“Akrasia is the state of acting against one’s better judgment.
While akrasia is sometimes called ‘weakness of will’, recent research suggests that it’s not a personal failing, but a result of a cognitive bias that strike us all — ‘time inconsistency,’ our tendency to discount the future in favor of the present.”
“...if you give people a choice between a smaller, more expedient reward and a larger delayed one, timing has an interesting impact on their decisions.
If you pretend it’s a game show and you offer people $50 today or $100 in two years, when you ask how many people would prefer $50 today, a lot of people raise their hands.
But if people can choose between receiving $50 in six years or $100 in eight years, nobody wants the $50, even though it’s the same choice, just spread over a different time period. Such results show that people discount the future in an inconsistent way that gives preference to smaller, more immediate rewards....”
Battle of the Selves —
“One of akrasia’s most common manifestations is procrastination.
Long-term planning, such as saving for retirement or committing to an exercise plan, is done in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. Then we have the limbic system, which is much more compulsive and focused on the here and now. One way to see it is to think of our brain as a house with two floors, each with a set of residents. The limbic system is the young, hip couple on the ground floor who are energetic and passionate, and focused on the present. Meanwhile, the prefrontal cortex is the older couple upstairs who pay the mortgage and keep the house in order.”
“Long-term planning happens in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, while the more compulsive limbic system focuses on things that provide immediate gratification.”
“Akrasia is essentially a one-player game against your future self. For example, my present limbic system-influenced self would rather surf the Internet than write this story. But my future prefrontal cortex-influenced self would rather finish the story so my check arrives on time. To overcome akrasia means to ensure the future-oriented self overrides the present-oriented one. A handful of tools exist to help bridge the gap between your future and present selves. Such tools create an immediate payoff for desired behavior and a short-term punishment for choices that derail long-term plans.”
“Our modern environments have made us more susceptible to akrasia. We’re not really designed to have temptation constantly at our fingertips. Those of us who work on computers know this all too well: The Internet ensures we have time-sucking distractions constantly competing for our attention. And since the 1970s, researchers have seen about a 500 percent increase in chronic procrastination. So if we really want to tame akrasia, we need to change our environment.....”