How to Combat Akrasia

Use mini rewards to make goal-oriented action more pleasurable in the immediate moment. Rewarding yourself for completing smaller chunks of a big task grants you motivating packets of pleasure along the way, instead of having you constantly long for only the grand prize at the end of the road.

Have small, humble goals. A grand, lofty ambition can easily appear so overwhelming and out of reach, not to mention mostly abstract, that you are more inclined to see it as a pipe dream rather than a rousing force that pulls you to action. Breaking down a big goal into smaller ones helps you see the process as more manageable, thus making it easier for you to begin working toward that target.

Embed good habits with ritual and repetition. Implement a structure to your daily routine that will make it automatic for you to perform behaviors toward the achievement of your vision. Once you ingrain such actions in yourself that they become a habit, your lazy self will not even get the chance to talk you out of doing what is truly beneficial for you.

Finally, be honest with yourself as to when you’re making excuses and seeking the good in actions that don’t really serve your interests. No justifications, no rationalizations— just do it! 

How to Combat Akrasia and Develop Self- Discipline

Use Mini Rewards

Sadly, the human brain tends to place a higher value on immediate satisfaction, gains, and rewards than on delayed gratification in the future.
A pleasurable thing sitting right in front of us is always going to feel more significant than an abstract idea of something in the future, making our more emotional, present-based selves overpower our rational selves.
A good way to combat this is to try to make long-term gains more accessible right here, in the present, while at the same time dialing down how pleasurable more immediate temptations feel.
What you want to do is access feelings of pleasure associated with the goal.
Remind yourself why you chose this goal in the first place, and bring some of the pleasure into the here and now so you are compelled to choose it.
Nobody wants to expend effort for a reward that only happens later (or not at all!), so fix the problem by engineering your own mini reward to keep you motivated and focused on the right goal.
What could be experienced as pleasurable in the moment without being the actual fulfilled goal? Think about cutting a task into chunks, not because it’s easier to do and organize, but because you want to emphasize the sensation of having completed something.
It doesn’t have to be anything big— sometimes, simply seeing your progress accurately recorded on a graph is enough to keep you going.
Even doing relatively poorly once in a while can be felt as rewarding if it’s seen in the grand scheme of things.
You can still experience the pleasure of knowing that you’re pushing on and have ticked another day off the list.
Really take your time to acknowledge small milestones and achievements.
Pause and enjoy it.
Share your progress with others.
Do a little visualization where you see yourself one step closer to your goal.
Give yourself a little reward.
All of this is powerfully communicating to your brain: this is what you want, this feels good, keep going.
On the other hand, it might be possible to reduce the pleasure you get from engaging in self-indulgent or addictive behaviors that take you away from your goal.
People do this in all sorts of ways.
You could ask an accountability buddy to playfully shame you when you skimp on your commitments, or pledge to never keep any snacks in the house so that the hassle of driving to the store to get them is more trouble than it’s worth.
Whatever trick you use, the key is to focus on pleasure and goodness.
You want to do what it takes to make the right thing as appealing, comfortable, and pleasant as possible, while the wrong thing seems like a paltry alternative.
It may be no more complicated than regularly checking in with your deeper motivations behind your goals.
If you want to lose weight because you don’t want to die young of diabetes and never meet your grandkids, knowing how to summon that motivation will be a powerful antidote to the charm of a lousy piece of cake.

Keep Things Small and Humble

Anyone can have grand plans and noble visions for how their life could be at some undefined point in the future.
But these can all be toppled by a tiny inconvenience in the present moment.
The wrestling match between your higher rational self and your more emotional, pleasure-driven self happens in the present moment, right here, under your nose.
So, meet it there.
Sometimes, we pass up on goals we genuinely care about precisely because they seem so grand and lofty compared to the minor decadence we’re considering in the moment.
In other words, big goals can be intimidating and overwhelming, making you less likely to stick to them.
After all, the gap between where you are now and where you want to be can seem enormous—and crossing it can seem like a Herculean feat.
It’s no wonder, then, that the little pleasure, distraction, or addiction seems so attractive.
It feels like doing more of the same is simply a natural extension of where you are currently.
If you’re already overweight, what’s one more pound gained, or one more piece of cake? Especially when you consider that losing, say, thirty pounds is going to take much, much more effort.
You may find yourself saying, “I’ll do it …
but tomorrow,” and this is a clear sign that you’ve weighed up the easy cheat today with the difficult task of losing thirty pounds.
But this is actually a distortion.
The truth is that you don’t have to achieve this mammoth goal all at once, in this moment.
You only need to take the steps necessary for today.
The real faceoff is between saying yes to cake and saying no to it.
Your goal is made up of many small actions, and you only need to do one at a time.
Again, breaking down goals is great, but not because it makes each step easier to achieve.
Rather, it sets you up psychologically to feel that each step is achievable.
The first step is most important.
Many of us hold off on beginning a new plan because we’re overwhelmed with the size of the project.
But in reality, you only need to begin.
Take one step.
Forget about end results.
You can take the next step later, but just focus on this one for now.
Our lazy self plays a trick on us: it says that if you can’t do the thing properly, you might as well not do it.
This is nothing more than justification for a bad habit.
Be prepared for this by refusing to be a perfectionist.
If you can’t find a half hour to exercise, then exercise for twenty minutes.
If you can’t exercise for twenty minutes, then exercise for ten.
Even if your only goal for the morning is “write a chapter heading for my report,” doing it means you’ve made progress.
Keep your actions small and humble, and paradoxically, you’ll be giving yourself more of a chance at achieving those grand goals.

Use the Power of Ritual

The best way to get rid of a bad habit is not to eliminate it but to replace it with a good habit.
If your brain likes habits, then why not go with that? Structure, repetition, and routine sound boring, but they are powerful ways to shape and control your sense of motivation.
This is because a good ritual or habit takes the action out of your hands completely— you do something automatically rather than deliberate over it and risk giving your lazy self the chance to step in and cause trouble.
With a good ritual, we are hurried along into action before our minds can come up with excuses or distractions.
Better yet, ritual reinforces the behavior we want to keep performing.
Every time we do something great toward our goals, we cement that action and make it easier to do next time round.
Make the right choice as non-negotiable and automatic as brushing your teeth every day.
Don’t even begin to entertain that voice inside that suggests there’s something more immediately pleasurable to do instead.
An example is someone who wants to jog every day, but has trouble waking up each morning and getting that run in while they have the time.
So, they set up a situation that they literally cannot wriggle out of.
They place a (loud) alarm clock near their running shoes, far from their bed, so they have to get out of bed quickly and run over to the shoes first thing in the morning.
They set another alarm close to the front door for ten minutes later, just enough time to pull on running gear.
Without thinking, they head out the door and start running before their mind has any chance to register how cold the day is or how lazy they feel.
There is no opportunity to kick off with excuses because by the time they wake up, they’ve already started running.