Nicely done, well summarized. I definitely agree with your point that there are almost always multiple conflict sources behind any given instance of akrasia. It's often an exercise in peeling the onion.
My other key takeway from this article was your reminder that it's an important, perhaps core, rationalist skill to learn to look past philosophical differences (law of attraction, religious belief, etc) with experts in any given field, not just self-help or anti-akrasia techniques. Apply your own filter and look for the underlying value. Don't just dismiss the source because some portion of their content is irrational.
So you see warm fuzzies, status boost, and societal good as subtypes of the utilon output of altruistic activities? Interesting.
Thank you for your thoughtful response. As it happens, I disagree with your premise that the negative emotion of the incomplete assignment is almost certainly what makes me procrastinate. Yes, that's a potential factor, but only one of many. For example, there's the difference between anticipated and actual difficulty of performing a procrastinated task progress.
But in the the spirit of rationality, I will give your suggestions a fair trial. You are absolutely correct that the most effective way to figure out what works is to use the scientific approach - design an experiment to test the hypothesis, test, assess the results, and go from there.
I found this article both interesting and informative. I definitely plan to spend some time studying picoeconomics.
One interesting effect that I have found in personal productivity efforts is that applying techniques to enforce resolution and overcome passive resistance can change the perceived emotional weighting between alternatives, often quite rapidly.
For example, let's say I'm reading LW instead of writing a term paper. I've made a (probably irrational) decision that the negative emotion of exerting the effort to write the term paper exceeds the negative emotion of having an incomplete assignment hanging over me. If I apply a pattern interrupt to get me started writing, my emotional weighting will shift, often within a matter of minutes - the effort of writing will not feel nearly as bad as the pressure of the unfinished assignment. Overcoming the emotional inertia of passive resistance shifts the perceived emotional weight of the alternatives.
Of course the challenge is to translate that knowledge into action. Even though I know that the emotional balance will likely shift, that doesn't alter the feeling of initial resistance. That challenge has sold and will continue to sell millions of self help books :) It's like an arms race between future/planning self and present moment self. For every pattern interrupt devised by future self, present self finds a defense to defuse the pattern interrupt and continue the present moment pleasurable activity.
The irony of reading LW as a present moment escape under the nominal guise of strengthening future self's ability to keep present self on course is not lost on me. And on that note, I'm off to get some work done.
Good point. Joining a group introduces a level of implied assent to the group's publicly visible aspects. As Eliezer suggests, if there's a net gain from the utility of the positive aspects of the group less the utility of the negative, on the balance it's worth consideration as long as the negatives aren't fundamental issues. The issue is managing that implied assent.
Perhaps another way to look at this is to explore how to cultivate an individual persona that exhibits independence, but also exhibits a visible capability to deliberately subsume that independence to further group goals, i.e. determine how to show others that you can work with a group while disagreeing on non-core principles. It seems that a great deal of politics involves application of this paradigm.
Yes, it's a great temptation to draw broader conclusions than the actual test results would warrant. This type of test only measures a subset of the factors that inform behavior.
An interesting correlated effect of perceiving someone as awesome is the "we're not worthy" starstruck reaction to meeting the object of your admiration in person. And as Eliezer mentions, you often find reality diverges from the perception that you had. I noticed that a number of bloggers that attended the SXSW conference expressed surprise at the amount of cognitive dissonance that they encountered both in meeting other bloggers whose work they admired, and when admirers of theirs exhibited starstruck behaviors.
I find that in the rare instance where I meet somebody whose work I admire in person, I find myself deliberately suppressing any untoward fanboyish behaviors. I do believe in expressing honest and heartfelt admiration, but gushing and fawning are too much. Maybe I need to devise some sort of metric to calibrate the appropriate expression of admiration... :)
I'll also cast my vote for most hard sci-fi. My exceptionally fundamentalist parents tried to keep me from reading fiction of any sort, particularly sci-fi and fantasy. Once I managed to get my own library card it was all over pretty quickly. In particular I recall being impressed by Heinlein's protagonist's stubborn individualism and resistance to dogma.