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You Are Not Lazy or Undisciplined. You Have Internal Resistance (medium.com/counterarts)
192 points by gala8y 4 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 141 comments

It's weird how we don't want to admit we are overworked. Competition is such a horror show.

I really disagree with the whole "procrastination" thing. It's normal to feel depressed, it's part of nature of being tired, our brains are fragile and require a lot of energy and sleep.

I bet that I would generally would be much happier working at a moderate pace in a farm rather than using my brain to do some other complex thing.

I went to do some military training for 2 weeks, it was quite difficult and demanding, but in a way, it has the good stuff of a holiday: you're outside, you use your arms and legs, you have no time to use your brain which often demands more energy.

Do you really understand how stressful it is for a brain to perform programming? Our bodies are not made to sustain such mental effort. Brains are small but they consume a lot of energy to function.

Indeed. It’s amazing to me that in all the conversations about work/life balance, employers never consider the mind-blowingly innovative option of working less.

Instead we all get free subscriptions to meditation apps now. Thanks for the stopwatch. Can I go outside now?

I left the software industry for several years to do a job that required getting up and moving around, leaving the building, interacting with people... it was tiring, but in a much different way than programming. A much better way, if that makes any sense. It’s difficult to describe. But I’m convinced that office work is poison at the doses we take it.

>Indeed. It’s amazing to me that in all the conversations about work/life balance, employers never consider the mind-blowingly innovative option of working less.

That's because the driving factor (at least in capitalist regions) seem to be to extract as much value from everyone while compensating them as little as possible. "Working less" isn't even on these people's radars. If they had their way, they'd own every minute of their employee's lives.

In 2010 I went to prune trees in Australia. Immediately, my depression stopped. Almost as if using the full body made everything better than using only the brain and speaking to a computer all day.

+1, I've been an on-and-off brush cutter and tree planter for several years. I can fully confirm this: physical work outdoors does wonders to mental health.

The interesting part is that I can be really exhausted from a day in the woods, struggling to somehow get to the car, etc -- but after 7-8 hours of decent sleep, all of this is gone! No muscle pains next morning, no nothing. It is incredible how well our body can handle and cure physical stress.

Coping with mental exhaustion or overwork, however, seems to be way harder for me -- to the point of ruining the next day entirely. A deep explanation of this deviation (our abilities for physical recovery vs mental recovery) would be really interesting.

One thing I found when I worked on farms clearing paddocks or putting up fences was you always had a sense of accomplishment. You could look back at your days effort and see it while you had a cold drink.

I work 18 hours on a presentation for the exec at work and the next day it is like it never happened. I never get the real mental pay off that I would get if I spent 18 hours clearing a paddock.

Concur 100%. I've always made sure my work has some physical component. Even if that's just soldering, I need to use my hands and know that something is different tomorrow because I did this work today.

The quickest way to crush someone's spirit is to make them feel that their work is for nothing. Making prisoners break rocks in the prison yard, for instance. Or pushing spreadsheets and git commits endlessly, to no tangible change.

> I need to use my hands and know that something is different tomorrow because I did this work today.

Mhm, in physical work, you always see a result -- even if it's a mess or failure. You get direct, no-bullshit feedback every single day. Mental work, in contrast, most typically ends in an abstraction: you work all day long and there is a result, but you can't always see it the way you see a planted tree in the forest.

Yup, I'm a primitive creature, devastatingly tied to the simplest of my senses: seeing, hearing, touching.

It sounds to me like it's not an entirely fair comparison. Pruning trees full-time for 10-15 years would be more comparable.

I don't claim to know if conclusion would be different or the same, though.

It’s funny how many tech people are getting into trades or very manual hobbies. I keep ending up at the page for my local community college’s woodworking program. Most of my hobbies now are DIY projects.

I got back into woodworking at the start of the pandemic and couldn’t recommend it more. Something about working with your hands resets your brain in a way that computer work does not.

>It's weird how we don't want to admit we are overworked.

Or that evolution works to make big changes in cycles of 1000s of years, and that 6 million years of hominin evolution out in nature in accordance with pre-electricity natural day cycles (and more malleable schedules), are not compatible with the mandatory:

(1) ass in the chair,

(2) looking at a screen,

(3) working with abstract information,

(4) 9 to 5, 5 days a week,

(5) inside an interior environment

(6) with technical lighting"

that's been "the norm" for a large part of the population since the 60s...

(or with factory-style work, that's been imposed on populations since the 18th century).

> (4) 9 to 5, 5 days a week,

A lot of people work more than 40 hours a week, plus additional time spent learning and so on...

Which just makes it worse. And then there are commutes and so on to add to that.

But I wanted to state the minimum typical requirement, and show it's bad enough already.

IMHO the problem with programming isn't the total stress on the brain, it's that there is very little observable output of all of that effort.

I spent some time working with commercial HVAC and some of the problems there were on par with the most difficult technical problems I've worked through in information systems. The difference is that, with HVAC, all of that effort results in an outcome that connects with the limbic system in a way that doubling throughput or halving latency doesn't.

In before the other comments to this effect:

- You are weak

- Your grandparents had it worse

- Think of the people working for minimum wage

- Some of us actually love programming so much we will happily sacrifice our health; this choice is morally superior because we say so

- I haven't had a vacation in 20 years and neither should you

/sarcasm off

I really like society as it is. I, as rare as it is, identify as a neoliberal and I generally am invested in how things are. I like to see people working hard, I work hard myself, and aside from wanting a larger safety net, largely value the idea of a competitive market for labor.

Those ideas, I suspect much more prevalent on HN than other sites, lead to defensiveness when antiwork or work-critical ideas are shared. Arguments about grandparents and weakness are generally missing the point or intellectually dishonest, and I know because I’ve made those arguments/comments many times.

Looking past that defensiveness, I have a hard time arguing that everything above isn’t right; modern work is taxing and when you’re trying to work 8+ (I naturally tend towards 10+) hours a day, stay healthy, and also pursue hobbies and personal development, it is no surprise that people are breaking down.

I want to see more serious engagement with efforts to make work more sustainable for people, ideally without limiting burnout. Maybe the right answer is to just do less, but I want to have my cake and eat it too.

I'm not anti-work, I'm anti-toil.

The industrial revolution was supposed to free humankind from backbreaking labor and usher in an era of comfortable enlightenment.

Instead, we got rampant inequality, environmental devastation, sociological manipulation, and the internet of shit. (Whose true effects we won't see until Cranky Bear decides to show us all at once.) And huge numbers of people still toil 50+ hours a week to keep their head barely above water.

Work is fine, but the systems surrounding work have robbed us.

Before the industrial revolution, inequality was far worse and so was the amount of back breaking labor humans and animals performed. It's true we have a larger negative environmental impact now. Part of that is the huge increase in population made possible by the industrial revolution. Some environmental things like pollution inside cities and rivers has gotten better over time in industrialized countries. The internet is a mixed blessing. It offers a lot in addition to the shit. The problem is the expectation that it would usher in a digital utopia instead of just reflecting society as everyone started to move online.

I certainly wouldn't want to go back to manual labor, no electricity or indoor plumbing, lack of refrigeration, much more limited options for travel, news and entertainment, and the lack of modern medicine.

> I like to see people working hard, I work hard myself

Yeah, see, this right here is the problem. There's this belief that people objecting to current norms and standards around work constitutes "not working hard," which is a non sequitur.

In my experience most people want to work. They just don’t want to do it on the terms currently laid out for them--terms that employers like to pretend are inviolable laws of nature, not choices they make and are responsible for.

Appreciate this comment, thank you.

For many years I had a sort of ruthless determination to get ahead and work hard. It mostly helped me back then, as many obstacles then were the sort that could be brute-forced, and it was addictive in a way as well. I could feel myself improving, could see the progress happening etc. I made lots of money for a while, got myself and my husband ahead in life etc.

A few things happened that sort of scuttled my motivation. The intrinsic rewards for the hard work I was doing stopped arriving. In order to keep progressing personally, I would need to engage in ever more competitive search for fun/challenging work. The competitive aspect might have excited me in the past, but I had by then been shafted one time too many by petty politics and discrimination to feel much interest in engaging with that aspect of the industry.

I could keep doing senior engineer work, mobile/backend whatever, and occasionally find some new topic to excite me, but often spend most of the time rehashing similar ideas, or cleaning up other people's messes. So I burned out, took some time to address my depression and have gotten myself back together mentally, for the most part (some amount of madness is crucial to hold onto).

But even now, when I look at new programming things I could work on, I can't help but see them all as simply paths back into a world that has lost its luster, full of people and situations that waste my time and energy. I can still work hard and build good software, but I just don't see why I should when it will inevitably lead me back to a place that almost destroyed me. Maybe that isn't true, maybe I should be better about forgetting the past and not presuming what my new experiences will look like. I'd love to be that foolish again someday, but I just can't afford to take that kind of risk anymore.

My temporary solution has been to work on stuff that isn't programming, to become like a beginner again in some other field. Philosophy, political science, history, anthropology, classic literature and others have been great to explore on my own and I've grown from these explorations. So now I'm getting my rewards from new sources. I still have the urge to make money, like a survival instinct, but I'm fortunate to have a decently stable life raft that I can float on for the time being.

> My temporary solution has been to work on stuff that isn't programming, to become like a beginner again in some other field.

Well said. I can also recommend doing electronics along with 3D printing. Come up with simple ideas to ease your life around the house, make some experiments, build little devices. Embedded boards with the power of computers from 20 years ago have just a few centimeters.

This really resonated with me, thank you.

"Some amount of madness is crucial to hold onto"

I think I would like this as my epitaph.

My own view is this: money is a metric that our society uses as a measure of usefulness of a certain individual for others in the collective. Like any metric, it is imperfect and doesn't capture nuance very well.

When you optimize for any metric, be it lines of code or bank account balance, you generally get suboptimal results. Doesn't mean the metric is useless. It's just not the only source of truth.

>I like to see people working hard

That's the problem I have with neoliberals, they want to impose their ideology on the rest of us.

Unpopular opinion: I'll continue to work hard and have an advantage over others (not literally with my coworkers, but generally in my profession). Competition drives me and it fuels everything I do. Without it, I don't want to live anymore. Working and solving problems is extremely fun for me.

Even if I am not writing code, fixing things in the house, personal projects, helping others, just doing something is fun and challenging.

I don’t think the downvotes are fair here, but I’d just like to mention that this is basically what everyone in the early stages of burnout says … just be careful not to attach so much of your self-image to your work ethic, because over a long enough timeline, you will get screwed over many times unfairly despite working harder and doing things better than everyone else, and that may deeply shock you based on your opinion above.

I’ve been doing this for 20 years and haven’t faced burnout. Quite peaceful mentally and physically fit. It is precisely not about self image for me.

Competition is inherent to human experience. Watching sports wouldn’t be popular otherwise.

A world where everyone not competing to be their best would be an extremely depressing place.

Here's a sci-fi movie I'd like to see. A (space alien, mad scientist, corporation, imp) unleashes a (bomb, virus, force field, spell) that suddenly removes internal resistance from everyone. Whatever intention wins the internal vote gets full control of the rest of the psyche. Everyone immediately starts working full bore on their (world saving invention, romantic pursuit, profit plan, great novel, hare brained scheme) at once, and the (evil, well-intentioned-but-foolish) instigators watch as civilization implodes. Until (Hiro Protagonist) saves the day with a well timed (hack, antidote, counter spell). Making everyone boring again, but safe.

This is my biggest problem with all the people promoting entrepreneurship for everyone. If everyone took two years off to start a company there would be no one keeping the lights on.

Doesnt' matter. Most people won't. I have worked professionally for 17 years now and last 6 running my own business. I can tell you with a guarantee that there are lot of people who just want a job, get a paycheck and get the f out (not that anything is wrong with that). They don't care about entrepreneurship or whatever. So there always will be "employees" for every "employer".

Everyone wants to earn the money salespeople make until eat what you kill really sinks in.

until UBI?

I doubt UBI will make everyone stop working. As far as I understand, the point of UBI is to ensure that people are not homeless, have enough to put food on the table and it covers your absolute basic needs. Lets say we implement UBI at 1K/Month which is what people like Andrew Yang proposed. That is not enough to just sit at home all day. You still need to make money but hopefully with that 1K, you won't be homeless (or at least thats the idea).

I’m still not clear on why UBI won’t just raise the price floor on everything (rent in your example) to the point where it becomes ineffective again. In Mountain View, landlords raised rents when they heard companies were giving a bonus for people living within 15 miles. Some even included it in their advertising.

> Some even included it in their advertising.

I'm really curious what the language/spin was to make that something that was included in the advertising.

I don't think OP means the rent hike was included. More like "We're within 15 miles of Google offices! Move now and qualify for their bonus!"

That makes me feel better, if so.

Although reading it again ...

> In Mountain View, landlords raised rents when they heard companies were giving a bonus for people living within 15 miles. Some even included it in their advertising.

I've never been to the west coast, but I would assume that location to the various offices would already be part of the advertising. I regularly see it in this area for Epic and the University.

I'm confident that there are many, many people who would choose to continue living with no permanent home (tent, RV, etc) and spend their UBI on oxy, meth, heroin or crack.

At least they wouldn't need to turn to petty crime quite so often. And they'd have a means of getting some stability in their lives, which tends to reduce rates of addiction.

I'm curious where your confidence comes from. Do you know many people pulling in a stable income while also living out of a tent, smoking meth?

If everyone started taking two years off to start a company the incentives offered by existing companies would rise until the tide was stemmed.

> there would be no one keeping the lights on.

Why would that be? Two years is only four percent of a working lifetime and it won't be at the same time for everyone. And not every company takes two years to create anyway.

Another way of looking at it is that two years is less time than it takes to get a degree.

Like an inverted "Serenity" movie.

> Until (Hiro Protagonist) saves the day with a well timed (hack, antidote, counter spell).

Maybe Babel was the best thing that ever happened to us.

Sounds like the setting of The Giver. Their solution to prevent implosion was to give all memories of the old world to one person.

This article first says that this phenomenon is not "something that’s wrong with us or our behaviour, something that needs to be controlled, eradicated, tamed, left behind or put in its place."

Then it immediately defines a new term "internal resistance" that's exactly defined as something that's "a part of us" and explains how to work around it or "tame it".

Maybe it isn't to clear, but the author tries to go in the direction of not fighting it.

> 1. Recognise that internal resistance is on your side. Part of what is so awful about the cycle-of-not-doing-the-thing is that it feels so self-destructive. But internal resistance does not want to destroy us; it literally wants the opposite! It only exists to protect us from pain.


> There’s another reason why I think we should treat internal resistance as a form of wisdom rather than a malevolent opponent. It holds a lot of knowledge about what we secretly believe we might be able to do.

I think it is very beneficial to see this 'Resistance' as a force inside you, mostly trying to keep the status quo, for your benefit, unfortunately sometimes to the point of halting you in all things possible.

Maybe I am reading to much into this article with my already set up view, but my view is to recognize this part in us, that does not want things done/changed and acknowledge its existence (which we often want to ignore, bypass), explore possible why's. This can be a really intimate experience, the a-ha moment. The first (and most important step) would be acknowledgment of its existence.

I think the article does just set up a new pathology. Your read is much more benign.

The article’s set up is actually quite harmful and disempowering. It identifies resistance as a bundle of fears and pain to be overcome in order to be able to ‘just do’ the thing you are trying to do.

Obviously sometimes fear and pain do exist, and acceptance and awareness of them makes it easier to move forward.

However most of the time I have found that the reason people find themselves ‘resisting’ things they want to do is that they lack some pragmatic knowledge of what the next step should be and how to incorporate the overall goal into whatever else they are doing. People who have learned that resistance means they need to let go of fear or pain can get caught in a loop of looking for emotional blocks where none exist, rather than just educating themselves on the problem.

‘You aren’t lazy, you just haven’t done the necessary prep and planning to make the thing you want to do feel straightforward’ might be just as useful advice.

> Your read is much more benign.

I think I wanted to see more in this article. I think the idea of acknowledging this part of us and seeing it as a positive force is not conveyed clearly enough, but it's there.

> ‘You aren’t lazy, you just haven’t done the necessary prep and planning to make the thing you want to do feel straightforward’ might be just as useful advice.

Yes. This would be a subset of "it's too difficult (emotionally, organizationally, in terms of ability/skill) for me to do all this stuff the way I never did before" - emotions of discomfort arise (said 'Resistance') and boom, you are back to square one (edit: ...of not doing things).

>> ‘You aren’t lazy, you just haven’t done the necessary prep and planning to make the thing you want to do feel straightforward’ might be just as useful advice.

> Yes. This would be a subset of "it's too difficult

I don’t see how this follows. Recognizing that you haven’t done the prep means it’s not too difficult if you do the prep.

If instead of doing the prep you go introspecting for fears and pain you will fail because you aren’t doing the next step, and that will in turn undermine your self belief and reinforce the idea that you need to do more introspection to overcome your resistance.

A lot of cults fuck people up with isomorphs of this idea.

> Recognizing that you haven’t done the prep means it’s not too difficult if you do the prep.

I simply say - every part of endeavor may be bringing you down. Your emotions (fears - of failure, of success, what not), your incompetence (including inability to do necessary preparation you mentioned), and so on. Naturally, you have to address those different facets differently - handle the emotion with some introspection, learn to do the prep and planning (skill). Diving 'inside' will obviously not solve the lack of skill or lack of other resources - turning more and more inward would be absolutely wrong way, searching for fears and blowing them up.

> Diving 'inside' will obviously not solve the lack of skill or lack of other resources - turning more and more inward would be absolutely wrong way, searching for fears and blowing them up.

Agreed. This is the issue I am pointing to. Which is why teaching people to view themselves as ‘resistant’ is harmful.

If you are afraid of something, you are afraid of something. If you are ignorant, you are ignorant. If you lack skills then you are unskilled, etc.

There is no point in using the meaningless proxy concept of ‘resistance’, which raises the question “resistant to what?”. In each of these cases there is nothing being ‘resisted’.

> and boom, you are back to square one.

What do you mean by back to square one?

Back to the beginning, being forced to start again from scratch

Poster has edited their comment so it’s no longer ambiguous.

Yeah, I was throttled (too many comments in a short time and HN slows you down for a while).

> The article’s set up is actually quite harmful and disempowering. It identifies resistance as a bundle of fears and pain to be overcome in order to be able to ‘just do’ the thing you are trying to do

I didn't read that at all. The author is suggesting you acknowledge and face those feelings and what they may be trying to tell you about how you feel about your goals or work.

Sometimes the fears are that your effort will be pointless and unrewarded. In that case, assuming those fears are well grounded, the author suggests rethinking your plans and not necessarily trying to overpower your resistance.

That matches my experience in some cases, though obviously not all.

I'm sorry, I don't get it. I want to accomplish tasks. "Internal resistance" is the label we're putting on the mental phenomenon preventing me from doing so. It is something I want to fight. When I do accomplish my tasks, it's because my internal resistance is not there to fight back. But if I had a way to fight it when it's there (e.g. medication with manageable side effects) then I would use it. I'd wield that weapon.

As with most posts of this type, it assumes you are neurotypical and not dealing with other issues that compromise executive function.

This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just important to point out there is a prerequisite condition that must be met before this advice becomes useful.

I've got ADHD and this.

I couldn't be happier this came across the HN feed today, because it seems to accurately answer so many questions I've had about my performance on personal projects recently.

I spent months working on the next version of https://vo.codes, and I've only got about five hours of frontend work to do before launching it. I've sit on it for a month now.

What I think is happening is that I'm worried about my next project in virtual production (which I'm picking back up). I'm worried I've fallen too far behind, that the incumbent powers have already won and that I'll be wasting my energy. But I still think I have tremendous value to add, and that there is a discernable path to success, and that I'm holding myself back by worrying about vo.codes. It's caused a sort of deadlock.

This has helped me make sense of it and approach it a new way. Hopefully it's the nudge I needed to unblock myself.

Anxiety, ADHD, internal resistance. I shouldn't blame myself so much.

I think you're worried that all of the stimulating part is over in launching it will be the boring part. I have ADHD too I hate the ending part of any project I've ever done and I've never finished anything. My favorite parts are setting up projects organizing projects and figuring out a workflow for projects. Making them and doing the actionable part is reasonable but actually finishing it and still having Steam and interest to finish is close to impossible and I haven't figured it out yet and I'm 32 years old.

Okay I just read the article. Yeah this reads as some sort of a baby's first getting to know thyself kind of thing. I've already done that kind of personal soul searching for myself and that's why I don't beat myself up about these kind of things. Oh yeah I realized another thing that usually Sparks my motivation like if there's a technical article or a review of a piece of computer hardware that I want to do... Being frustrated at the current other works covering said thing not being good enough in my eyes... Frustration in general being angry in general motivates me in a healthy way. "You covered this this and this but you didn't say this about the windows install or this about how this was set up and you didn't cover this" and my first impulse is never too go to the comment section it's to go on Amazon or Newegg and buy the thing and then review the thing better. Not even just review stuff for my website but I mean a lot of other things are like that with me it's weird. I love finding stuff where other people explained it just wrong or did something just wrong in my eyes and then I go and do it better or correctly. That is if my motivation takes me all the way to the end and I finish it.

I haven't read the actual article yet but whatever this internal resistance is I mean yeah... I have internal resistance about like everything at least what I'm guessing this person is trying to mean. I'll reply to this after I read it and see if I was right but I mean like... The easiest thing for me to do is to wake up sit on the couch take my meds and start watching YouTube. I'll know I want to work on my own personal projects or whatever on my computer and I'll be saying in my head over and over "get off the couch. Go work on that stuff you want to work on." And I just don't... Until I do and then when I do it's 12 hours later and I've accomplished a whole bunch of work and I've neglected myself. It's a fun time

I can relate very closely. It's almost spot on.

I think part of it lies with the final tasks being perceived as easy and routine, which is difficult for my brain to view as anything other than "busy work".

Of course much of the nature of the work can be that way, but in aggregate can be challenging enough to spur interest. Until the end, that is.

One hack I have is to have larger plans in mind for what needs to be done after launch. The next arcs of work. Make them big, and then finishing can feel like you're not even close to done.

Hahaha "busy work"! Yeah that's why in Middle School I basically failed every grade because I would argue with my parents for hours about the concept of homework being busy work. This obviously got worse after I overheard a teacher talking about some sort of a quota for homework that they were supposed to be meeting as teachers...

But yeah for sure blaming yourself or calling yourself lazy or saying you don't know how or any sort of negative self-talk when you have this kind of brain is just not healthy and it's something that I wish a lot of other people with ADHD would realize that they should not be doing

It's a challenge, because on the one hand, the negative self-talk can be motivating, in a not so great way (ie., hyper-vigilance)...but also, we've got society continually calling us lazy, uncaring, unmotivated, etc. to the point of even denying that ADHD is a real condition.

How would you go about identifying whether you have ADHD or not ? Any tips ? I really really suspect I have it but I have never talked to anyone about it.

If you want to know if you have it or not you should go get tested by a professional. If you suspect you have it then either you have it and they can help, or you don’t but they can help you improve whatever it is that makes you suspect you have it.

> I really really suspect I have it but I have never talked to anyone about it.

Please let me add another to the voices saying that the advice you take on a medical matter should not be that of a random internet stranger. Please do talk to a professional about it!

Work with a professional. From numerous anecdotal stories, if you do have ADHD, taking medicine such as Ritalin or Adderal will radically alter you (in a good way). 15+ years ago, I had a psychiatrist who insisted I had ADHD. I took Adderal for a couple years. It did absolutely zero for me. Not one iota of change. I know others who swear by it. There was another comment in the thread about anxiety and hyper vigilance being a problem with similar symptoms. After much work, it's safe to say this was more my issue. There's a book called "Driven to Distraction" that is decent as well.

There are several different manifestations of the disease, so be aware of that. Some that present with hyperactivity, some that don't. Look up the symptoms and see if they ring a bell, then go to see a specialist.

Unexplained underachievement.

I don't think looking at outcomes is a fair assessment at all.

I academically excelled, have a successful career, an early employee IPO exit, and a spate of really interesting side projects.

Yet I struggle with leading a normal life, prioritizing, sporadic and extreme hyper-focus, and frequent loss of interest. (If something doesn't interest me, I just won't do it. I have to pay people to do taxes, and I sometimes wish I could pay people to do my job or parts of it.)

Anecdotal, but I think your characterization could be misleading.

Without ADHD you would probably have an even more accomplished career. I remember a study that showed that the higher the IQ the older you are on average when diagnosed with ADHD, also high IQ masks some of the executive dysfunction. Anyways, as you said, you have a problem with intention, and this is precisely what can lead to underachievement compared to your peers without ADHD. Hyperfocus is really Perseveration, which might have some superficial benefits but the inability to switch from an interesting task to a boring one that has a delayed reward / penalty (i.e taxes) is usually a net negative in life and can have catastrophic consequences in your life.

Yea I agree. I am actually reasonably accomplished in my life and career but I procrastinate like hell and there are times when I am just not doing anything. Perfect example is today. Been browsing HN so far when I have a few tasks to complete for my business. My own business where I know this will be make an impact but I am just not doing it.

See the point is that you can be reasonably accomplished thanks to your talents, interests and intelligence, but let's take the very same you and remove some of the procrastination. It is reasonable to expect that it would be an even more accomplished version of you (even though you might pick up some tangentially interesting stuff that might be useful when browsing HN). To people who do not understand ADHD, your behaviour will be looked at through the lense of "if they just applied themselves...", "they are really smart but just so lazy...". That's what I mean by "unexplained underachievement". It is a useful signal for caretakers. If Johnny is so smart, then why does he end up doing everything at the last minute, inviting stress in his life that will probably shorten his lifespan by 5 years?

The fear of finishing in real. The last push is always the hardest.

In other words, the article leaves aside the possibility that you might have ADHD, which is present in an estimated 7% of people in a clinically significant way, and likely far more to a degree that wouldn’t satisfy the DSM, but is still a handicap.

Anxiety will do it too. So will hypervigilance, which presents with ADHD like symptoms but arises from trauma.

My procrastination dropped a lot once I medically intervened on ADHD, Anxiety, and Depression. I wonder where I'd be now if I had taken these steps 20 years ago.

20 years ago, the science was a lot less conclusive on ADHD. The drugs were far less sophisticated as well. Today, the condition is highly treatable (90%) with medication.

Many with ADHD also suffer from this problem also. So it is a useful article either way.

You say that, but as a person with ADHD, I couldn't help but just skim the article. Not useful at all ;)

I think a lot of people don't do the thing they want to do for many reasons, but I found this helpful. If nothing else it's good advice to be curious about what's going on inside your head, and not to jump to condemnation. Who knows, maybe it is a simple lack of discipline, but I haven't found that such an assumption brings me closer to the goal, which means that even if it's "right" it's not useful.

No amount of metacognition or framing has ever gotten me out of a rut.

> Internal resistance is not immovable — it responds to reason, to alternative scenarios, to making space for the emotions that seem like such a threat

This has not been my experience. My own internal resistance responds to people being impressed with what I'm doing and expressing that to me, or a eureka moment (which typically come when I'm watching Star Trek or cooking a meal or doing some other activity instead of the thing I'm trying to accomplish). The eureka moment trigger is a special circumstance though; most of the time if there's a puzzle to solve I won't disengage from the problem. Usually I just have seemingly random bouts of productivity. I feel very fortunate to have a job that allows me to work when I'm mentally able.

> in my experience it is usually tied to some kind of predicted loss of love and connection

This seems like a creative explanation that probably makes an article such as this seem a bit more quirky and interesting or something. Otherwise it's not a bad piece, but I don't think potential loss of love or connection is necessary to explain not wanting to do some difficult/annoying/time consuming task.

I think the article is describing resistance not just in terms of ‘difficult’ creative processes but any excuse you could make for any action that would likely benefit you.

Hence that line is more for people who resist finding new connections to people because of past problems. Learned fear of action is just that - learned. And it can be unlearned given the time and practice.

Well the first example in the article was about the author completing her PhD, and it mentioned productivity and making use of talents, and seemed to be talking about fear of success, so I read it as a (strange) extension of that.

If it was meant to be about more personal relationship type stuff the author could have discussed that explicitly. Maybe the piece needed an extra paragraph to explain better what the link was.

Yeah I think their analogies are a bit mixed, but the general idea of ‘learned reaction’ is still there, even if the examples the author used didn’t mesh well together.

Having written a doctoral thesis on particle physics, yes writing is hard. Sometimes extremely hard. (sleepless nights and depression inducing hard while you question your sanity and ability into you discover to trust your own judgement more than your peers, whilst taking on board their constructive input)

From experience its usually better to ask people currently struggling to write what their problem is. It's usually so personal and unique that a blanket "you can do it" isn't as helpful as it might sound. If very nicely intended and being supportive.

Aside, I don't feel the need to add the letters after my name for some reason, might be because I'm still engaged in research and find this off putting...

I might just being dense or, perhaps more generously, completely un-self-aware, but I genuinely don’t understand the premise of this argument.

    Internal resistance is an attempt to avoid the pain we associate with successfully doing the thing.
We subconsciously believe that succeeding in doing something — that we’ve presumably never done before — will cause us some “emotional pain”, thus we go to lengths to avoid it? If what we’re attempting is novel, how could we possibly know that? Even if we were to assume that, why would this “pain” override the elation of success?

I can understand the argument that people procrastinate because of the fear of failure…but the fear of success? I don’t get it.

Let's say you had a parent who was very successful in their business field.

Let's also say that parent was either terrible at being a parent or a bad spouse. If they were a bad parent, that impacted you directly and if they were a bad spouse, that may have impacted someone you care about aka the other parent.

You may have at some point in your childhood created an emotional connection between:

- good at business

- bad at parenting/being spouse

You in turn might then equate "being successful" with "being a bad person". Let me stop here and say: yes, this is totally irrational but emotions are, by definition, not always rational.

Given the above, it wouldn't be surprising that you might develop a "fear of success". Particularly so if your goal is to be a better parent/spouse than the offending parent. In other words, "I don't want to be like them!" might affect both the parenting/spouse side of things and, because they are conflated, success in business.

Back when I was in school, I was consistently punished for succeeding too much. Finished with my tasks? Here's extra. Knew more than the teacher about the subject? Shut up mister wise guy. Understood the subject and wanted to discuss it? There's no time for debate.

Made something amazing on the computer? Stop playing on the computer, go outside instead.

Made a lot of money? Get robbed.


High-achievers in toxic environments, no matter how cliché, is surely too niche to generalise to everyone. Still, I get it now — thanks :) — and while I can empathise to a degree, I think it must be highly subjective. Maybe the author’s choice of the word “pain” wasn’t the clearest.

Took a lot of words but it seems reasonable and resonates with my experience.

I guess "internal resistance" is a kind of bias towards inaction. Not a bad trait if you're in a resource constrained scarcity environment, but it's not a great strategy outside of that. If there's anything to overcome its probably a scarcity mindset when it's unfounded.

That's very interesting way of thinking about those things.

That success (defined as successfully completing required work) causes damage, causes pain, often not as a side effect of the work that needs to be put in to achieve success, but by the success itself.

That parts of us recognizes the harm of success and resists when the other part pushes blindly for what it thinks the end goal should be.

Also mitigation strategies seem novel. Discovering what you fear about successfully finishing your work and trying to lessen the strength of those fears. Or doing small steps like acknowledging that doing 30 minutes of work will not result in achieving success so you can do that amount of work safely.

One common fear might be of that the result of you successfully finishing your task won't live up to your imagination about it.

It's never that you can't, it's that you won't. The distinction means a lot. It takes some luck to realise that all the I-can'ts are actually you trying to escape an internal conflict by putting yourself down. The internal conflict is about you wanting it and not wanting it at the same time. E.g. you want to be a success, but trying is scary. I don't really know how not to be afraid. It's something I'm working on. But, knowing that you're choosing not to do something because you're afraid is so much better than thinking that you're not capable. It's literally the difference between apathy or depression and discomfort.

> It's never that you can't, it's that you won't.

While this sounds good, and I think is a reasonable guide for many life choices, it's simply not true. If I want to lift that enormous boulder over there, then it's not that I won't, it's that I can't. (Maybe this needs caveats: if I want to lift that enormous boulder over there only using my hands, etc.)

I could believe something like "it's never that you can't try, but that you won't try", and that covers a lot of my procrastination; but I'm not sure if it's strong enough to cover the point you'd like to make.

Good points. What I said applies most obviously to situations like "I can't get out of bed", but I think it also applies to "I can't get this done", but maybe in more subtle ways.

For me, pertinent things seem to 'bubble up' and I will get them done regardless of resistance. Resistance doesn't mean the thing needs to be immediately done. The mind has a clever feature in that it surfaces subconscious goal-setting at the right time, and on an as-needed basis.

In a professional and career context, however, you would be required to get tasks done straight away. But for artists and even dedicated loafers or those who enjoy being idle, the important stuff rises to the top naturally and it gets done.

> The mind has a clever feature in that it surfaces subconscious goal-setting at the right time, and on an as-needed basis.

I've heard of a strategy where you think really hard about a problem, and then you go and do other unrelated things and your mind will come up with a solution. I have found that this does happen in practice. By stepping away from the problem, I'm basically forgetting all the context that made me approach the problem from the original angle and thus my mind tries a different approach. Often this new approach will also not work, but there might be things I discover when trying these approaches that lead to yet another approach.... I guess this process goes on until either a good enough solution is found or I give up.

> “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”

Unfortunately, in my experience, I’m more likely to just determine the hard problem is not worth the effort to complete.

Big difference between ‘someone who cuts corners’ and ‘someone who won’t do the task at all’ when it comes to the phrase ‘lazy person’.

The first person will do the task, they just deemed it not worthy of their focused effort. The second person will find any excuse not to do it at all, which is the ‘resistance’ the article talks about.

I think that, instead of saying "you're not lazy", we should take the stigma away from laziness and say "you are lazy, but don't feel bad". Laziness is a character trait present in all humans, some more than others, and we should acknowledge it and work to become less lazy, without punishing it or being ashamed of it.

You are "lazy" if you don't do something that would benefit you because it's too much effort. That sounds reasonable, right? Except according to this article, you're not lazy, you have "internal resistance." Or in similar articles, you're not lazy if you have depression or ADHD, because it's your mental illness.

But then, who is lazy? Where do we draw the line when someone is depressed vs. merely sad, or ADHD vs. merely inattentive? Moreover, since you can't always tell of someone has a mental illness and you definitely can't see "internal resistance", you technically can't state that anyone is lazy.

Now, I don't want to attack people with mental illnesses. If you have depression or ADHD or burnout or are overwhelmed, you're not a bad person. But you are lazy. Calling it something else is just beating around the bush.

Instead, we as a society need to change how we look at laziness. Just because you're lazy, doesn't mean you should punish yourself, or consider yourself "worse" than someone with more discipline. Don't even try to just "power through" the laziness. None of those things work, and often actually lead to more laziness. Honestly, the author does a good job explaining what you should do. But - if you're lazy, you're lazy, and calling it something else like "internal resistance" is just sugar-coating it.

> work to become less lazy, without punishing it

But to laziness, work is punishment.

See, that's a fallacy people believe which prevents them from acknowledging their laziness. The key is to work smarter, not harder.

Some things, such as getting fit or studying, are going to take effort. But the effort is an unintended side-effect of the work, not the goal. In my experience, if you work towards the solution and not think of it as "putting in X effort", the perceived effort is a lot less.

I came around to the idea that procrastination or other form of akrasia is an emotional problem, not a discipline problem.

That said, it doesn't really give me new tools or tricks to deal with the problems?

It's still the same: podomoro or timeboxing, giving oneself a reward for completing an objective, trying to complete a given task every week, and so forth.

I supposed I could give mental health therapies a try, I guess?

I definitely see procrastination linked to emotional processing issues for me. Maybe it's possible that there are things which provide immediate benefits, but for me many things I tried evaporated and I was still left with this base note, so to speak, of myself. I went to therapy, I went to 12 step meetings, I read books, I journalled, I talked the hell out of my thoughts and feelings with certain friends, got divorced, took medication, found another amazing woman to marry, all along the way there was progress and regress, blind spots, lots of blind spots, lots of denial and resistance and fighting and turmoil and avoidance. The "answers" for me so far are absolutely nothing that haven't been said a thousand times in every place, but having met them myself in my own way at my own time. I'm not sure I could have gone any faster than I did, and I'm ok with that (now, at least).

It's a little like dieting really. If there was something someone could just say to make your weight, procrastination, whatever go away, then these problems would not exist.

There are exercises you can do, mentally and physically, which can help guide you through self-improvement, but they all require that we actually do them.

Some times is feels like I go years without making any progress with myself. Other times is just takes a small new action to gain remarkable results. Like you, I'm not sure it could have gone any faster and that's okay.

> The "answers" for me so far are absolutely nothing that haven't been said a thousand times in every place, but having met them myself in my own way at my own time. I'm not sure I could have gone any faster than I did, and I'm ok with that (now, at least)

Don't want to play armchair therapist, but that's really the best anyone can really do.

Everyone’s different. You can read a hundred different ways to get around the resistance, but doing them 100% the way they’re described likely WON’T work for you. You have to find the things you do like about it, and discard the parts you don’t, and continue to refine your personal routine over the course of a lifetime.

The most important part of that process is continually (once a week or a couple times a month, in my opinion) taking a step back and assessing what is and isn’t working for you, then taking the time to find a way around it.

Any evidence that "[i]t holds a lot of knowledge about what we secretly believe we might be able to do", or that my "brain [is] so afraid of the costs of [me] doing the thing"? Any evidendence that it's on my side? How does internal resistance get operationalized anyway? Because it sounds suspiciously like "can't-do-it'-itis to me.

Maybe it really is actually a bad thing.

And by "it" I mean the important thing that you are resisting.

It's actually a bad thing. And you have convinced yourself that it's a good thing. But you aren't completely convinced.

Deep down you know that it really is a very bad thing. One more step on a march of doom that you have been trying to escape since forever. A special door that, once passed through, your waste and hell will truly and finally be LOCKED IN (relatively speaking).

I mean, nobody dreams as a child of sitting on their office-butt playing mental legos forever. But it's very easy to convince yourself that it is great. And the whole world will help you in that endeavor. It will tell you encouraging stories and feed you big paychecks. It will tell you that you are a rock star.

You will be helped at every turn to forget the life that you lost and to pretend that playing robot is a truly good and desirable thing.

Maybe this great procrastination is your gut trying to tell you something.

> to forget the life that you lost

What life would that be?

A life of creativity, of choice, of mental and physical stimulation, of work that you feel is meaningful instead of simply required.

If this article resonates with you, I recommend reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

This is excellent! I’ve lived this experience with a graduate thesis project that has taken over a decade to complete. Stephen Pressfield’s books (especially Do The Work) felt very close to the mark, but I also couldn’t buy into the idea that the resistance should be thought of as something external (a malevolent force in the universe). I think this article solves the mystery of what the resistance actually is. This understanding of the resistance combined with Pressfield’s book Do The Work could help a lot of people that are “procrastinating”.

Less mysterious: “Immunity to change”, Kegan & Lahey (HBR, 2009)

"Ah, that's it. I'm not lazy, I have internal resistance. It all makes sense now", I said as I browsed HN and packed another bowl for my bong.

This sounds a little hand wavy and honestly just comes across as a lack of discipline. In my experience when you feel resistance you can get really far just sitting down and devoting a bit of time to doing the task at hand. It's hard and unmotivating at FIRST, but it tends to go away. If it doesn't just try again tomorrow. At least you got some work done.

Admittedly I didn't and will not read TFA, but this title... like yeah, "internal resistance" is what laziness and lack of discipline feel like from the insider! Those aren't the only possible attributions but they sure are common ones. (I speak from experience, both personal and otherwise.)

I’m sorry but I find this incredibly vague. I’m not doing stuff because I fear the pain of success ? What pain??

no, sometimes I am definitely lazy.

...and it's just great. Capacity to be lazy (being very important in itself) does not negate existence of this 'pro status quo' force, holding you back.

I have external resistance too, in the form of Hacker News articles.

In the villa of Ormen, Stands a solitary candle.

In the centre of it all, Your eyes

Reading this article made me wish there was a setting in Safari (or a good plugin) that can block curse words.

Why on earth does an eloquent academic need to say f*ing or gorramit every couple of sentences? It is not just needles, it is also bad taste.

Hmm, maybe I should try increasing the voltage.

Hmm, interesting idea. I’ll try it out.

I've read sooooooo much of this kind of shiitake, I am sick of it. It is bullshit. Or rather, it's written by people who don't even take into account the biological nature of the brain.

Let me check... of course he's a "coach"... If you can't do, teach, I guess.

All of this shit will act as a bandaid, a crutch at best. It's like the bullshit "imagine you're wealthy and you will become wealthy".

No, that doesn't work. Nor does praying to God, nor anything that doesn't entail actual action. You can imagine whatever the fork you want, it won't make it real.

Fortunately, people smarter than me and all of these self help coaches and theorycrafters have already started figuring out how to fix this problem for real, by applying real science to the very real bio computer in our skulls.

It's still a young science, with parts of the same core problem being labeled ADD, OCD, anxiety, depression. But there are real drugs that actually work.

The biggest roadblock is getting this accepted as a treatable condition by the mainstream medicine systems. They're still in the dark ages and treat it like they treat death - as inevitable, unfixable.

Some people are already benefitting from it while the majority is laughing at them and calling the unfortunate ones who don't have access to good doctors and good medicine lazy.

I hope one day humans look back at it and laugh at how ridiculously stupid their ancestors were.

Yes biology matters the most, but most of the time we don't have any control of the biological processes, and science does not own enough to do anything about it in this life. So we are left with: Talk, crutches, bandaids, frameworks, meta-knowledge of one's thought patterns, belief systems. Sure they are silly and full of contradictions, but funnily enough: All these things matter to biology. Not only do deeply held beliefs alter what biological organism does (I mean it moves some bodies attend services, right?), but it can also alter thought patterns and mental habits.

Modern brain science cannot effectively treat every mental health problem with drugs and "good doctors" cannot effectively treat every patient. If you are benefitting from treatment by a "good doctor" then I'm happy for you, but this idea that science has a drug that actually works for all problems is far from the truth.

I am benefitting?! I am desperate for a prescription more like. Doesn't matter, soon it might be over.

Oh, just wanted to add I don't know anything about your healthcare system but in America a family doctor can prescribe antidepressants. In my experience they have no problem giving you a prescription you had before from a psychiatrist. I noticed you said in another post you can't find a psychiatrist. I'd try the family doctor route if you haven't already.

I'm sorry, I misunderstood your post. I hope you do not hurt yourself. I don't know your circumstances but there are hotlines you can call to talk to someone.

In case you have not seen it, Scott Alexander (a psychiatrist) has a resource on antidepressent supplements here:


also here:


Wherever you live there are also suicide prevention hotlines you can try calling.

> You can imagine whatever the fork you want, it won't make it real.

Yet you also cannot make real something you didn't imagine, except by accident. Priming works, hence "fake it till you make it".

So what happened with all these people in the dark ages?

They couldn't do office work.

WRT >"... 1. Recognise that internal resistance is on your side ..."

I disagree somewhat, and I have a different explanation.


Each one of us is born with talents (gifts) and some weaknesses.

If we grow up, and then become adults in the environment that does not discover our talents, and, opposite, emphasises our weaknesses -- then we become:

  - unhappy, 
  - dis-engaged, 
  - often resort to cheating as a way to 'pad up' our weaknesses, 
  - often blaim others. Sometimes rightfully so, sometimes not.

The environment in which we grow up -- does not really depend on us. Depends on parents, state of peace, state of economy.

Yes, we have to be adaptable, but when the adoptation requires us to compete in fields, eco-systems that does not emphsize our inborn talents -- we do not do well.

We are not all meant to be technology visionaries, data scientists, lawyers, public speakers, and surgeons.

But a society, an economic system that emphasises one of the above (as an example), is forcing the rest to 'adjust'.

That 'adjustment' - is the friction. But it does not just depend on an individual.

Really, a global solution is the one, that takes advantage of the different talents we have. That should be the purpose of statesman (not career politicians), that offer to dedicate their service to their country (or the world).

And, certainly on a personal level

  - honesty,

  - work ethic 

  - rejection of ideologies that justify 'achieve whatever using any means necessary', 

  - rejection of unfair biases (biases based on inborn characterists that 'lock down  person's fate)
Would have to be part of that solution.

Believing that you always have something unique, something specially good, specially powerfull about yourself -- has to be emphrasized, at a personal level.

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