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A Short Lesson About Will Power A Short Lesson About Will Power

05-22-2010 , 08:53 AM
David wrote:
"Train yourself to obey your thinking mind rather than your feelings. Some types of people have learned how to do it (e.g., astronauts, battlefield commanders, and emergency room physicians.) In fact, if their minds canít control their emotions, they canít get through the stressful training. I havenít had that sort of training, but I developed a shortcut. Rather than fight my emotions, I developed a philosophy of sorts that gives me PLEASURE from sticking to my resolutions and PAIN from violating them."

I'm going to make a confession: I have always had a problem with will power. I've tried to apply David's system, but have not been too successful. For example, I've said to myself, "I'm going to quit playing at 11 o'clock or no dessert tomorrow." But I kept playing until 3 and then ate dessert the next day.

But I felt guilty, and that guilt slightly increased my will power. The next time I say I'm going to quit at a certain time, I'm more likely to do it.

I'm certainly not the only one with will power problems.

Have you tried to apply David's system?

What happened?

What did you learn from trying to apply it?

Any suggestions for the rest of us?
05-22-2010 , 10:10 AM
I don't think David's philosophy is anything unique - to me it seems like pretty much the definition of willpower. It is nonsensical to keep making choices that genuinely bring you more suffering than joy. I'm sure astronauts, battlefield commanders, surgeons and so on get firm satisfaction from performing optimally, and feel very bad if they fail. The problem is rather between now vs. later. It feels good to keep playing now, but you're going to feel bad about it later. It feels good to eat that dessert now, but you're going to feel bad about it later. What we want to do, is to bring the later into now as much as possible.

You can't directly choose your impulses, but what you can choose to do is to concentrate your cognitive capability to visualising the future, and this visualisation will help to sway your impulses. If you visualise very strongly how good you are going to feel if you go to bed at the right time and how bad you are going to feel if you don't, it will degrade your impulse to keep playing. Also, if you do succeed, don't shy away from complimenting yourself.

I think punishments work far worse than rewards. Rather than think, "if I fail I will not eat the dessert I already have", you should rather think, "if I succeed I will reward myself a dessert that I don't have yet". Do not give yourself the dessert and then try to take it away from if you fail, don't give yourself the dessert in the first place, only when you succeed. It may sound like an irrelevant detail, but if our emotional wiring wasn't badly irrational we wouldn't be considering these things in the first place.

As for activities which utterly consume you, it helps to set mandatory checkpoints. For an example, for anything you do in front of the computer, put a dreadful alarm clock in the next room, so that you are forced to break yourself away from the activity no matter what. Once you break yourself away just for a single moment, it becomes much, much easier to break yourself away completely. Still, don't shut off the alarm - set it 10 minutes later, so that "I'll just wrap these things up" won't end the usual way.

What's best though, is to get a buddy or two involved. Tell them to yell at you when you're not doing what you're supposed to. Other people are a very effective way to sway emotions. Tell someone to call you at 11 and command you to stop the **** playing. It will be much easier to actually stop playing then.

EDIT: Haha, that's a pretty neat idea actually, we should create a support group for willpower advancement, where everyone gives their Skype and then list some goals, and everyone checks up on everyone else's goals to give them a kick up the arse the right time, and compliment them if they succeeded and yell at them if they failed.

I am going to do excercise right now, and cook some pork and sauerkraut plus potatoes.

Last edited by Vantek; 05-22-2010 at 10:22 AM.
05-22-2010 , 12:00 PM
I get the feeling that this topic is contradicting the suggestion from:
http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/17...matism-787617/

Having the will power to make decisions under pressure is very difficult if you don't have principles to guide you. Astronauts, battlefield commanders, and emergency room physicians are professions that are trained to make heavy use of principles (= standard procedures) and have the discipline to stick to them.

The problem with lack of will power and having doubts about yourself is directly linked to a situation where you don't know what you are doing or what to do, when you are simply totally clueless. If you analyze these situations beforehand and come to a correct conclusion about how to proceed, all of your problems will go away like they had never existed in the first place. In other words, if you know the reasons for your actions, your actions will become reasonable and your decisions become very easy.

Quote:
I'm going to make a confession: I have always had a problem with will power. I've tried to apply David's system, but have not been too successful. For example, I've said to myself, "I'm going to quit playing at 11 o'clock or no dessert tomorrow." But I kept playing until 3 and then ate dessert the next day.
My guess would be that you are simply a bad player who is looking for excuses. You probably quit when you are running well, because you fear losing it again and you play long sessions when you are behind trying to win it back. This is why playing long sessions is linked to negative emotions (and ultimately losing money) for you and that is why you want to cut them short somehow by setting yourself ridiculous stop-goals.

Improve your play and get it to a point when +EV decisions become automatic. In other words, work on your "principles". If you don't have to think hard about every single decision, you will be less fatigued and you can play as long as you want. Winners never quit!
05-22-2010 , 12:52 PM
Quote:
The problem with lack of will power and having doubts about yourself is directly linked to a situation where you don't know what you are doing or what to do, when you are simply totally clueless. If you analyze these situations beforehand and come to a correct conclusion about how to proceed, all of your problems will go away like they had never existed in the first place. In other words, if you know the reasons for your actions, your actions will become reasonable and your decisions become very easy.
I wouldn't put it this way. Most of the problem with lack of will power is that you know perfectly well what you should do, but just don't do it. It is inability to accept short-term pain for long-term gain. It is true that analysing helps you because it brings the concern about long-term to the front of your mind, but that is only a small portion of the necessary effort. In the end you still have to just go through with doing something genuinely unpleasant. Otherwise there would be no problem.

Last edited by Vantek; 05-22-2010 at 12:58 PM.
05-22-2010 , 01:59 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Vantek
I don't think David's philosophy is anything unique - to me it seems like pretty much the definition of willpower. It is nonsensical to keep making choices that genuinely bring you more suffering than joy.checkpoints.
The problem is that people value x worth of short term joy over avoiding 2x worth of long term suffering. My idea is to add some short term joy to the moment you are exercising will power by experiencing a good feeling at the moment you are exercising it. Basically pride. Frankly it would be harder for me to feel this, if willpower was a much more common trait. I like feeling superior and having willpower is one of the simpler ways to get this feeling. I can see how someone less misanthropic might not find my strategy as effective.
05-22-2010 , 02:57 PM
Quote:
The problem is that people value x worth of short term joy over avoiding 2x worth of long term suffering.
But I don't think that is true in the scale where willpower is significant. People actually do value the long term option more, they just somehow can't bring themselves to act accordingly, most significantly I would say they will just stop analysing and go on autopilot.

If you actually do value short term over long term, then there is no issue of willpower, it is an issue of just will, a rational decision. For an example, I am well aware that my lifestyle is not optimal for maximising my well-being up to my 60s. But I sincerely just genuinely do not care about what my life will be like in my 60s. Will I feel terrible if I have health issues then that I could have avoided by acting differently now? Absolutely. But right now, I just really do not care about it. I can exerct perfect control over my emotions, and deduce that what my life will be like in my 60s is almost irrelevant compared to what my life is now.

Contrast this with say someone kidnapping me and dragging me to an underground lab and preparing to electrocute me. He gives me a switch (let's assume I'll have enough muscle control to flip it) and says if I tolerate a 10 second electrocution without flipping the switch then he will let me go, but if I flip the switch, he will electrocute me ten times for 30 seconds each starting ten minutes later. It's not that I rationally prefer the much worse electrocution later option, but I am pretty sure I will flip the switch. If he gave me an option to remove the switch, I would be extremely happy to remove from myself the option to flip the switch, because I know I wouldn't have the willpower to follow my rational decision.

If you actually did genuinely value short term over long term, what would be the problem? Why would you even bother with some mental excercise to choose the opposite?

Besides, surely the extent to which you can choose the pride good feeling is clearly limited? It's not like you choose to have the good feeling from pride, you just experience it without any choice or effort taking place. You can only slightly amplify or squelch it, but not create it from scratch.
05-23-2010 , 02:46 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Vantek
I wouldn't put it this way. Most of the problem with lack of will power is that you know perfectly well what you should do, but just don't do it.
Discipline is needed when your brain tells you that you shouldn't do it or you don't need to do it. Basically discipline is needed whenever you are not convinced that you are doing the right thing for whatever reason. Soldiers need a lot of discipline because they put their life in danger for a "higher" purpose. Discipline creates idiots!

Back to our example. Say our hero knows that he tends to have bad results in long sessions and he thinks the reason is fatigue so he sets himself the goal to quit at 11 pm. Once the clock turns 11 he checks his physical condition and comes to the conclusion that he doesn't feel fatigued at all, what should he do? Should he quit only because he set himself the rule or should he make an exception? This is where discipline or will power certainly helps to follow the rule. If it makes sense to do so is a totally different question.

The problem is that his rule appears to be way too primitive. It is not the time on the clock that matters, it is his physical condition. Once he notices that, doubts take over. He does not know what he should do perfectly well anymore! Finally he comes to the conclusion that he can improve on the rule and that is why he keeps playing.

Notice: Violating the rule under these conditions is perfectly fine. If he set himself the goal to stop playing when fatigued and he certainly succeded at that, because he is not fatigued. The outcome of the session is the direct result of his bad play and not his fatigue, he just makes the mistake to blame his losses on violating the rule and not his play.

Why do I assume that he lost? It is easy, because if he had won, he wouldn't think about it. Such questions only arise when you lose.
05-23-2010 , 03:03 AM
In my experience, the real problem is that our hero will "cheat", or procrastinate when it's time to make an unpleasant decision. He will be tired, but he will tell himself that he is not, or he will just go "oh I'll just keep playing a little bit longer and then stop" until the little bit longer has turned into four hours.

Still, what you are talking about can definitely be a factor as well. But I don't think we would be having big problems if that was the only factor.
05-23-2010 , 03:27 AM
Intelligent people, even those who tend to cheat themselves, cannot force themselves to violate the rules of mathematics. 2+2=4, regardless if you like it or not. If you can manage to find logical proof for your rule, it will be virtually impossible for you to violate it.

The better the reason/argument for the rule, the less will power/discipline is needed to follow it.

In a nutshell: When right or wrong is clearly defined, it is very difficult to make a concious decision for wrong.

Last edited by Shandrax; 05-23-2010 at 03:34 AM.
05-23-2010 , 03:46 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by David Sklansky
I like feeling superior and having willpower is one of the simpler ways to get this feeling.
Actually this quote is a good example for my theory above. Feeling superior because you know that you are right (since you have the logically sound arguments on your side) is much better than feeling superior only because of will power or "mojo". In the first case you are in fact superior, in the second case you just have a superiority complex.
05-23-2010 , 03:54 AM
Quote:
If you can manage to find logical proof for your rule, it will be virtually impossible for you to violate it.
Quote:
In a nutshell: When right or wrong is clearly defined, it is very difficult to make a concious decision for wrong.
If only that was true...
05-23-2010 , 05:06 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shandrax
In a nutshell: When right or wrong is clearly defined, it is very difficult to make a concious decision for wrong.
I like where you're trying to go with this thought, but it really depends on how you mean "clearly defined".

I think even most average guys can agree that it's clearly defined that wearing a condom while having sex with a woman that gets around is "the right decision", but a lot of them will go bare-backed at the risk of contracting a disease for the short term pleasure of it. I think it's like David said, at the moment of choice, the short term benefits greatly outweighed the long term detriment/risk.

Now, if our hero (lol?) in this scenario has had a scare with an STD or getting a woman pregnant before, now the decision is more "clearly defined", but not by real definition. It's more clearly defined if you use that phrase to mean that the decision maker truly understands the gravity of the consequences. It's like when a doctor tells someone they need to stop smoking or they'll die. The person may have even known before hand that this was going to be the solution, and we could say in that case that the right and wrong was clearly defined, but the actual decision to do the right thing wasn't implemented until someone else basically made the decision for them. Basically, I'm saying that even if something is clearly defined, people still take short term benefits at the expense of long term detriments all the time.


(pardon any rambling, it's 5am and i can't sleep)
05-23-2010 , 06:47 AM
It is absolutely clear that most decisions in life are way too complex to be theoretically solved. The consequences simply depend on too many things beyond our control like the wings of a butterfly. It gets somewhat easier in games where only a small set of rules exists and where our options are severely limited.

Btw, please notice that when it comes to war, government likes to work with simplified pictures like good versus evil which stands for right and wrong. This is how try to make their decision easier for you and me to follow. The funny thing is that the evil opponent is doing exactly the same, only with "colors reversed".
05-24-2010 , 02:07 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Al Schoonmaker
David wrote:
"Train yourself to obey your thinking mind rather than your feelings. Some types of people have learned how to do it (e.g., astronauts, battlefield commanders, and emergency room physicians.) In fact, if their minds canít control their emotions, they canít get through the stressful training. I havenít had that sort of training, but I developed a shortcut. Rather than fight my emotions, I developed a philosophy of sorts that gives me PLEASURE from sticking to my resolutions and PAIN from violating them."

You think that would still work for a masochist?
05-25-2010 , 08:48 PM
Discussions on willpower are universally frustrating to me, and I'm a little bummed out that David wasnt able to do any better than a dozen other attempts. His solution to the willpower problem is to push it another turtle down. As if somehow "the ability to derive pleasure from sticking to principles" or "the ability to conceive a plan to derive pleasure from sticking to principles" were somehow materially different from just "having willpower." As if any of these things were somehow a matter of choice in a way materially different from simply "having willpower."


If you can do the above "shortcut" then you have willpower. Whatever system you manage to craft that allows you to do the unpleasant things in the short-term and realize long-term benefits, this is what everyone else calls willpower. Willpower is a catch-all term that encompasses both "the insight and foresight to realize the difference between short-term and long-term" and "the confirmation bias and recall bias (and some other biases) that allow you to pretend that your difficult, painful past decisions were in fact wise and led you to your wonderful present state, regardless of whether they were in fact stupid and suboptimal."
05-25-2010 , 08:53 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by David Sklansky
The problem is that people value x worth of short term joy over avoiding 2x worth of long term suffering. My idea is to add some short term joy to the moment you are exercising will power by experiencing a good feeling at the moment you are exercising it. Basically pride. Frankly it would be harder for me to feel this, if willpower was a much more common trait. I like feeling superior and having willpower is one of the simpler ways to get this feeling. I can see how someone less misanthropic might not find my strategy as effective.
The concept "not valuing x(s) more than 2x(l)" is identical to "adding short term joy/pride." You arent coming up with a solution for lack of willpower, or for lack of foresight. You are just saying the same thing with different words. The "uncommon" people with this trait of willpower are merely the people who use your solution+the people who dont feel as much suffering when they do crunches.
05-25-2010 , 08:55 PM
Its somewhat analogous to heaping praise on an athlete because of his superior work ethic and his willpower which allows him to work out harder than anyone else in the league, while at the same time dismissing the athlete with "natural-born" athletic skill....as if the two things were in any way different.
05-25-2010 , 10:36 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by vhawk01
Discussions on willpower are universally frustrating to me, and I'm a little bummed out that David wasnt able to do any better than a dozen other attempts. His solution to the willpower problem is to push it another turtle down. As if somehow "the ability to derive pleasure from sticking to principles" or "the ability to conceive a plan to derive pleasure from sticking to principles" were somehow materially different from just "having willpower." As if any of these things were somehow a matter of choice in a way materially different from simply "having willpower."
It is different. Did you read the chapter? I propose having willpower for will power's stake. And to actually give yourself willpower exercises concerning things that don't matter. The reason why that is important is because at the moment a person is contemplating abandoning his resolution he often rationalizes a good reason to do so (which he later regrets). "I have to have this pie to not be impolite to my host". "I am not going to work out today because I think I am coming down with a cold."

But if you make "not lying to yourself" more important than the subject matter itself, then the pleasure you get from sticking to it or the guilt you feel from not sticking to it may be just what you need to actually give you the willpower you otherwise lack.

To illustrate further, suppose I say to someone who can't lose weight that I will give hnim a million dollars if he does. He succeeds and perhaps I stiff him. But whether I do or not I artificially gave him willpower. My scheme is essentially a variation of that except you are rewarding yourself.
05-25-2010 , 10:50 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by David Sklansky
It is different. Did you read the chapter? I propose having willpower for will power's stake. And to actually give yourself willpower exercises concerning things that don't matter. The reason why that is important is because at the moment a person is contemplating abandoning his resolution he often rationalizes a good reason to do so (which he later regrets). "I have to have this pie to not be impolite to my host". "I am not going to work out today because I think I am coming down with a cold."

But if you make "not lying to yourself" more important than the subject matter itself, then the pleasure you get from sticking to it or the guilt you feel from not sticking to it may be just what you need to actually give you the willpower you otherwise lack.

To illustrate further, suppose I say to someone who can't lose weight that I will give hnim a million dollars if he does. He succeeds and perhaps I stiff him. But whether I do or not I artificially gave him willpower. My scheme is essentially a variation of that except you are rewarding yourself.
Ok. Perhaps as a practical matter this could have some modest, short-term benefits, like a version of Pascal's Wager. But who are these people who are going to be able to fool themselves like this? How do you trick yourself into believing that you are actually having fun being miserable? If you are capable of this, then you already have willpower. You've exchanged the "willpower necessary to lose weight" with the "willpower necessary to deceive yourself into enjoying suffering." How are these different? I can probably make myself play along for a while, but eventually it will get hard and I will "realize" it was all just a trick I was trying to play on myself. Like I said, its just one turtle down.

Your point about the million dollars is of course dead on, but to me, "willpower" is essentially synonymous with "endogenous source of fake million-dollar bribes." Of course its true that for every 100 fatties, there are 10 who could be encouraged to "gain willpower" and lose weight for $1000, another 10 who could do it for $5000, and so on, such that if you put a gun to their loved ones heads eventually all of them would lose weight. The reason fatty is fat, and skinny isnt, is essentially because he values not dieting more, and no one has come along and shifted his preferences with the appropriate bribe yet. Most of these bribes are exogenous. You are suggesting creating artificial ENDOGENOUS bribes, which is what I call willpower. Its a slightly nuanced way of doing it but I just dont see how you dont see right through it shortly. Basically your suggestion can be restated "feel the burn."

No I didnt read the chapter, in full disclosure, I'm basing my comments on your posts ITT.
05-25-2010 , 11:44 PM
In order for my technique to work you probably have to be a competitive person. If you are, many of the endeavors will give you willpower even without my trick. eg working out. But not all. Such as not cheating on your wife. There is no competitive event associated with that. So you have to revert to thinking that sticking to resolutions is itself a competitive event that you want to excel in.
05-26-2010 , 12:36 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by fafax
You think that would still work for a masochist?
I think most masochists prefer physical pain rather than emotional.

I like sexy women to bite me, but not belittle me.
05-26-2010 , 02:16 AM
Quote:
Its somewhat analogous to heaping praise on an athlete because of his superior work ethic and his willpower which allows him to work out harder than anyone else in the league, while at the same time dismissing the athlete with "natural-born" athletic skill....as if the two things were in any way different.
They are different. It is not possible to improve or waste "natural born" athletic gift. It is always possible to improve or waste work ethic and willpower. A few unlucky guys will get screwed because their brain doesn't work right, but they're rare.
05-26-2010 , 10:55 AM
Hi Everybody,

Despite enjoying this discussion, I must point out that nearly everyone has not even tried to answer my original questions:

1. Have you tried to apply David's system?
2. What happened?
3. What did you learn from trying to apply it?
4. Any suggestions for the rest of us?

Academic discussions are unlikely to improve your own will power. If you want to do so, I encourage you to TRY David's system, then tell us what happened and what you learned.

More generally, I have seen the same tendency in most threads in this and other forums. It's fun to talk about definitions, etc., but it won't have much impact. The evidence is overwhelming that you are unlikely to change any "skill" without practice and feedback.

Someone will probably want to debate whether will power is or is not a skill. I really don't care. I'm interested in solving a problem that nearly all of us have: We don't have enough will power.

If you are one of us, what are you going to DO about it?

Regards,

Al
05-26-2010 , 11:37 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Vantek
They are different. It is not possible to improve or waste "natural born" athletic gift. It is always possible to improve or waste work ethic and willpower. A few unlucky guys will get screwed because their brain doesn't work right, but they're rare.
No. The things you are thinking of as work ethic or willpower are in fact merely the BYPRODUCTS of work ethic and willpower, i.e. "working out a lot" or "dedicating a lot of time to filmstudy." It is possible to work out more or less, that is true. But it is not possible to "have more work ethic" any more than it is possible to "have more attraction to fat chicks." Or at least, I dare you to demonstrate that it is. What is your advice to someone who finds that they dont have as much willpower as they would like? Try, focus, work really hard at developing more willpower? But wouldnt that require....WAIT A MINUTE?!!?!?




Surely, its impossible for me to increase my METAwillpower, right? Or if not that, then at the very least, you cant expect me to increase my metametawillpower.

Last edited by vhawk01; 05-26-2010 at 11:54 AM.
05-26-2010 , 11:47 AM
Ok, Al, I apologize for hijacking, and I'll try to answer for you.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Al Schoonmaker
Hi Everybody,

Despite enjoying this discussion, I must point out that nearly everyone has not even tried to answer my original questions:

1. Have you tried to apply David's system?
Yes.
Quote:
2. What happened?
It worked. But then, I have fairly strong willpower (I think).
Quote:
3. What did you learn from trying to apply it?
My theory was that taste preferences for food were almost entirely habitual, based on environment, and illusory. There were plenty of foods that I "didnt like" but I couldnt square that with the fact that I knew that other people ate them, other people enjoyed them, they contained nutrition, my body requires nutrition, etc. It just didnt make sense to "not like tomatoes." So, for about ten years, I just ate everything, even things that disgusted me, or things that I knew from being a kid that I absolutely hated. The joy I got from doing this was in trying to confirm my theory, and trying to alter/broaden my taste preferences in the long-term.

It worked. I'm down to less than half a dozen food items that I dislike, and I would be more than willing to eat any of them for $5. I cant quite bring myself to enjoy cucumbers, rootbeer, beets and maybe a couple other things, but for everything else that I used to "hate," I can now eat and enjoy them without any problems whatsoever.

This has had some pretty excellent impacts on my life, to be honest. The philosophy and attitude its instilled has spilled over into other "taste" preferences, like music, movies, literature. I'm not quite convinced that all taste preferences are as superficial as my food ones turned out to be. But its at the very least given me the tools to go about broadening my ability to enjoy things.
Quote:
4. Any suggestions for the rest of us?
Not really. I couldnt even imagine trying to explain how you would do this....just eat a bunch of stuff you dont like, and keep doing it until you like it. This doesnt sound like a very fun game and I cant promise you it will be remotely worth it, so I doubt I'd even recommend it.
Quote:
Academic discussions are unlikely to improve your own will power. If you want to do so, I encourage you to TRY David's system, then tell us what happened and what you learned.

More generally, I have seen the same tendency in most threads in this and other forums. It's fun to talk about definitions, etc., but it won't have much impact. The evidence is overwhelming that you are unlikely to change any "skill" without practice and feedback.

Someone will probably want to debate whether will power is or is not a skill. I really don't care. I'm interested in solving a problem that nearly all of us have: We don't have enough will power.

If you are one of us, what are you going to DO about it?

Regards,

Al
Its the internet, thats what its for, nitfests and flamewars. And porn.

      
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