Akrasia (not a place in Asia)

Akrasia (say it with me…Ah-Krah-see-ah) is not a country in Asia. Although it looks like it could be the name for a small nation sandwiched in somewhere.

Akrasia is essentially all about willpower. It’s that feeling of knowing you “should” get something done but you don’t. It’s being told smoking is bad for you and you know you should pack in but heck, it’s too hard. The concept of willpower isn’t something new. It’s been discussed since Socrates and Plato gathered with their friends. You see, while the ancient Greeks might not have had extra large bags of Doritos and 24 packs of beer to worry about, they still had plenty of things that required willpower. It’s quite a key topic at this time of year because it always take willpower if you have a resolution and Akrasia is your “ah forget it” state of mind.

There’s a lot of different ways to approach the concept of willpower and psychologists are always conducting big experiments to test theories and I won’t try and attempt to explain all that data. But heres some basics…

  • Willpower is limited. Which means, the more you try to take on, the more likely you are to fail. So an extreme diet and exercising regime may bring fast results but it’s also easier to fall off the bandwagon. Whereas, small habitual changes are more likely to stick
  • We tempt ourselves and that inner voice. We make it harder for ourselves by making things more difficult. It’s dieting when you have a pack of beer and a years supply of cheese in the fridge. Or signing up for a gym thats 20 miles away. If we make things more difficult, you’re more likely to give in and drop it. Assist yourself by getting rid of temptation and making things as easy as possible. Why do a lot of celebrities have home gyms(I watched MTV Cribs back in the day)? Its a lot harder to skip if you only have 10 metres to travel.
  • There are still loads of things we don’t understand about the human brain so its fair to say that it’s likely decades before someone brings out some kind of “motivator drug” that will just turn you into a super dedicated akrasia free pillar of commitment. So until then…you’re kind of stuck with what you’ve got.

So how to deal with Akrasia?

Some tips:

  • The basic motivators are towards and away from. People try to go “towards” money, promotions, praise, contribution, social rewards etc. People try to get “away from” failing courses, losing money, pain etc. So you need to try and anchor these feelings to aid you in your willpower. Have you ever been lazy and left work until the last minute then all of a sudden the day before you’ve had a fire lit under you and you cram and get it done? Why? Because the pain of not getting it done is so much more real the day before. All of a sudden you’ve thought “uh oh…this is bad.”Take that and use it. Think about the positives and negatives in detail before attempting something. Because if you don’t have a genuine understanding of “why” you want to do something, it’s a lot easier to drop it, because “why not?”

Here’s the thing…

The word decide comes from the latin expression decidere which means “to cut off”. So when you make a real decision, you’re cutting off other possibilities. There are no other options on the table. You’re committed. If you always have another option on the table, then you’re not cutting them off and in turn you’re not being truly decisive.

This motivation stuff bugged Plato around 2400 years ago and it still bugs the hell out of people in 2017. It isn’t easy. If it was then I’m sure everyone would be rocking beach ready bodies all year round and we’d all be achieving great things day in day out.

Whatever you’re aiming for, whatever your goal – it has to start with a clear decision. Because if you haven’t truly decided on what you want – how the hell do you expect to stick with it when it get’s tough?