There’s a 99% chance you will have this condition during your lifetime

Did you hear the term Akrasia before?

Whenever you “should do” something but resist doing it you’re experiencing Akrasia.

Akrasia is a general feeling that you “should” do something without necessarily deciding to do it. This “should” feeling doesn’t lead to decisions or actions even if the action seems to be in your best interest. Most people experience akrasia when considering:

  • changing habits they no longer want; (“I should quit smoking”),
  • taking a new action (“I should donate to that nonprofit”)
  • contemplating an uncomfortable topic (“I should look into life insurance and talk to a lawyer to write a will”).

Akrasia and procrastination are related but they’re not the same thing. Procrastination occurs when you’ve decided to complete a task but you keep putting it off until later without consciously deciding to do it later. i.e: if you have to answer emails as part of your to-do list but you browse on the internet for hours without answering any, that’s procrastination.

The “should” feeling sticks around but never leads to action generating intense frustration.

Akrasia is a very old problem: discussions about the source go back to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The term comes from the Greek meaning “lacking command over oneself”. Socrates and Plato believed that Akrasia was a moral defect, while Aristotle argued that it stems from a mistaken opinion about what a person “should” do. Even though philosophers have been debating the topic for centuries they haven’t discovered a cure.

Akrasia is one of the most widespread and persistent barriers to getting things done. It order to spend your time making progress instead of fighting both sides in a battle of wills, it’s useful to have a strategy for recognizing and combating akrasia when you recognize it.

Normally, it has four general parts;

  • a task
  • a desired/want
  • a “should”
  • an emotional experience of resistance

Within this framework there can be many potential sources of resistance:

→ You can’t define what you want
→ You believe the task will bring you closer to something you don’t want
→ You can’t figure out how you’re going to get from where you are right now to where you want to be
→ You idealize the desired “End result” to the point that your mind estimates a low probability of achievement resulting in “loss of version”
→ The “should” was established by someone else, not you, prompting “persuasion resistance”
→ A competing action in the current environment promises immediate gratification, while the reward of the task in question will come much later. Psychologists call this “hyperbolic discounting”.
→ The benefits of the action look abstract and distant while other possible actions would provide concrete and immediate benefits. Psychologists call this “construal level theory” or “new/far” thinking.

Akratic situations can take many forms: eating a cookie vs “becoming healthier” by sticking to a diet. Browsing the web versus exercising. Stay in a bad relationship versus moving on. Dreaming about a business idea versus testing it.

Whenever you “should do” something but resist doing it you’re experiencing Akrasia.

Akrasia is a slippery problem, and there’s no easy universal solution. That said, there are many strategies and techniques that are useful in preventing and resolving akratic situations.