You are on page 1of 10

Screw motivation, what you need is

discipline.
by Zbyhnev | posted in: Entrepreneurship, Health, How to fix the world, How to human | 21

If you want to get anything done, there are two basic ways to get yourself to do it.
The first, more popular and devastatingly wrong option is to try to motivate yourself.
The second, somewhat unpopular and entirely correct choice is to cultivate discipline.
This is one of these situations where adopting a different perspective immediately results
in superior outcomes. Few uses of the term paradigm shiftare actually legitimate, but
this one is. Its a lightbulb moment.
Whats the difference?
Motivation, broadly speaking, operates on the erroneous assumption that a
particular mental or emotional state is necessary to complete a task.
Thats completely the wrong way around.
Discipline, by contrast, separates outwards functioning from moods and feelings and
thereby ironically circumvents the problem by consistently improving them.
The implications are huge.
Successful completion of tasks brings about the inner states that chronic
procrastinators think they need to initiate tasks in the first place.
Put in simpler form, you dont wait until youre in olympic form to start training.
You train to get into olympic form.
If action is conditional on feelings, waiting for the right mood becomes a particularly
insidious form of procrastination. I know that too well, and wish somebody pointed it out
for me twenty, fifteen or ten years ago before I learned the difference the hard way.

If you wait until you feel like doing stuff, youre fucked . Thats precisely how the
dreaded procrastinatory loops come about.

Source of picture
At its core, chasing motivation is insistence on the infantile fantasy that we should only
be doing things we feel like doing. The problem is then framed thus: How do I get
myself to feel like doing what I have rationally decided to do?. Bad.
The proper question is How do I make my feelings inconsequential and do the things I
consciously want to do without being a little bitch about it?.
The point is to cut the link between feelings and actions, and do it anyway. You get to
feel good and buzzed and energetic and eager afterwards.
Motivation has is the wrong way around. I am utterly 100% convinced that this faulty
frame is the main driver of the sitting about in underwear playing Xbox, and with
yourselfepidemic currently sweeping developed countries.
There are psychological problems with relying on motivation as well.

Because real life in the real world occasionally requires people do things that nobody in
their right mind can be massively enthusiastic about, motivationruns into the
insurmountable obstacle of trying to elicit enthusiasm for things that objectively do not
merit it. The only solution besides slackery, then, is to put people out of their right minds.
Thats a horrible, and fortunately fallacious, dilemma.
Trying to drum up enthusiasm for fundamentally dull and soul crushing activities is
literally a form of deliberate psychological self-harm, a voluntary insanity: I AM SO
PASSIONATE ABOUT THESE SPREADSHEETS, I CANT WAIT TO FILL OUT
THE EQUATION FOR FUTURE VALUE OF ANNUITY, I LOVE MY JOB SOOO
MUCH!
I do not consider self-inflicted episodes of hypomania the optimal driver of human
activity. A thymic compensation via depressive episodes is inevitable, since the human
brain will not tolerate abuse indefinitely. There are stops and safety valves. There are
hormonal hangovers.
The worst thing that can happen is succeeding at the wrong thing temporarily. A far
superior scenario is retaining sanity, which unfortunately tends to be misinterpreted as
moral failure: I still dont love my pointless paper-shuffling job, I must be doing
something wrong. I still prefer cake to brocolli and cant lose weight, maybe Im just
weak. I should buy another book about motivation. Bullshit. The critical error is even
approaching those issus in terms of motivation or lack thereof. The answer is discipline,
not motivation.
There is another, practical problem with motivation. It has a tiny shelf life, and needs
constant refreshing.
Motivation is like manually winding up a crank to deliver a burst of force. At best, it
stores and converts energy to a particular purpose. There are situations where it is the
correct attitude, one-offs where getting psyched and spring-loading a metric fuckton of
mental energy upfront is the best course of action. Olympic races and prison breaks come
to mind. But it is a horrible basis for regular day-to-day functioning, and anything like
consistent long-term results.

By contrast, discipline is like an engine that, once kickstarted, actually supplies energy to
the system.
Productivity has no requisite mental states. For consistent, long-term results, discipline
trumps motivation, runs circles around it, bangs its mom and eats its lunch.
In summary, motivation is trying to feel like doing stuff. Discipline is doing it even if you
dont feel like it.
You get to feel good afterwards.
Discipline, in short, is a system, whereas motivation is analogous to goals. There is a
symmetry. Discipline is more or less self-perpetuating and constant, whereas motivation
is a bursty kind of thing.
How do you cultivate discipline? By building habits starting as small as you can
manage, even microscopic, and gathering momentum, reinvesting it in progressively
bigger changes to your routine, and building a positive feedback loop.
Motivation is a counterproductive attitude to productivity. What counts is discipline.

Practical discipline
by Zbyhnev | posted in: How to human | 33

Following up on the first part which was mainly theoretical, lets have a look now at a
handful of tips to help you build good habits in practice:

Baby steps
Your brain resists abrupt changes. If you motivate yourself to a titanic Starting
tomorrow, Im a new person effort, youll only burn out and revert. Big and sudden just
doesnt work, slow and steady does it. Its the yo-yo effect of discipline. You want to
surf the edge of your comfort zone, which is the only sustainable attitude.

When you progress in baby steps, you will find yourself a new person a year hence, not
knowing precisely when or how it happened.
The trick here is to make a small change and let your brain accept it as the new
baseline. This will make the next step easier, because the baseline moved. Wash, rinse,
repeat.
Because youre surfing, which means the wave is moving forward beneath you. Cool
stuff.
What Im gonna say now may sound banal, but it really isnt: Big things are
composed of small things. Small changes that you stick to and follow every day add up
to surprisingly massive results.
i

Take the stairs every day. Its just five or ten calories, but in a year, that adds up to
three pizzas. And thats just the calories.
If you do stuff around the house for two minutes every day, youll be surprised how
tidy the place is a month later.

Small, but consistent things. Take the stairs.


Your brain resists abrupt changes, but gradual changes bypass that resistance. Which
brings us to the next point:

The principle of graduality


You can make huge changes by slicing them into incremental, manageable steps. The
trick is that the change-resistance troll (I have to draw that fucker) living in your head
doesnt notice anything big is going on. Resistance increases exponentially with the
size of the change, rather than proportionally. This principle is at work in many walks of
life:
i

Spy recruiting isnt a sudden Hello sir, how would you like to work for a foreign
government to subvert your own country?. Its a series of relatively innocuous and

i
i

justifiable steps dinners, small gifts and requests for not-so-sensitive information
that eventually culminates in high treason.
In porn, they dont ask a girl fresh off the street to do anal with five black
bodybuilders (high five, guys!). It starts with tasteful semi-nudes (Hey, its a legit
modeling job), then semi-tasteful nudes .you get the idea.
There are sinister political uses.
Theres a thought experiment called the Frog in hot water it might be bullshit,
but allegedly, if you put a frog in a pot of water and bring it to boil, the frog will not
jump out, because the heating is gradual. I have no idea why anybody would do that,
or whether its true, but the principle is exactly how you need to subvert your inner
lazy saboteur excusist troll. Boil the fucker alive. Slowly, bypassing his notice.

We want to use the same mechanism for good.


Want to start exercising more? Take a walk. Want to fix your diet? Start by removing the
one worst thing in it probably sweets. Want to quit smoking? Take that one last
cigarette of the day, break it in half and flush it down the toilet. Which brings us to:

Deliberate control of exceptions


The best way to manage your vices is to accept and schedule them. You cant wish them
out of existence, but you can take control of them and redirect their inertia by consciously
including them in your plan. This is the Judo method.
The key is to control the time and dosage. Dieting? Schedule cheat days (say, once a
week). Wasting valuable hours of your life on Facebook? Okaaay no more
Facebook. wrong. Facebook for 20 minutes in the evening to catch up with friends
and thats that right.
Remember that your brain resists abrupt changes, doubly so when they interfere
with immediate gratification. Going cold turkey on psychological addictions is a sure
way to initiate a circle of frustration, failure and self-hatred.
You can bypass that by accepting and scheduling the exceptions, with absolutely no
exceptions (to the planned exceptions).

It is totally legitimate to say Today is my slacking day when Im just going to stay at
home eating pizza in my underwear and play computer games. But do it consciously,
infrequently and deliberately dont just let it happen to you in absence of having made
better plans. EVERY plan is better than that.
Paradoxically, indulgent slacking is not even pleasant, because it makes you feel guilty
and useless. But you will actually enjoy it when you do it in a conscious, planned manner
to relax and unwind. There ARE days for pyjamas and ice cream and binge-watching
Gilmore Girls. But you should happen to them, not they to you.

Nudges and commitment


Theres a really, really powerful trick: using resistance-less nudges in the right direction
to circumvent your defences against doing good things for yourself. Ill explain.
The point is to lower your brains resistance by taking a symbolical step in the desired
direction that doesnt wake The Troll.
I was introduced to this principle by Scott Adams (and the psychological research he
looted) if youre not in the mood to work out, but want to, just put on your gym clothes.
Thats easy, right? Its also enough to make your brain switch gears, and you suddenly
find yourself exercising.
Take small, symbolical steps in the direction of intended change.
On the topic of nudges and reminders, I highly recommend Dan Arielys work.
If you want to buy, say, gym shorts and groceries (as I did a few days ago), do it in that
exact order. That way, youre primed to make healthier choices.
There are two reasons this works nudges/priming (<-this is super-uber-mega-turbogiga-hyper-king-kamehameha important), and the need for consistency. You want to trick
your brain into thinking I just bought sports equipment I am a person who makes
healthy choices. Therefore I shall avoid the aisle with junk food.

Consistency works, because inconsistency literally threatens ego integrity. Our past
choices constitute our identity, and we want to preserve it. You literally make making
healthier choices a psychological matter of self-preservation. Ego-defence doing the hard
work for you. THATS a Lifehack.
Let me say that again: consistency is a matter of survival for your sense of self. You
can use it to do almost anything with yourself when you do simple, small, smart,
resistance-free things to commit and lock yourself into a beneficial trajectory. This is the
nuclear weaponry of lifestyle management. Use it wisely.

Recharge
One more thing thats super important when you want to take control of your life dont
be tired and dont be stressed. Easier said and done, I know, but Im gonna show you how
to do it.
When youre mentally exhausted, the things you do (or dont do) tend to be far from your
conscious decisions and best judgment. When you want to cultivate good habits, learn
to recharge your batteries.
If you get the vague sense that this is a chicken-and-egg situation, and that you need to be
in reasonable control of your life to avoid stress and fatigue, yet you need to be less
stressed to take better control of your life youre entirely right. But you can add an
effective recharging regimen to otherwise stressful lifestyles, thereby severing the loop at
its weakest spot. In fact, if you have a stressful lifestyle, you specifically should do it. Its
easy, and only takes ten minutes.
Its also increasingly popular the internet is slowly rapidly filling up with this advice,
but only rarely in this context specifically to undo ego depletion and executive
fatigue. Which is surprising, considering its the second most important use for it. (The
first being mental health in general.)
And the thing is (fanfare): Meditation. In the simplest (and, I think best) form, you sit
down, clear your head, calm your breathing and observe your emptymind in its natural
state thats all there is. Everything else is optional at best.

I promise you this will give you more strength to follow up on your conscious decisions
and plans, or at least improve your odds significantly. Its the mana potionof selfregulation, a pit stop for the mind, a well of will.
This is the internal stuff. It is equally useful to manage your surroundings. Remove
distractions and temptations from your environment, simplify and declutter, so that your
mind isnt (even subconsciously) occupied by a hundred little things, but is able to
fully focus on the one thing youre doing in the moment. Effective multitasking doesnt
exist. The division of attention in multitasking is a negative-sum game.
Environmental management basics:
i

Having a tidy place helps tons. If a messy home is part of your doom loop, beg
friends to help (Im trying to declutter my place and life, please come help me Ill
buy beer and pizza, and help you if you want to do the same) or hire a maid
anything to remove the environmental stressor, thereby giving you more strength to
deal with everything else in your life.
Remove sources of temptation from sight. When youre dieting, openly displayed
jars of Nutella and pizza delivery flyers are verboten. Smokers, hide the
lighters. Out of sight, out of mind.
Place constructive reminders and nudges in your environment instead. A picture
of yourself in underwear on the fridge. Actually, my body scale is permanently
placed in front of the fridge. Its like those meticulously designed behavioral
experiments on rats, except you specifically and deliberately do it to control your
own behavior.

If you want to reduce stress, you might want to consider a low-information diet. That
doesnt mean cutting yourself off from the world instead of wilfull ignorance, I suggest
choosing quality over quantity. Find high-quality sources of news and stick to them.
Absolutely condemn and ignore tabloids and sensationalist media. If it makes you
angry, its probably not good journalism, and definitely not good for your mental fitness.
The underlying logic of discipline building is to establish a more constructive relationship
and improve the balance of power between your higher executive functions your

rational adult mind and your inner three year old who makes a depressing lot of your
decisions.
Make no mistake, that little asshole is still in there. Human personality is like a tree it
grows outwards, adding layers, but the depths never really go away. (Well, technically
older trees tend to be hollow while old humans shed outer layers first and regress into a
second childhood, but hey, all similes have their limits). The toddler is still in there,
with its impulsiveness and short attention span and myopic pursuit of instant
gratification. Generally, you want your higher functions to be in control. This is more
difficult when youre tired or stressed, hence the importance of mindfulness/meditation
and environmental management.
The inner and outer, broadly, are the two branches of executive function management,
which Id like to instate as a thing now. Kind of a big thing, in fact.

Enjoying the reading? Consider supporting Wisdomination.com on Patreon.