Offloading Executive Functioning to Morality

by weft 1 min read14th Oct 20176 comments


tl;dr- "My executive functioning doesn't work, so I use morality instead."

From an outside perspective it's a little hard to tell that I don't have a lot of executive functioning. I keep my living space relatively clean, I get places relatively on time, I maintain a regular 9-to-5, and I have a lot of side projects in my free time that I generally manage to complete. But my life wasn't always that way, and most of the general rationality/CFAR methods of coping don't work at all for me. Getting diagnosed as an adult with ADD and trying a variety of medications also didn't work at all for me. Obviously, generalizing from one mind is a particularly Bad Idea in my case as I'm rather an outlier, but hopefully things that work for me might be useful for other people. (This may end up as a sequence of Things That Work for Me, but for today I'm just focusing on one.)

One way I manage to function is to have employment or other life aspects where I feel it is a Moral Imperative to Do The Thing. I call this "Offloading my executive functioning onto my morality," and it pretty much means setting up my life in a way where Doing Things comes naturally, because otherwise there are immediate negative effects on people I care about. I don't want to get into EvPsych stuff, but I feel it is a more natural motivation and How Humans Are Wired.

A bunch of examples:

Bad Idea: Have a job that lets you arrive whenever. Your arrival time has no effect on anyone else's work.

Good Idea: Have a job where a specific person is depending on you to arrive on time. Maybe your friend can't leave his shift until you arrive for yours. Maybe you are teaching a karate class and arriving late is wasting a bunch of people's time.

Bad Idea: RSVP to events with "Maybe", so that no one's put out if you don't show.

Good Idea: RSVP to events with "Yes, AND I need a ride" or "Yes, AND I'll bring dessert" so that not showing up is causing a detriment to other people.

Bad Idea: Have a job like academia where even if your research might be hugely useful, it is theoretic in application and far in the future.

Good Idea: Have a job like teaching or nursing, where people are relying on you, and not-working has immediate, visible, detrimental results for other people.


In a more traditionally rational framing, these can be summarized as: Use social pre-commitment techniques, and keep things in near mode (Far mode morality does not work for this use for me). But the framing of "Use Morality Instead" tends to point more naturally at the thing that works for me.

Note: A possible downside of this is that I am much less tolerant of things like "People showing up really late for a one-on-one meeting", because my method of functioning assigns those behaviors as "Morally Bad".