Procrastination is due to internal conflicts which need problem solving.

If part of you doesn’t want to do something, then that’s a conflict that should be rationally resolved. Trying to just do it is suppressing part of yourself and is a win/lose attitude not a win/win solution.

If you find you procrastinate on something, or partly feel like procrastinating on it, then part of you doesn’t want to do it. That is a conflict. If you were unconflicted, you wouldn’t even be tempted to procrastinate.

If you have trouble with getting started, but you like something once you start, then you have a conflict – part of you dislikes it. There’s a problem to solve there. The problem is not with becoming more motivated or learning “life hacks” to avoid procrastination. The solution shouldn’t be to find more ways to get started (you can do that, or not, but it won’t address the primary issue). The problem is there is an objection – a criticism – inside you which you have not refuted and should not assume is wrong.

People often fail to recognize these things as inner conflict, or fail to view them as disagreements between pieces of knowledge, or don’t even try to do problem solving about the ideas themselves. They do meta problem solving based on assuming a conclusion. Like they blame poor motivation and try to find ways to be more motivated and get themselves to do the activity. They don’t respect the other side as having an substantive disagreement and possibly being right. Maybe you shouldn’t do the activity or should make changes to the activity before doing it.

They think it’s a conflict between e.g. “this is a great activity that will benefit me a lot” and “lazy”. It isn’t. Part of you doubts it’s great or beneficial, or perhaps part of you thinks the activity is so horrible that it isn’t worth the benefits that come later. You need to recognize that if you’re avoiding doing something, part of you thinks it should not be done (as-is with no modifications).

Sometimes there is a quick fix. Say you have to write an essay for class but you’re avoiding it. Conceivably, your typical study room has too much CO2 and you have negative intuitions about spending much time in that room, but you wouldn’t mind writing the essay in a different place. The intuition was about the room not the essay. That doesn’t sound very likely but it’s possible and would enable a quick fix of studying outside (or maybe using a different room or opening some windows would work).

Sometimes, there isn’t a quick fix. Part of you doubts that graduating and getting your degree is worth it. Part of you doubts you’re learning much from doing the tasks your teachers order you to. Part of you doubts the degree will lead to a good job that you actually like. And also, part of you finds essay writing unpleasant, because you don’t really understand how to write and are just muddling through. And it’s unpleasant because you aren’t interested in the assigned topic (maybe the topic is bad or maybe you just don’t understand it and see the value, or maybe it’s a good topic for other people but doesn’t fit you). Maybe you shouldn’t be writing this type of essay on topics where you have nothing to say, and instead should be writing exploratory learning-oriented things focused on figuring the topic out, not focused on stating and arguing for a conclusion about the topic.

People have chronic problems because e.g. they are conflicted about college but they enroll anyway, leaving that conflicted unaddressed. Then when they’re conflicted about an essay, there is also an underlying conflict about being in school at all (or the conflict could be about being at that specific school, or being in that particular major, or being in school right now instead of taking a gap year to travel first, etc.).

When you don’t resolve conflicts and layer on more conflicts, it gets hard to untangle. A conflict about an essay layered on a conflict about school is harder to deal with than just one or the other. And there can be many more layers.

The solution isn’t to start your life over or get a clean slate or make revolutionary changes. Don’t just try to declutter every big choice in your life such as going to university. You usually are better off with a slow transition and you can be happy with a plan to change gradually. The part of you that doesn’t like school can understand, appreciate and agree with a slow transition plan as long as its real and honest. If the plan to change is fake – something you’re never really going to do – then you probably won’t really fool yourself and will remain conflicted. Even if you trick part of yourself, that will only work temporarily and later on you will realize you aren’t actually transitioning.

Quick, large changes usually don’t work well because part of you wants to do what you’re doing. E.g. part of you thinks university is good. Just quitting immediately would ignore part of you just like attending is ignoring part of you – and it’d be more disruptive to your life. A quick, large change sometimes does work well if it’s due to actual problem solving – if you actually successfully resolve a conflict quickly, then you can act based on what all parts of you now favor (but even then, it often takes time to plan and put thought into the new situation, so rushing can be bad).

If you rush into big changes, you can screw them up and end up conflicted again in a different way. And often you were actually conflicted about doing them at all. The part of you that is in favor of what you’re currently doing generally isn’t going to want to make drastic, quick changes. If you suppress the pro-university part of you in favor of the anti-university part, and drop out, you’re just swinging the pendulum to the other side, not problem solving. You need a plan that is reasonable from the perspective of all sides of you.

A good plan would figure out your concerns about school, e.g.:

  • some desired benefits will fail to materialize
  • parts of it are a waste of time
  • it’s too expensive
  • it’s filling up your life so you don’t get a chance to do some other things that are very important

So then you’d make a plan to get the important benefits of school while avoiding those downsides. That might involve e.g. going to school in a cheaper and more time-efficient way, or leaving school to pursue a different route to a good career.

You could investigate the parts you think are a waste of time to try to see the point of them. Some have a point. Some could be done in a way with a point. Some could be done faster. Some could be avoided. Some are negatives but aren’t that big a deal. If you did an alternative life path, you also wouldn’t use your time perfectly efficiently. You should seek an approach that’s good enough that you don’t know of any clearly better way to approach your life. You should be satisfied with that (for now, pending new thinking and better solutions). You shouldn’t seek perfection.

You could figure out some financial plan that’ll get you a life you’re happy with. That’s possible despite paying school tuition.

You could prioritize a few really important things in some free time, e.g. on weekends or holiday breaks. If those things are genuinely so important to you, you can prioritize them. If you find yourself going to parties or socializing with buddies instead, and that is why you aren’t doing stuff you “want” to, then stop blaming school. It isn’t your classes that are taking up all your time and not letting you do this other stuff. You need to consider what you like about parties and socializing, and where it should fit in your priorities, and analyze the various parts of you that are conflicted and disagree about it.

You could also consider quitting school. Maybe you could learn the skills faster and cheaper without school, and then get a job despite lacking a degree, and that would be better overall. But is that really going to happen? Maybe you’ll quit school then keep procrastinating on the same topics. Maybe you went to school in the first place because you weren’t enough of a self-starter to learn everything online at home, and you still aren’t, and maybe you can gradually transition to be more of an independent learner who doesn’t need a teacher, but dropping out of school now won’t work well for you.

Generally you’re where you are in life for reasons. It makes a lot of sense to a big part of you. It’s not an accident. Big changes will have often unforeseen, negative consequences. You’ll end up confused, in a foreign situation you don’t know how to handle, where your intuitions don’t work well. If you really think you can be a great self-learner, do it for at least a few months while also attending school. If you just make excuses about how school keeps you too busy for it, it’s doubtful you’d do it after quitting school. If you can make it work in your current life, even though it’s hard, then maybe you could then transition to it as your main approach. Having a lot of success with it on the side might convince the pro-school part of you that it will work and resolve the conflict. Or it might not resolve the conflict – you might still have a lot of intuitions or explicit ideas favoring school – in which case you should analyze what’s going on there more, try more non-disruptive problem solving, etc. Keep up the problem solving until you’re no longer conflicted.

It’s the same with changing careers. Usually you should study your new career and start getting involved without quitting your job. Sure it’s hard in some ways. But if you can’t deal with some challenge, then maybe changing careers isn’t for you (changing careers is widely and accurately considered challenging). And it’s much safer not to just quit first then try a new field second. Maybe you won’t like the new field. Maybe you’ll need to try a bunch of things before you find the right one. Your current job has positives. You wouldn’t have it otherwise. If you quit before having a great alternative prepared, you’re just suppressing a different part of yourself that wanted the job. Don’t quit over vague plans or dreams or hopes. If you really want something else, start fitting it into your current life. If you won’t do that, maybe you don’t want it or are conflicted about it and need to resolve that conflict without assuming in advance what the conclusion will be.

It’s the same with learning CF. If you can’t fit it into your current life some, maybe you don’t care that much. Quitting your job or school with a plan to suddenly start taking CF seriously and learning it a ton probably won’t work out well. If you were actually going to do that, why don’t you do more of it now before quitting?

Similarly, planning to do CF later after you reach a career milestone is unrealistic. If you can’t/won’t/don’t fit it into your life now, why would you later? If you’re just waiting a month, maybe it’s fine and really is a short term issue (though you should be suspicious), but planning to do it later in a few years is probably just lying to yourself so you can view yourself as super rational and smart without having to actually learn a bunch of smart, rational stuff.

It’s different if you’re working 80+ hour work weeks or you’re a slave or indentured servant. It’s hard to fit extra stuff into that life. If you’re working 3 jobs, it’s hard to fit in more stuff. But if you have a 40 hour work week at one job in the U.S. today, that is not taking up your whole life anymore than college is. College plus a full time job is really hard, or college plus a part time job and a kid to take care of. If you have multiple big things – parenting, jobs, college, etc. – at the same time, it gets a lot harder to fit in other stuff. People in those situations usually aren’t really in a position to just quit and change directions in life. They are working multiple jobs because they really need the money in the short term. They can’t quit being a parent. Some people have more privilege than others and nothing I said about introducing new things into your current life without quitting a big thing to free up time was intended to say that the people in really hard situations could realistically do that. Maybe by a heroic effort they could. But there are also a lot of other people in easier situations who absolutely could do philosophy on the side without that much trouble if they wanted to, and I was speaking more to them.

Conflict Resolution

In each case of being conflicted, you should investigate what you like and dislike about the activity or idea that the conflict is about. Why you want to do or think that? What’s the good here? What’s the bad?

Is there a single thing you consider both good and bad? Or are the good and bad parts separate? Maybe you could separate and do only the good parts without the bad parts?

Procrastination is based on internal conflicts between different parts of yourself (different ideas or pieces of knowledge within you). It’s an indicator that problem solving is needed to resolve your conflicts.

Resolving your conflicts follows the same general methods as rational critical discussion or rational debate. Rational thinking and problem solving is just one method whether you do it alone or with other people. Doing it alone tends to involve more introspection and more gathering data points about your intuitions, but isn’t fundamentally different.

To resolve a conflict between ideas means finding a win/win solution – a resolution that all sides in the conflict are satisfied with and have no strong objection to. There are a some standard techniques you can use (in no particular order).

First is finding and pointing out an errors (criticism). An error lets a side can see how/why they were wrong and change their mind. If you understand why you were wrong about something, it’ll change what you want.

There are two main responses to criticism: either changing your mind or giving a counter-argument. You can either agree or disagree with the criticism. The counter-argument can point out that the criticism has an error or that it’s incomplete in some way (so it’s correct as far as it goes but it’s insufficient for changing your mind). After a counter-argument, further criticisms and layers of counter-arguments may be made.

Second, you can look at things with a different perspective. Sometimes instead of trying to point out why some reasoning is wrong, it’s more effective to view the situation in a different way. Sometimes the reasoning was better viewed as incomplete rather than wrong.

Third, you can learn new things. Any new, relevant knowledge may be helpful.

Fourth, you can consider why each side wants what it wants. What are some higher level values or goals they have? In this way, you can find common ground, e.g. both sides want you to be happy. In that case, where there is a shared value, you can figure out a plan to get it which will satisfy both sides. The sides may disagree about some specifics, but at least one side is mistaken and truth-seeking could resolve the conflict. (This also works with more than two sides but then it’s harder and more complicated. In that case, it can help to temporarily set some ideas aside and try to resolve a conflict between only two sides at a time.)

Fifth, you can break the problem into smaller parts and try to resolve them one at a time.