Advice Life Motivation Productivity Self Improvement Well-Being

The Akrasia Effect: How to Overcome Your Resistance Brain

by Thomas Oppong

Everything you want to achieve is on the other side of resistance.


Image by analogicus from Pixabay

Humans have been putting things off for centuries. Resistance to do what guarantees progress is nothing new.

Resistance is so common that ancient philosophers like Aristotle and Socrates developed a word for it: Akrasia

Akrasia is the state of acting against what you know is the right thing to do. Akrasia is what stops you from becoming a better version of yourself. You could say Akrasia is procrastination.

Humans are awesome at making plans, setting deadlines, and committing to goals but terrible at following through on them.

Our most persistent distractions always seem justified to us — so we keep resisting until we consciously make the decision to make progress or someone demands results from us. Everybody struggles with Akrasia, even experts.

The resistance brain is an active and relentless force whose sole purpose is to stop you from achieving your most important goals. It’s your job is to figure out how to ignore it.

Your resistance brain is doing its job when:

  • You keep postponing that morning routine
  • You find the many reasons why something shouldn’t be done
  • You feel your work is never good enough to show off, be proud of, and showcase

Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from taking action. It will fabricate, falsify, seduce, and convince to choose instant gratification over long-term benefits.

Procrastinating on high-value tasks is choosing to delay a better future.

Missed opportunities, frenzied work hours, stress, overwhelm, resentment, and guilt are a few side effects of Akrasia.

Timothy Pychyl, a psychology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa who has researched procrastination for over 20 years tells Headspace that Procrastination is not a time management problem. “Procrastination is an emotional management problem, ” he says.

How do we move past the Akrasia effect?

A better approach to overcoming Akrasia is learning how to control your emotions. Instead of feeling like doing (or not doing) something, control your emotions and focus on getting the real work done.

Pychyl argues that mindfulness can also help you control how you feel about your tasks. “Mindfulness meditation is absolutely the foundation for conquering procrastination,” he said in an interview with Headspace.

Think about how much you can move the needle if you don’t rely on your emotions to choose what to do every day.

High-performance achievers decide what is important to them and spend a greater percentage of their day moving the needle on their goals — doing the real work no matter how they feel. Motivation doesn’t work.

Make the choice to start and make a choice to focus on your important tasks.

If you’re relying on willpower alone to get things done or become a better version of yourself, you’re doomed to fail.

A powerful way to overcome Akrasia is to proactively take control of your feeling and act on everything important to help you achieve your goals.

Another way to get things done is by learning to work with your body instead of working against it. Identify your peak periods, group your tasks based on importance, and tackle them based on how you’ve ordered them. Do your best work when you are most active.

Akrasia rules our lives because we value immediate gratification over long-term or delayed payoffs. You can easily create goals for your future self, but your present brain can sabotage your efforts because it wants instant gratification.

Learning how to delay the gratification your brain seeks can also help you bridge the gap between when you are and where you want to be in the future.

When you push past your resistance brain, you feel more productive, more fulfilled, and pursue your best ideas.

To follow through on what you set out to do, James Clear recommends you reduce the friction of starting. Getting started is everything.

Starting the work is always the hardest, so make it insanely easy to get started. Once you begin, it’s often less painful to do the work.

“Put all of your effort and energy into building a ritual and make it as easy as possible to get started. Don’t worry about the results until you’ve mastered the art of showing up,” says Clear.

To move in the direction of your priorities, take consistent action, no matter how small daily. You can reach big wins through a series of small wins. Every win is one step toward the end goal.

As the author Louis L’Amour counsels: “Victory is won not in miles but in inches. Win a little now, hold your ground, and later, win a little more.”

Don’t give your brain time to run through all the reasons why it won’t work or why you can’t do it now. Just choose to do the work no matter how you feel. The only guarantee of failure is when you choose instant gratification over delayed payoffs.

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