Unusual motivational thoughts
I struggle a lot with motivating myself to be productive. I've tried a bunch of standard strategies, but also a few slightly unusual arguments to try and motivate me. No guarantees that they work, though, and some might actually make you feel more guilty.
- Sunk costs. Humans are prone to the sunk cost fallacy, where we irrationally take into account costs that we've already incurred when making decisions. For example, when we've already bought a movie ticket, but then find out about something else we'd rather be doing, we may still go to that movie, because we feel that otherwise the ticket has been "wasted". Perhaps we can think the same way about time that we've spent procrastinating. We've already "spent" that time, but it wouldn't have been entirely wasted if it inspires us to do better in the future. So we can use the instinct behind sunk cost fallacies to push ourselves to do productive things even when we don't feel like it, because otherwise it's not just our time now that's becoming useless, it's also our time in the past.
- Eternalism. Eternalism is, I think, the most widely accepted theory of the philosophical nature of time; it holds that all points in time are equally real, as opposed to there being a privileged present moment. Einsteinian relativity seems to strongly support eternalism, since we can no longer treat time as an objective flow. Instead of the universe being a three-dimensional space which changes over time, we can envisage it as an unchanging four-dimensional block. Whenever we spend time doing something, it's not just a temporary component of our life, but rather something that is captured in this eternal universe, like an insect frozen in amber. Do you want your immortal mark on the universe to be time spent browsing facebook? Me neither.
- Functional decision theory. Thought experiments like Newcomb's Problem indicate that causal connections don't capture all the factors relevant to making decisions: acausal logical links are also important. For example, if you had to decide whether to cooperate with or betray an identical clone of yourself who also faced the same choice, then you know that they will do exactly the same thing that you do: in a sense, when you decide, you're deciding for both of you. The same thing is true, to a lesser extent, for my future self. Whenever I make a decision between working and procrastinating, I know that my future self will very likely make the same decision - so it's not just that I'm choosing between doing the work now and the work later, but rather between doing the work now or waiting until the situation is so desperate that it's no longer relevantly similar. Unfortunately, using FDT as a motivational tool requires a sort of double-think, to avoid the conclusion that if you were unproductive in the past, your current "decision" has already been determined. Perhaps this can be avoided by using it in conjunction with 1.
- Eternal recurrence. Nietzsche has a thought experiment about finding out that your life would reoccur infinitely many times, exactly identical in every detail. How would you feel about that? If you find the idea horrifying and paralysing, it's a sign that you are not achieving your potential.