My cliff notes for “Productivity through self-loyalty“:
The tendency to act against your judgement or preferences (akrasia) is a thing. To heavily paraphrase several similar (but more nuanced than this) theories, it is as if our “true” desires are a voice trying to control mob of other desires within our brains. When we become fatigued or lose control of the mob, we procrastinate or are otherwise akratic.
To be highly productive in spite of this, like the author, doesn’t require an iron will or especially good command of the mob. “A problem isn’t solved until it’s solved automatically, without need for attention or willpower.” Relying on willpower is exhausting, requires constant effort and success, and is doomed to failure eventually.
The trick is to get the mob on your side — the side of the voice of reason.
A trick that has worked for the author is to show the mob you’re on their side, so it knows you will meet its desires. Self-signal. Examine the desire: “Is this really what I need?” If the answer is yes, then do it. This tempers the mob’s demands by indulging what it truly needs.
Think of George Bailey and the mob in It’s A Wonderful Life. If the mob really truly demands its full account, reason with it, and if it still demands its full account, go ahead and pay it, and do so respectfully: We’re in this together should be your voice of reason’s attitude.
The mob understands the voice of reason is responsible for many good things, but won’t listen to it if it doesn’t feel the voice of reason is loyal to them. Thus, honor your true needs — your need for financial security, your mental health, and so on.
This results in a kind of “compassionate austerity”, indulging the parts of himself that need rest and relaxation, but only insofar as they need it; not overindulging. Reasoning respectfully with your inner mob reduces its demands on you out of their own compassion for you.
This works on a virtuous cycle of self-compassion, and is thus freeing of guilt. Cooperative austerity, when “we’re all in this together”, can feel “happy and warm”.
To channel this to productivity, ask yourself how much time off from productivity you really need, and give yourself that. Don’t be stingy — but give in to your own needs being mindful of their costs, especially opportunity cost of lost productivity. This will help you self-regulate to avoid over-indulging.
Often, when a part of me really needs a break, and throws up its hands feeling overwhelmed, its initial demands are unrealistic—”two weeks with no responsibilities!” So then I ask it again, with the demeanor of George Bailey, what it really needs to get by. And that part of me quickly remembers that all of me is in this together, and that I’m trying to do some very difficult things, and that all parts of me are constrained by scarce resources. Then the part that protested searches for what it really needs, the bare minimum, and it usually answers something like “I can get the rest I need in fifteen minutes.”
Being good to yourself consistently sets up a sustainable pattern of moderating your unproductive time.
This post is part of the thread: Replacing Guilt Cliffs Notes – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.