to think about it, you probably won't do it.


I've also recently started trying to do this: to try to have my conscious mind be in charge of observing/understanding only. It works, but it kind of scares me.

It scares me because it feels similar to the mindset I have when watching a movie. What if I become more interested in the plot than the well-being of the main character?


Your engagement of the plot in any manipulable way can only come if you are not simply observing. So if you find this happening, you're doing it wrong.


> I think her post fails in the last section "Do the easiest part first". This is too much thinking, reasoning and I think will backfire. She should delete this section.

I respectfully disagree. This approach absolutely works for me. I usually start a big difficult task by removing trivial inconveniences (https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/reitXJgJXFzKpdKyd/beware-tri...)

For example, when I'm about to write a spec, I first do the easy trivial stuff, such as creating and naming the document. Or, when I write a difficult email, I write a rough version of it in a blunt caveman language.

I'd keep this section intact.


This resonates a lot with the ancient wisdom of the Tao Te Ching: https://www.taoistic.com/taoquotes/taoquotes-05-non-action.h...


Different things work for different people.


Anything you do consistently for a long time will have to become part of "who you are" not just "what you do". If you can't find a way to make it mesh together with your self conceptualization it won't last.

You have to come up with a background, a connection to your past and your being, a story that makes sense why this is who you are.

How this looks can be entirely personal. It may be a rugged individualistic stubbornness story to learn to face adversity, a story of family, about health and treating your body as a temple, or whatever else.

If you have a stronger competing story for your identity (eg my kind of person doest jog, that's some silly Instagrammer avocado soyboy thing, my kind of person drinks beer and watches TV) then you'll not keep doing it even if you successfully force it for some days or weeks.

Stories carry and propel us through life to a large extent.


Thanks for sharing that Tiffany.

This has been the way I've worked for decades.

I've found that stuff gets done, once it becomes habit. It doesn't always become enjoyable, or even effortless, but it does get done.

There's a saying: "Just for today I will exercise my soul in three ways: I will do somebody a good turn and not get found out. I will do at least two things I don't want to do, as William James suggests, just for exercise."

I usually have the second part down by 7AM. The first is not always guaranteed, each day, but I pull it off, every now and then.

Getting Things Done has been my pattern since I was eighteen years old.

This being HN, I have also learned to "think less" while coding. I've established coding habits; often with the help of LINTers[0], and now produce a lot of good code, at a blistering pace. My designs are almost fluid; often reconfiguring in the middle of implementation, as I take a "JIT" approach to design[1]. That's not something that can be taught. It only comes with a great deal of experience.

In my experience, the less thought I have to give stuff, the better.

[0] https://littlegreenviper.com/miscellany/swiftwater/swiftlint...

[1] https://medium.com/chrismarshallny/evolutionary-design-speci...


Nice to see it works for others as well. And thanks for sharing how you code while thinking less, it's interesting to see how this can be applied to different areas in life.


For the main example given (exercise), I think for people like me there really is no thinking involved. It's purely an emotional aversion to discomfort and disenjoyment of physical activity. I think the better advice is to search for physical hobbies you enjoy rather than to 'just do it' (tm).


I feel the other extreme is more acceptable.

For me, the biggest barrier to getting started on something is all the boilerplate and ceremony around actually doing the thing. Right now, I can go from a resting state in bed to sitting on my rower or running outside within 90 seconds. The same cannot be said for most other physical hobbies.

I rationalize it along lines of "If I start right this second, I can be done with cardio before 8am". For me, the time cost is way more painful than any physical cost. This ideology allows me to squeeze exercise into time windows that would otherwise be impossible if I had to travel somewhere or meet other people to engage in the activity.

Ultimately, I feel that physical fitness is about recognizing the benefits and engaging them at any cost until you are at a point where the cost becomes relatively negligible. The physical and emotional aversion are a temporary thing, and it will ultimately boil down to how much time you want to spend on your own health.


This is identical to how I feel. My advice to people who want to get in a routine of exercising is to minimize the barrier to entry. For me it was running. I leave my house and can immediately start the thing I don't want to do without having all this overhead to start doing the thing I don't want to do (going to the gym etc).


I feel like that as well. Running isn't great for me but biking works - I can commute or shop and also get a workout all at once.


Problem with this theory is that you may not always find hobbies that are equivalent to good workout. I.e. walking will not get your heart rate up.


> walking will not get your heart rate up.

It will if you walk up hills.

Even walking a few miles a day in flat areas is still good exercise; getting yourself outside and moving is a very good start.

I think walking to work or class is also good for thinking and getting your brain working.

Walking/hiking in nature is also great if you are near a trail of some sort.


This is particularly hard during quarantine. As much as I dread lifting weights because of the difficulty, I love the feeling during and after.

But now that gyms are closed (I wouldn't go if they were open anyway), I don't have a good substitute. And bodyweight exercises take significantly longer to get the same "pump".

At the gym, I'm forced to get through the workout. At home, it's so easy to hop on the laptop during breaks between sets and get distracted.


Running is bad for the knees and isn't really a great substitute either for most people. It depends on the person. The point I was making is that not thinking and blindly doing exercises you don't like is not the best argument to make the case in the article.


Running badly is bad for the knees*.


you won't find a physical hobby you enjoy because you never "just do it" enough to find out if you enjoy any of it. It's a bit of chicken and egg. People who think they have "emotional aversion to discomfort and disenjoyment of physical activity" should probably seek therapy if they really want to change.


I had no problem thinking about what I might enjoy and finding hobbies. Sorry to disappoint you that I don't go to therapy for trivial things and can't "just do it" and start running for no reason like forrest gump.


Not being able to exercise is no trivial. That sounds like a good topic to discuss in therapy. Why do you think physical activities are trivial? What makes you feel like you're better than others?


I tried yoga, cycling, going to the gym - none stuck with me. I did try though.

I only really enjoy swimming - but it's too much work to prepare yourself for the pool - and carrying things - the other day me and a few frineds helped my other friend move ten station wagons worth of stuff - but that isn't a particularly healthy activity.


I used to have swimming stuff in bag all the time when not wet, so getting ready meant just picking it up.


go swim every other day you'll get more fun out of life


Excuses are a dime a dozen when it comes to exercise.


>After years of feeling guilty about not wanting to do everything...

Has the author asked themselves why they feel guilt about not wanting to do "everything"?

Is it possible that the form of discipline being promoted here under the tag "Productivity" is entirely unnecessary for a satisfying human existence, and that it is primarily caused by cultural forces?

Is it possible that such a focus on this relentless productivity, caused by our society, is related to the feeling of guilt that comes with perceiving oneself as 'undisciplined'?

Anyone who is commenting on how this opposes the nature of zen or other mindfulness lineages is on the right track and anyone who is still justifying cramming as much activity into every moment of their lives in the name of productivity is doomed to repeatedly feel the guilt and shame that comes along with not living up to these cultural standards.


I agree with this, and know people who have an unhealthy ambition for "doing productive things" with no time set aside for compensatory energy recovery through relaxation. I see these people fall into de-facto relaxation through exhaustion. They end up relaxing, but will feel guilt during it. This kind of audience would not benefit from productivity advice, as they are already operating on an extreme level.

On the other end of the scale are people like myself, who have a real problem motivating themselves to do tasks which really do objectively need to get done (e.g. mowing the lawn, cleaning the bathroom). Why do they need to get done? Because if they don't they would have a net negative effect on your quality of life / even basic hygiene. It's people closer on this end of the spectrum that I think benefit from advice like this.

Certainly there is no absolute law that says you "have to" do anything. That's freedom of choice which we all ultimately have. In practical terms though, unless you are willing to accept an extremely low standard of living, certain basics do need to get done. People with depression will probably be able to understand where I'm coming from with this :)


I agree and have been there in terms of looming depression preventing you from getting the basic human activities done, but I can't separate that depression from the spirit of my comment either. It was largely related to feeling trapped by our western work culture.

In terms of the basic activities of living, it can still help to address the aversion to the task head on by realizing the actual nature of the task.

The task isn't what it appears, but is in fact just a concept we impute to aggregate phenomena.

Is washing dishes standing at the sink? No. Is washing dishes the running water? No. Is washing dishes holding a single plate and sponge? No. Is washing dishes dispensing soap onto the sponge? No.

Washing dishes is the combination of several interdependent causes.

Tasks that we're averse to are simply aggregations of various other imputed concepts, and so the unified activity that triggers our sense of aversion isn't actually based on anything substantial.

Speaking personally, aversion arises for me a lot of the time as a sense of lost time to one activity or another, but the concept of 'just being' suggests that whatever activity you do is perfectly fine on a fundamental level.

No time is wasted because every activity you do is 'of one taste' essentially - it's all the same in terms of being aggregate phenomena wrapped up into a unified concept by humans that triggers aversion based on our individual conditioning.

So realizing that the aversion isn't real and substantial, reflect on the positive nature of completing the task and the positive effects it will have. Instead of repressing your negative thoughts (forcefully not thinking), see them as insubstantial.

Thanks for your reply :)


Who _are_ you?

Now, don't take this personally; there's just not many people that I know that could out-smart plain old dishwashing on such a fundamental philosophical level. I'd love to know what's your background and how you learned think in this way — and I'm asking mostly because I could use some of this way of thinking in my life as well.

I am what most people would call a "productive person" — I'm at one of the best universities in my country, have top grades, have a part-time position in a pretty good research facility, and I'm also slowly chipping away at my startup idea.

Sometimes I'm all happy about this, but other times I see that there's not much time for being "myself" between all these activities. Now, please, bear with me — it's hard to put it in words.

Often I ask myself whether I actually care about these activities, or whether I do them just because it is easier to fill my free time with all sorts of different things and delegate the question of „what should I do next” to external factors. The fact that I don't really care for good grades but at the same time act as if I did care, for example, made me wonder whether the values I have been raised with are really _my_ values, or whether I follow and fulfil them just due to some kind inertia mixed with inability to find my own values. And I’m sure that not only my cowardice and the imprinted values are at fault — the western culture is surely doing its part as well.

But don't get me wrong — I enjoy being the best, I enjoy programming (@ the startup) and the hard work (@ the facility). I just don't know whether it's me enjoying the stuff or some frankenstein of my parents' values and general cultural views occupying the space inside my head... I’m not exactly unhappy, I’m just not sure whether I’m taking the right path here, that is to say „my path” [1]. I think that learning how to think about things on a fundamental level, as you did, could help me in my case as well.

[1] A little side note: From the practical point of view, being raised to be "the best" has its warts — e.g. when your entire self-worth depends on external measures of "bestness" and crowds of people that praise you for your brilliance. So, even though I'm not unhappy, I foresee that I certainly will be at some point in the future if I don't rethink my values and a big chunk of my life — so I might as well start right now.

[2]: In case this is too OT for HN, I'd be happy to chat at wybitul [at-sign] evzen [dot-sign] dev.


Hello Eugeleo,

I'm no one special, just a person who has finally made some progress on these very issues.

I've struggled for quite a while with the same fundamental questions about self as you seem to be struggling with now.

>I'm at one of the best universities in my country, have top grades, have a part-time position in a pretty good research facility, and I'm also slowly chipping away at my startup idea.

All of this takes hard work, these are certainly accomplishments that bring temporary satisfaction and happiness.

>Sometimes I'm all happy about this, but other times I see that there's not much time for being "myself" between all these activities.

This is a very subtle form of suffering. Things are going well, there isn't necessarily something obviously wrong, but still you can't shake the feeling and it has the potential to cause (a lot of) anxiety.

>I’m asking myself whether I actually care about these activities

There's no need to find yourself at one extreme or the other (caring or not caring). You do care about these things, but perhaps you overestimate their ability to provide you with lasting happiness and satisfaction. As you say, it's a never ending search for the next source of momentary satisfaction: "what's next for me?".

>Often I ask myself whether the values I have been raised with are really _my_ values, or whether I follow and fulfill them just due to some kind inertia mixed with inability to find my own values.

Inevitably, it's both. All of us are a result of an unbroken chain of cause and effect which started long before we were ever born. Part of your value system comes from your parents, part of theirs came from their parents, and so on. On top this, your personal experience and conditioning is overlaid. Recognizing this fact is important if you would like to break out of this cycle of questioning.

>To be frank, I’m not sure what to do about this. I’m not exactly unhappy, I’m just not sure whether I’m taking the right path here.

Yeah, I get you.

--

To answer your technical question, I stumbled into the Tibetan school of Buddhism known as Dzogchen several months ago, this has exposed me to the wider landscape of the Madhyamaka (or middle way) view in Buddhism. I hesitate to scare you off thinking I'm trying to convert you to a religious practice, but as I've discovered myself, this is a highly logical and first-person oriented form of scientific philosophy that had been developing in India for at least 2500 years before Hinduism took over. Buddhism continued to develop in Tibet and has been well preserved by the Tibetans. In fact, quantum physics and modern science and the Madhyamaka view are in stunning alignment when it comes several factors, including the reality that things do not exist exactly as they appear to us.

There are two techniques (neither involving faith) to decomposing phenomena as I displayed with washing dishes.

The first is known as Shamatha, which means quiescence, calm abiding mind, singled pointed concentration, or even meditative equipoise. Shamatha is the act of meditating single-pointedly on some object with unwavering focus. This leads to mental stability overtime because through the process of cultivating Shamatha you develop right-thinking about discursive, roving thoughts, and eventually the waves settle (so to speak) and you're left with a very calm mental disposition (which can easily bring you joy). You may know of similar westernized meditation techniques in the mindfulness genre, they were almost certainly developed based on Shamatha, where one of the most popular objects of meditation is the breath or "mindfulness of breathing".

The second is known as Vipassana, which means wisdom, true seeing, or true insight. Vipassana is a form of analytical meditation in which an object of meditation is decomposed and deconstructed over and over again, forcefully illustrating the true nature of the object (which is always empty of inherent existence). Emptiness does not mean that the conventional world we live in does not exist, but rather that nothing in the conventional world exists in its own right as an independent object (as we humans tend to take for granted), but that everything manifests from one or more interdependent causes. This is known as dependent origination. Lucky us in the modern world, we already know that every thing we see is actually composed of sub-atomic particles which are constantly in a state of flux. This was actually something that took people a LONG time to fundamentally accept in the ancient east.

A common example in the literature is a chariot.

What is the chariot? Is there anything substantial to this notion of a chariot?

Is the chariot the wheels? Is it the axle? Is it the bars that connect to the horse? Is it the seat for the rider? Is it the wood?

Of course, the answer is no, that none of the parts are the chariot, and that even the parts themselves are empty because they can be decomposed all the way down to the sub-atomic level.

Therefore, the chariot is simply an imputed concept over an aggregate and has no inherent existence, even though it appears to simply exist when we look at it.

Okay, now ask yourself how do phenomena that are essentially empty trigger afflictive thoughts and emotions (which are also empty)? Then ask yourself, if thoughts and emotions are fundamentally empty, how can they cause me to suffer?

The answer comes from not seeing reality as it really is and is at the core of my example about the dish washing, which is a display of Vipassana.

There are countless entrypoints to this philosophy, some lean more on the classical Buddhist side and some lean more towards a purely secular approach, although like I've said, if you think that Buddhism is based on faith, then you're 100% misconceiving its nature. Therefore I don't view it even in the slightest as a faith based religion. The Buddha Shakyamuni himself urges you not to trust his words any more than you'd trust gold you buy at market, which is to say you must test and experience these truths yourself for there to be any lasting benefit.

I'll point you to two books by the same westerner. This was not my entrypoint, but it may serve you well and he's been immersed in Tibetan studies for most of his life so he is legit I promise. It's called Minding Closely by B. Alan Wallace (a great person indeed)[1].

If you'd like to continue this discussion or have any questions, simply reply again and we can link up over email or something. I hope this brief introduction helps you if even in the smallest way.

[1] - https://www.shambhala.com/minding-closely-2302.html


A more specific tactic I have discovered to avoid thinking and start straight away is to make a very quick promise to myself:

That I can quit as soon as I get too bored or hit a block of some kind - this relieves me of all the concerns that I might need to worry (think) about upfront, I waved those requirements when I allowed myself that quick exit.

Most of the time you just end up persevering, and due to the nature of these unimportant tasks - not planning just doesn't make any meaningful difference.


I really like this one. It's similar to another one I've used: Just commit to doing the task for an extremely small amount of time (e.g. five minutes or even one minute). That dramatically reduces the perception of pain in your brain associated with the task, since you're containerising it down to a level where it cannot possibly not be achieved.

For particularly anxiety-inducing tasks I have been known to use a 30 second time box ;) Safe to say, this always tends to build the requisite momentum to follow through with a much greater bracket of time, even if it's not a conscious decision to do so (this is probably the key point - the mental shortcut).

Another tactic which can be useful when the procrastination is driven by perfectionism: embracing the notion of "wrong action". Simply by initiating some kind of action in the interests of the task at hand, and it doesn't matter how "wrong" you think that action might be. Obviously, since you have a base level of expertise, even your so-called "wrong" action will in fact be a useful step towards the goal. This is a bit like the "beginners mindset": stripping preconceptions that are obstructing any kind of progress.


On top of this I also like to think that if I ended up doing anything it was better than doing nothing. Just trying to make yourself a little better every day can go long ways


Oh that's a good one, thanks for sharing!


Something also that I noted is that it is somewhat easier to do the task you don't want to do when you're tired / sleep deprived - mostly because effectively, my brain is too tired to argue against doing the thing.


This actually worked really well for me after a hell week and a presentation at the end. Often I get self conscious and freeze up at some point, but I was so wiped I just powered right through without a hitch. It was kinda weird.


This is how I got though college classes I found boring or tedious. I'd just stay up all night doing "interesting" things, then about 6am I would actually do the homework assignments, studying, etc I didn't want to do.

I'm sure it wasn't an effective strategy for information retention, and I developed pretty terrible sleep habits which plagued me for years after. But the homework got done...


This works, which is why many code and study late at night. But it has the side effect of trying to do things with the inefficiency of a tired brain, plus being too tired to resist other temptations.


Interesting, I've never had that work for me. I would just go to sleep.


Another great trick is when you don't have the energy to do something, do miscellaneous things only to get ready to do the thing at another time. Once you have the idea that you're explicitly not doing something the prep part is incremental, trivial/negligible units of effort. Often I find once all the prep is done, I'm actually psyched to start and will start on the spot or at the very next opportunity.


Mise en place - "Everything in its place," a french phrase for food preparation where you ensure everything is ready before even starting the act of cooking.


“Once you've got a task to do, it's better to do it than live with the fear of it.” -- Logen Ninefingers

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/logen-ninefingers#:~:te...


But also "You have to realistic about these things".


Don't you think there's too much thinking involved in an article about not thinking?

I just watched Joe Rogan's interview of David Goggins[1], and he lives the essence of what this article is trying to express. I think his perspective is far more succinct and sharper, its sort of an anti-motivation motivation. Its definitely worth a watch if anyone is interested.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tSTk1083VY&t=4s


My trick I perfected in college is to set my alarm for a couple hours earlier than I would normally wake up and start doing the task right when I wake. My mind isn’t awake enough to come up with any resistance so I start the day with momentum. This worked for studying or projects. It continues on in the work world where if I have tasks I’m low-key avoiding, I’ll set it for first thing in the morning. The more I’m avoiding it, the earlier I have to start in the morning to make sure I tackle it.


Fear also works. That's why cramming for exams is so easy. Not the act, but getting yourself to do it.

You can also barter with yourself. Have a list of harmless splurges to reward yourself with. Kyoto cold brew, a Sapporo black beer, or a few hours of gaming are on my list.

I recon the most professional approach is to clear your schedule, remove all distractions, and simply give yourself enough time or even unlimited time to do it. I often find they get done faster than expected, since most of these tasks aren't particularly difficult. Like taxes. The problem isn't that they're hard or challenging. They disgust me :/


I've found planning ahead to work, to great success. Almost ridiculously so. It's come to the point where I don't really need my usual distraction blockers.

I've found: 1. I can fit a lot of things into my day, than I assumed. 2. I often overestimate how long things take, on top of that.

Point 2 is particularly interesting, since I know if I just bang out my tasks, I'll keep find "free time" that I over-planned for. By the end of the day, I get a couple free hours to do whatever I want, and it's lovely.


Would you mind going into a bit more detail about the systems that work for you? Is it just like a checklist at the beginning of each day or?


It's very difficult for me to do anything like this because I end up forgetting things so much - good old ADHD, not something funny pills alone can solve. Creating a routine and sticking to it works best for me, but I've never been unable to stick with it through more turbulent times. Everything is fine until something, say, an unexpected family visit or a worldwide pandemic, disrupts my everyday life and routine and then I just fall back to my old ways.


I feel you. Two things I've picked up that may be helpful:

First, as a sibling comment said, having a notebook always on hand is a huge help to me (I like Field Notes as they fit in my pockets and hold up to abuse well). Writing things down with a pen avoids all of the possible distractions of picking up your phone, and frees you from any structure imposed by task apps.

I write stuff down constantly--sometimes I write down tasks, random ideas, or just doodle. Later (ideally in the evening or first thing in the morning) I read my ramblings and organize the ones worth remembering into a more permanent place. Tasks go into a digital todo app, notes and ideas into OneNote, etc.

While this scribbling thoughts and organizing them later is barely a routine, its proved to be enough to get me through crazy times and back into a "real" routine.

The second thing: don't worry about your routine collapsing. It happens, it's natural. Accept it, write down the crazy business in your head, and slowly start building a new routine.


> and slowly start building a new routine.

Something that helped me was instead of building a new routine, I went back to the old one but in stages. There are things I don't absolutely have to do, so they get tacked on the end and are optional so I can just skip them without much disruption in turbulence.


I've found that 'something' always at hand and with the absolute least cost of usage has helped enormously. Paper and Fisher pen, PalmPilot, Treo, now todo program on my phone.

Whatever is the quickest to get me to a list of reminders that I can choose from.

And I do best when I can sort those by effort required to complete. Refill cat food bowls, minimal effort, QED. Find contractor for back porch rework, not as simple. So I break it down and find a smaller step I can do and list that.

Even if I get knocked out of my list, I always have it to get back on track.

Tasks.org is my current tool, after trying many many others.

On my worst days I set a repeating alarm to get my attention and look at the list again. Sometimes exhaustion, sometimes lack of desire, but I have a wife and animals to provide for so one way or the other I make it happen.


AN Whitehead, on separating data and control planes:

"Operations of thought are like cavalry charges in a battle — they are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments."

To understand this, one must realise that a horse can only go full out (<20 HP) for a minute or two, and even at 80% will be exhausted in under 15 minutes. Infantry may, and does, grind, but cavalry relies on timing[1]. (Why use cavalry then? Because, properly deployed, they turned minor routs into decisive victories. Consider Guagamela.)

[1] There is a nice anecdote about von Seydlitz and Frederick the Great. Von Seydlitz is waiting with his cavalry squadrons for opportunity to ripen. Frederick sends a messenger to him to attack. Von Seydlitz responds, "later." A new messenger comes, "you are ordered to attack." Von Seydlitz responds, "in due course." Finally a messenger arrives, "the king says if you do not attack instantly you will be beheaded." Von Seydlitz responds, "please inform his Excellency that my head will be at his disposal after the battle, but during the battle I still need to use it in his service."


My trick is to tell my brain to do whatever is comfortable so for e.g. don't tell it you want to run 5km say you will run 100m or whatever is comfortable. Once you put on your shoes and go on track half the battle is already won and may be you won't run 5km but you may run say 3km slowly as you keep on doing it you will find achieving your goal.


For things like textbooks, I'll start easily but then, when I reach a new point or new chapter, I will rationalized my self to stop it there and call it a done work, when in reality I worked only 30 minutes instead of and hour.

it's like my mind is rationalizing itself to settle for a sub goal.


That's where the Pomodoro technique might be useful. If one adheres to it, it does what the article describes as "making the decision in advance." After you take a break after the stopping point, the technique makes you continue on. But of course, that means you have to embrace the plan and not resist against it, either.


I think the art is in actually finding yin/yang.

At the end you oscillate in-between.

I don't think you can really get away from it.


That's true nothing ever follows a straight line from where you start to where you want to end up. You can't get away from the oscillating, but I do believe you can minimize it through practice and techniques.


This reminds me of when I did my master’s thesis. At a certain point I had the distinct experience of being forced to turn off part of my brain to get through it. I described it as “mashing the keyboard while screaming through the feelings.”


I'm now chanting "I am not thinking" as I finally clean my home office xD


I regularly end up pushing through drudgery by repeating "Don't think just do. Don't think just do..."


For me, motivation is like a car engine. Once the crankshaft is turning, the pistons are moving, and the fuel is igniting, motivation is self-sustaining and can keep me going on a particular task. But it has to be started. Something external has to turn the engine over a few times until the self-sustaining process kicks in. Usually, this takes the form of forcing myself to work a tiny bit on the task. Once I get that tiny bit done, I'm in a headspace to where getting a bit more done is much easier, and I can keep going like that.


When I was younger, I could work out just fine, off nothing more than pure motivation and drive. I did that for a solid 5 years - lost 70 lbs, gained weight and muscle, and transformed my body. Good times.

But then around my mid 20s, working out just got boring. My body started deteriorating, which made working out even harder.

Sad to say, these days I can't even do a light jog without something to distract me from the jogging itself. Either music in my ears, or some TV-screen on the treadmill.

But once I can focus on something else, I can work out just fine.


My trick is to delay the task to a specific day and/or time. I use a reminders app to create a schedule of sorts, and I've trained myself to do the task right when the reminder pops up.

The presumption here is that I've already thought about how long the task will take and what I'll need to complete it, plus I'm aware of what else is going on and taken that into account, so I have no real excuse for not doing the task right when the reminder pops up.

It's a bit of moderated procrastination, but it works for me.


That's a good technique for removing all possible excuses. It might take some effort in the beginning to actually follow the reminders, but as you said, after some training it becomes easier.


This rather reminds me (very inexactly) of Behavioural Activation Therapy [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_activation] although in that case the task intended isn't necessarily inherently disagreeable, simply overwhelming to a person with depression.


My advice- do the thing you dont want to do as the first thing in the morning. You will end up having a great day


Eating the frog is what it's called.


I usually attach something fun to the tedious tasks: if I am to walk our dog in the rain, I am going to listen to armchair expert: I never listen to it in the regular day - so that acts like a treat. For biking - it is my fascination with being outside and so on. Eventually it becomes into a habit too!


Been doing this for a few years without assigning a name to it. It works wonders for someone who is a chronic procrastinator like myself. I'd also like to add: If you can set a schedule to "just to it" for a reoccurring task, that helps immensely in reducing brain strain.


One dumb trick I've had success with when it comes to exercise is to just put on my gym clothes.

It may be several hours before I actually go on that run, but now the task of running needs to be executed before the clothes can be taken off.


I do this as well - if doing a task seems too overwhelming I’ll say to myself “well I’ll just do this small subtask instead”.

It starts small.

“I’ll just stick on my shoes” “I’ll just walk to the gate” “I’ll just run to that post” ...

Before you know it you’ve completed the thing you didn’t feel like doing.


For certain tasks, of course, you can also make them enjoyable, or have a built-in (immediate) reward: you have a podcast or audiobook you want to listen to, but you only do it while exercising/cleaning/whatever.


Don't make decisions just anytime/anyday/anywhere. Make decisions when you are thinking clearly and rationally. And follow through.


> Do the easiest part first

Yes.

Once you've started it will be easier to keep going. Also, it's harder to not to finish something the more time you've spent on it.


Just stick to something for a few months without exceptions and it'll become who you are.


waking up at 4am to get that sunrise photo.


TL;DR - Don't think about it, Just Do It. Nike had it figured out all along.


TL;DR: Discipline beats motivation


Everyone has their own "entry point". Maybe you overdo motivation so you focus on discipline. Maybe you overdo discipline so you focus on motivation.

Both are tools you use to apply to your own exact situation. Person A may vote for Team Motivation, because that works for them. Person B may vote for Team Discipline. That works for them.

The more accurate your self-knowledge and self-awareness, the more effective you can apply the tools (discipline, motivation, etc).


I'd say habits beat motivation


Discipline and habits are one in the same as far as I am concerned. One builds into the other.


What's the difference between 'habits' and 'discipline'?


discipline is like keeping promises you make to yourself and habits are just things you do cyclically and sometimes even without thinking but which you had to learn to do at some point (washing hands after using the toilet, brushing your teeth, etc..)


making habits requires motivation and discipline.


You won't make habits because you won't have the motivation and discipline to make those habits. It's a bit of a chicken and egg. /s


I'm sorry I upset you. I hope you get the help you need.


I'm not upset. Have you considered getting therapy for reading emotions? Let me know if you need someone to talk to, I'm happy to help.


Making wanton sarcastic comments towards someone who suggested you may need therapy for something you're struggling with after you've stalked their account for other comments reads upset to me.




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