Two days into my trip to Tokyo, I sign on to Facebook and go to see if it's my move in Words With Friends. I like WWF because it takes up minimal time, seems to actually be good for the brain, and keeps me in touch with some friends I wouldn't otherwise regularly communicate with.
On the right, where Facebook streams the online actions of everyone I know, I see that my younger cousin has played Tetris Battle. Ooh. I like Tetris. Maybe I can play against my cousin and show him a thing or two. I click the icon, find out I can't play against him, but decide to play a round anyway.
Two days later and I'm a higher Tetris rank than anyone else on my facebook list and I actually bought five bucks worth of facebook credits so that I don't have to wait between games. Writing that now seems tantamount to admitting to shooting heroin. What's more pathetic than spending your day playing Tetris on Facebook when you have tons of work to do and are in a cool foreign country? Luckily I came to my senses pretty much immediately after depositing money. I told my friend Elliot that if I play another game, he must confiscate my computer and keep it. For good measure I block apps.facebook.com from my computer. I'll never play again.
It occured to me that I always commit these acts of self sabotage in order to keep myself on track, and I don't ever hear about other people doing it. Maybe I'm uniquely weak willed and need these sorts of things, or maybe it's a good idea that can help other people.
My localhosts file (a file on the computer that you can use to permanently ban yourself from sites) is full of time wasters. I have Leechblock installed on Firefox and use it to limit my time on sites that are somewhat useful but can easily suck up hours at a time. My allowance for Reddit and Hacker News combined is 5 minutes every six hours. It's always gratifying to go to check reddit, get blocked, and immediately go back to work.
On my phone, I put only constructive apps on my home screen. I have my weigh lifting log, Japanese kanji practice, Evernote, and a few other things. If I want to play Words With Friends or check Facebook or Twitter, I have to click the app tray and scroll to the bottom and find it. Not a huge barrier to playing, but that little bit of friction helps me not use those apps excessively.
Of course, this sort of constructive self sabotage happens away from the computer, too. When I'm playing poker, if I relax my discipline and play a hand I shouldn't have, I sometimes force myself to fold it on the flop even if the flop is good for me. This is a financially poor move, but that's the point-- when I know that I'll punish myself for "gambling", I don't gamble. I even do this when talking to girls. If I'm wimping out, I'll punish myself by forcing myself to get rejected in some way or another.
I could go on and list a million examples of productive self sabotage, but the principle is more important than the manifestation of it. Sometimes self discipline should be taken literally, and you should discipline yourself by putting barriers in between yourself and subpar activities, or by punishing yourself for engaging in subpar behaviour.
Posted from a bullet train! Photo was taken a few days ago at Fushimi-Inari near Kyoto. There are miles of trails lined with red Torii like the ones in the photo.
Almost done with Tokyo, unfortunately. It feels like I just got here, but I've been here for 5 weeks.
You have some decent tips here Tynan.
One of the best ways to become disciplined is to limit yourself, and that's exactly what you're doing.
When I was in the Marine Corps they definitely taught me quit a bit of discipline. Right off the bat, getting into bootcamp, they take all the fun stuff away from you and force you to focus on the important stuff.
Just take away what you want to avoid and eventually it will become habit.
Nice post, thanks Tynan
Hello Tynan, I've spent some time perusing your site, and enjoy your outlook and the goal of helping others live their best life. Have a small piece of criticism: your delivery is making me bonkers! You seem successful and happy, but I decided to comment because I wonder whether you could be more sufferable? How much more lucrative (and productive) would your work be if your presentation were more palatable to your audience? If you could just take the arrogance down a notch... you might reach even more people with your phenomenal ideas. I happen to agree with and practice so much of what you've written- I'm an atheist, live in my RV, eat little to no meat/sugar/processed foods, drink only occasionally, chase all my curiosities and desires, have no problem picking up women and men, use MoneyDance software, have my phone apps strategically oranized to keep myself productive, etc etc etc...- and yet I find myself annoyed with your posts! Maybe just try to display some of your humility a little better? Tynan, you seem like an awesome person and I truly wish you the best in exploring this beautiful world and all its possibilities! Thanks for sharing your experiences and tips with everyone!
i also wan to be a professional gambler. i have a perfect stratgy to beat the casino but i fail in my own self discipline. so sad . i make $200k in 15 day and i lose it all in 1 day .
Check out the madness I have to deal with in nyc, you guys have this going on your cities? I filmed this at lunch Friday..
If you haven't already, www.youarenotsosmart.com is a great resource for, well, wasting time reading a big website. :) It's a compendium of self-delusion, all the documented, named ways that we as humans do not behave as the rational creatures we like to think we are - and a ton of advice for stuff exactly like this, how to essentially trick yourself into being disciplined.
Switch is a decent book about this, too; the main value of the book to me was their metaphor: a human is an elephant and a rider. The elephant is the irrational animal side. It doesn't listen to reason, it obeys visceral urges. But on the upside, it has incredible endurance and strength. The rider, on the other hand, is motivated by reason and logic, but compared to the elephant is weak.
Motivating people (yourself included) comes down to speaking logically to the rider, appealing viscerally to the elephant, and sculpting the path - what you're calling self-sabotage - to carve the path of least resistance to be the thing you want to do.
Another friend of mine put it quite concisely: "Will power is a poor substitute for unavailability."
TynNan Ilike. Ur BLOG man. Its THE best Shizzle id ever Did ReaD. BUt you know, Cos OFF what YOuve said In this Here artICle i ThiNK you shoULd stop WRIting It,
Aw! Man! This post hits too close to home! LOL! I feel like I just got scolded by my Dad in an indirect sort of way! haha! Why do I feel like this? BECAUSE I HAVEN'T DONE SHIT ALL DAY! LOL!
Seriously, though, this is something that I've been thinking about a lot, lately. I love the Internet but also realize it can be a huge time waster, if you let it! I recently purchased an Internet filter called Safe Eyes that blocks pretty much anything you want it to block. What I like about it most is that once you set it to block something, you can set up the filter to where you have to call an 800 number to get the admin password to change anything. So, I use it to block porn. LOL. It's sort of like you said, it's not bullet proof, but it's enough of a barrier to consider doing something else with your time. I also set a time limit on it to where I can't log on until 1:30 in the afternoon. This FORCES me to get up and be productive.
Anyway, thanks for the ideas. I will look into Leechblocker. I've been looking for something that limits my time on certain sites. Facebook is one of them. I don't want to block it entirely, but I also know it's mostly a waste of time.
It's an issue for me too. Every month or so, I go through a few straight days of just not wanting to do anything. It's usually after a failure in an uber-productive streak.
Problem is I don't enjoy it.
Best cure I've found so far: Create a few barriers in the way of time wasters and JUST DO the work. (which means forgetting about how shitty it turns out)
I have the same problem. I can get hooked on Facebook or some game. Even games like pool, bowling or chess I have to avoid because I know myself too well to risk it. I have my Facebook set to block as much as possible and strive to only add people I would pickup the phone and talk to without it being awkward. My monkey brain can't handle this god like technology.
To train any animal, you follow a simple process. You somehow indicate what you want it to do, and then when it does it, you give it a reward. Maybe in some cases you punish it if it doesn't do what it's supposed to do. Then you repeat until the animal is trained. When it comes to training ourselves, though, we come up with a million weird and ineffective ways to do it.
Why is that? Maybe it's because we don't want to face the truth about what it takes to train ourselves, so we hunt and hunt for shortcuts. As someone who has trained himself to do all sorts of things, I think that the solution is much easier.
The first fix is to drop this idea of looking for a shortcut. Often times people will spend years trying to find that shortcut to losing weight, learning a new language, or developing a sense of optimism. Maybe they save a month or two, but they would have been a lot better off just doing it the hard way to begin with.
When people tell me that they're going to change, the number one indicator I've found to predict whether or not they'll succeed is how quickly they start. If they start right now they have a much better chance of succeeding than if they start, "after this pack" or "on January first" or "as soon as I'm settled in". If you don't want something bad enough to start immediately, you may as well give up and not waste your time on it. Obvious exceptions are when there's a concrete logistical reason to start later like, "I'll start training for skiing in the winter, because that's when there's snow".
My head obsesses. I get songs stuck in my head so badly that I have to leave the room when "I'm On A Boat" comes on, and anyone who tries to troll me by singing "Party in the USA" gets warned and then ferociously tickled. (It's self-defense.) I don't like watching TV shows and have to limit movies because the scenes and plots continue to play in my head for days afterward, displacing the top idea in my mind.
The most interesting case of this is the Tetris effect. This where you do a repetitive activity so much that it takes over your subconscious, visually superimposing its patterns over your life. It's most noticeable when you're falling asleep. Tetris addicts would turn things they see into tetrominos, and their brains would be playing Tetris as they slept.
I have it bad. I've had the Tetris effect not only with all sorts of video games, but with things like coding, typing Dvorak, fixing grammar mistakes, responding to emails, hiking, tweaking CSS, and designing particle effects. Up until this week, though, it had only been visual, perhaps with some motor component.
It turns out I can get auditory Tetris effect, too. I had just spent the entire day strategizing about CodeCombat with George and Scott, talking startups with other Y Combinator companies, and listening to the YC partners dispense wisdom. As I was falling asleep, I heard a perfect Markov chain generator produce a conversation between Paul Graham, George, and Generic Startup Founder, complete with voices and appropriate verbal mannerisms, that went something like this: