Plan while your ugh field is down

by XFrequentist1 min read23rd Jan 201412 comments


Personal Blog

Here's an example of a mental manoeuvre I accidentally found, and thought might be generally useful (typical caveats apply).

I've had a manageable-but-important Problem for a few months now (financial in kind, details neither relevant nor interesting), of moderate complexity and relatively minor importance unless I leave it unsolved just a little longer.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the precise combination of things that triggers one of my ugh fields, which manifests subjectively as a fuzzy blank inability to maintain focus. Several times last week, it occurred to me that I should really Solve The Problem, but I wasn't able to get myself to spend any time thinking about it. Like, at all.

On Saturday, the Problem found itself top of mind once again. How irritating that I couldn't solve the Problem because it was the weekend, and when it wasn't the weekend, maybe Tuesday when work wasn't busy and the Bureau was open, I should really email Dr. Somebody and call Mrs. Administrator for the ...


I had a solution, and a plan. What the what?

My working theory is that when there's no chance of actually Doing Something, this particular ugh field deactivates. 

To me, this suggests a strategy (of uncertain generalizability): when an ugh field is preventing thought about something important, find a time when action is impossible and use it to generate a plan.

I would feel better about this advice if it had a deep theoretical backer. Anybody?

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Just to dissect what has transpired, you basically suggested to a clone of you (who is most definitely not you!) in some hypothetical copy of this universe what s/he should be doing in this situation, which happens to be identical to yours, but is most definitely not yours, so you don't have to worry about having to actually do any of it. ... And then you restored the temporarily severed identification between you and the clone.

Does this seem like an adequate description?

Well, I didn't deliberately disassociate myself from the situation, I was just structurally barred from action.

I guess if "clone" is "Tuesday me" then your description is otherwise a decent abstraction.

Is this a known technique? It sounds useful, kind of Stanovich-ey.

I notice that I am a good planner and a bad doer. I come up with excellent plans when ugh fields are down for the reasons you state -- doing something isn't possible for whatever reason.

I hatch these brilliant, can't-miss plans of attack, say, in bed at night. When the time for doing something arrives, say, the next morning, the ugh field returns and I don't do.

I generally find that it takes less willpower to execute a plan that I've already made. I set aside a little time every morning, and a longer period every Sunday, to be effortfully strategic and come up with some specific next actions that I can mindlessly execute for the rest of the day/week. I think this is more or less standard GTD (although I've been iterating on my personal system for long enough that I can't really remember exactly what David Allen describes).

I agree that separating 'planning' and 'doing' like this works especially well for doing aversive things. Your 'planning self' doesn't have to worry about actually doing anything, and your 'doing self' just has to trust your planning self.

I've been using a similar tactic lately. When an ugh field is blocking some important task, I'll explicitly ask myself "if I actually wanted to solve this problem, what would I do?" That seems to immediately generate enough emotional distance that I can come up with a more granular plan like the one you described.

I have seen a recommendation to plan your next day in the evening. Probably for the same reason: "not now" deactivates the ugh field.

Maybe it would be possible to achieve this effect immediately by precomitting to do nothing during the next 10 minutes. Just sit (don't browse the web) and optionally think about the problem. But don't do anything until the 10 minutes are over. At the end you could have a plan. (Maybe there would be an exception that you are allowed to write notes about your ideas during the 10 minutes, but nothing else.)

Maybe it would be possible to achieve this effect immediately by precomitting to do nothing during the next 10 minutes

That what people call meditation. It quite useful for having clarity of mind.

I've noticed the same thing. My theory is that when you're thinking about things in the future, that activates far mode, which is better at thinking about and doing things related to long-term abstract considerations like money, learning math, saving the world, and most of the things you procrastinate on. To take advantage of this you can make a plan in the evening and execute it when you get up next morning. I've even found it useful to plan what I will do tomorrow, then what I will do this evening, then what I will do right now... somehow the feeling of strategic far mode thinking can thus be transferred in to thinking & doing in the present.

Can even be as simple as making a really granular, dumb, easy-to-follow to-do list, then getting up for a while and walking around, and then coming back and doing everything on your list. Somehow it's easier to plan out something for your future self to do than your current self. (I wonder if you could push this even farther and just conceptualize the tasks that you were going to do as tasks you were going to do in the far future somehow... also, this looks interesting.

Are Ugh Fields the same as Anxiety? My impression is that they're referring to the same thing. If they do, then it would be good to use the word Anxiety since its already standard.

When I think Ugh Field, I am referring to a pattern of mental avoidance that develops sometimes because of anxiety, sometimes because of disgust, sometimes because of hopelessness... Maybe Ugh Fields my brain creates from different root negative feeling causes are sufficiently different, and calling them by the same name obscures something very important?

Hmm, perhaps it just seems that way to me is that anxiety is by far the most common reason for Avoidance behaviors for me (this also holds for my roommate). Also, I think the link between anxiety and avoidance is fairly well known to psychologists.

I've noticed a similar pattern. I will feel aversion to doing some task immediately, but no aversion to assigning a future self to doing that task. This is why I try to plan out my day the night before.