Briefly: I'm looking for a person (or group) with whom I can mutually discuss self improvement and personal goals (and nothing else) on a regular basis.

Also, note, this post is an example of asking a personally important question on LW. The following idea is not meant as a general mindhack, but just as something I want to try out myself.

We are unconsciously motivated by those around us. The Milgram experiment and the Asch conformity experiment are the two best examples of social influence that come to my mind, though I'm sure there are plenty more (if you haven't heard of them, I really suggest spending a minute).

I've tended to see this drive to conform to the expectations of others as a weakness of the human mind, and yes, it can be destructive. However, as long as its there, I should exploit it. Specifically, I want to exploit it to fight akrasia.

Utilizing positive social influence is a pretty common tactic for fighting drug addictions (like in AA), but I haven't really heard of it being used to fight unproductivity. Sharing your personal work/improvement goals with someone in the same position as yourself, along with reflecting on previous attempts, could potentially be powerful. Humans simply feel more responsible for the things they tell other people about, and less responsible for the things they bottle up and don't tell anyone (like all of my productivity strategies).

The setup that I envision would be something like this:

  • On a chat room, or some system like skype.1
  • Meet weekly at a very specific time for a set amount of time.
  • Your partner has a list of the productivity goals you set during the previous session. They ask you about your performance, forcing you to explain either your success or your failure.
  • Your partner tries to articulate what went wrong or what went right from your explanation (giving you a second perspective).
  • Once both parties have shared and evaluated, you set your new goals in light of your new experience (and with your partner's input, hopefully being more effective).
  • The partnership continues as long as it is useful for all parties.

I've tried doing something similar to this with my friends, but it just didn't work. We already knew each other too well, and there wasn't that air of dispassionate professionality. We were friends, but not partners (in this sense of the word).

If something close to what I describe already exists, or at least serves the same purpose, I would love to hear about it (I already tried the LW study hall, but it wasn't really the structure or atmosphere I was going for). Otherwise, I'd be thrilled to find someone here to try doing this with. You can PM me if you don't want to post here.



1. After explaining this whole idea to someone IRL, they remarked that there would be little social influence because we would only be meeting online in a pseudo-anonymous way. However, I don't find this to be the case personally when I talk with people online, so a virtual environment would be no detriment (hopefully this isn't just unique to me).

Edit (29/3/2015): Just for the record, I wanted to say that I was able to make the connection I wanted, via a PM. Thanks LW!

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In my experience, there's not vey much social influence to fight akrasia in college, but there is plenty of this kind of social influence in high school, and I am willing to guess that there is plenty of this kind of influence in the professional world. However, it might be the case that others feel that there are more social influences to fight akrasia in college (or fewer social influences to fight akrasia elsewhere) than I do, since I weight having structured mandatory study/work time in a public place so heavily. For me, being socially expected to be physically present in a place where I am supposed to be working on things causes me to be much more productive than I would be in the absence of such an expectation. This is doubly true if people who know about my commitment are physically present while I am studying.

Anyhow, I find it unfortunate that there aren't any programs or services that make it easier for college students to coordinate into forming pseudo-workplaces in which multiple students are socially expected to be physically present in a certain place during certain times, as described above. It is certainly possible to coordinate this kind of thing, but I don't know of any college students who have actually done this, which is part of what I'm upset about. Something like Beeminder could be used for tracking this sort of thing, but Beeminder alone doesn't create all of the same incentives that having a workplace with coworkers or students who expect you to be physically present at a certain place for a certain duration of time does.

I've asked 3-4 non-LW friends if they would find a pseudo-workplace arrangement useful, and they all said no. I've historically had lots of trouble with getting people to show up to organized study groups on the weekends, as well. Would many students be open to, or benefit from this kind of pseudo-workplace setup for university students? Am I aneurotypical enough that I'm the only one who would benefit from something like this? Would LW readers who are students be much more likely to use or benefit from this type of setup than the average college student? Would it be worthwhile to attempt to create and encourage college students to use pseudo-workplaces?

This guy pays random strangers to keep him on track and claims it works for him.

  1. I think this would be an interesting startup idea.

  2. I think this is a good idea in general. As in I sense that there's a solid chance that it's reasonably effective. My intuition says that the online environment wouldn't be too much of a detriment. I think that a small amount of commitment could be really powerful, even if it just subtly influences your thought process. Definitely worth experimenting with though.

  3. Count me in with whatever you end up doing!

  4. Kudos for posting and acting on this!


Where do you live, Snorri? I'm interested in this as well.


I live in Seattle. If you're further interested you can PM me for details.

From my experiences trying similar things over IRC, I have found that the lack of anything holding you to your promises definitely is a detriment to most people. I have found a few for whom that's not the case, but that's very much the exception. That's definitely a failure mode to look out for, doing this online (especially in text) won't work for many people. In addition, this discrepancy can create friction between people.

The general structure of the failure tends to be one person feeling vaguely bad about not talking as much, or missing a session. And then when they don't have many vectors to viscerally receive signals of disapproval, of the kind that would cause them to be uncomfortable and go through with it even when they don't want to, it becomes easiest to do it the next time. Schelling Fences are easier to break without face to face interaction.

There should be ways to bypass that problem. One of the memes around LW is actively reinforcing positive things, instead of relying on implied approval. If you can create a culture of actively rewarding success, and treating apathy as something to be stamped out at every point, then you can do it. You can also make a point to create norms where one goes out of their way to help someone who falls behind to figure out what the true problem is. If you can manage that, instead of silence or simple berating, then you can make it work. Ideas around Tell Culture can help you with this. Unfortunately, this also requires diverting a lot of focus into preserving those conditions. Creating community norms is hard, but that seems like the way you avoid that problem.

I don't mean to imply that you want to start a community around this along the lines of the LW study hall, but this is what I have found from my attempts. Maybe someone will find it helpful.

Utilizing positive social influence is a pretty common tactic for fighting drug addictions (like in AA), but I haven't really heard of it being used to fight unproductivity.

It's done a lot by different people.

I think there a LW group in Germany who starts their meetups like this. I think in Berlin we did it a while but didn't really now what to do with people who didn't fulfill on their goals. A few people of your Berlin group did pair coaching with each other.

At the moment I do pair coaching with someone from outside the LW sphere.

Mutual management. It does seem like a good idea.

I've tried doing something similar to this with my friends, but it just didn't work. We already knew each other too well, and there wasn't that air of dispassionate professionality. We were friends, but not partners (in this sense of the word).

Interesting. Yeah, kind of the same reasons professional counseling is a good idea. The discussion isn't overloaded with personal and relationship issues.

This looks like a good idea. I feel that adrenaline rush I normally feel when I plan to set up something that will certainly make me work (like when setting up beeminder). However, I wouldn't like to do this via a chat room, unless via email fails. I don't like the fact a chatroom will drag 100% of my attention and time during a specific amount of time. Moreover, my week is not stable enough to commit on fixed weekly chats. I realise that by chat there's more of a social bonding thing that would entail more peer-pressure, but I think that by email there will be enough peer-pressure.

I am willing to set up a weekly deadline where we must send each other a short weekly report, under the penalty of the other party commenting here the other didn't follow through(or some other public forum). The report would contain (1) The next week tasks, (2) how/if past tasks were completed and (3) what were the problems and how to fix it. Then the other party would have the next 48h to submit short feedback. What do you think about that?

The only caveat, for me, would be if I find your tasks extremely boring or useless. Then I would have incentives to want to stop doing this. What types of tasks would you report on? You mentioned productivity goals. Does that mean we will only share self-improvement goals of increasing productivity? This looks like something (1) without a clear success definition, and (2) too personal for someone I just met. I prefer to share actual, first-order, concrete tasks, not tasks of improving tasks. I'm currently working on my thesis draft chapter about complexity of value and moral enhancement, and on a paper about large-scale cooperation.