The Motivation Hacker by Nick Winter

Rating: 7/10

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High-Level Thoughts

One of the best “bang for your buck” productivity books. Many of the concepts are presented elsewhere, but it’s a fun way of getting reintroduced to them and a good way of framing productivity.

Summary Notes

“Hack like this: first pick your goals, then figure out which motivation hacks to use on the subtasks that lead to those goals—and then use far more of them than you need, so that you not only succeed, but that you do so with excitement, with joy, with extra verve and a hunger for the next goal.”

Motivation = (Expectancy x Value) / (Impulsiveness x Delay)

  • Expectancy = confidence of success
  • Value = how rewarding a task will be when you finish it & how fun it is when you’re doing it
  • Impulsiveness = distractibility, how likely you are to put a task off and do something more pressing
  • Delay = how far off the reward seems to be

By increasing Expectancy or Value, or decreasing Impulsiveness or Delay, you hack motivation.

Psychologist George Ainslie’s version of willpower: “The will is a recursive process that bets the expected value of your future self-control against each of your success five temptations.” The will is a process of making personal rules for ourselves that will help us reach our goals, and how much willpower we can muster is precisely how good we are at setting up these personal rules so that we prefer to keep our rules than break them.

Success Spirals:

  1. Make a tiny achievable goal that you can’t forget to do.
  2. Track your success doing this goal.
  3. Give your goal a completion date.
  4. Once you complete your goal, up it to a bigger goal.

Focus on input based process goals (write for five minutes) rather than output-based results goals (write one page). And keep the required inputs minimal at first.

Investor John Templeton: “The four most expensive words in the English language are, “This time it’s different.”

Precommitment: Using a commitment device to choose now to limit your options later, preventing yourself from making the wrong choice in the face of temptation. Putting money on the line, publicly announcing your goals, etc.

Burnt Ships: List out all of your possible distractions, and then make it so that it’s impossible to do those things when you want to be working toward your other goals. This saves you from having to use willpower to resist them.

Rejection Therapy: Get over your fear of starting things by going out and trying to get rejected by asking for odd things from people.

“Rationalization is how most goals die, you convince yourself that it’s okay to not do what you told yourself you would do—and if you can develop the habit of noticing it and defeating it, then you’ll be more effective in achieving your goals.”

Goal picking exercise:

  1. Imagine your ideal day. What do you do? Whom do you talk to? Where do you go? Pick a few goals that will bring you closer to that ideal day.
  2. Make a list of every crazy goal you can think of. Then rate each goal on three factors: how much the goal excites you, your probability of success if you tried as hard as you could, and how long it would take in hours. Then sort them by excitement x probability of success / time and pick the most efficient goals.
  3. Imagine you’re another person more competent than yourself who has just dropped into your current life at this moment with none of your current obligations and all of your current predicaments. What would you do? This gets around the sunk cost fallacy.

Don’t make SMART goals, use the CSI Approach. Your goals should be:

  • Challenging (motivating and exciting)
  • Specific (not abstract)
  • Immediate (avoid long-delayed goals and focus on what you can do now)
  • Approach-oriented (as opposed to avoidance goals)

If you track your happiness during activities, you’ll get a more accurate picture of how much you enjoyed it without giving in to the peak-end effect.

Collect fun-dense activities and use those for leisure, don’t spend time on wimpy distractions that aren’t that fun.

Breaking projects down makes the end feel much sooner and keeps motivation higher.

To limit Impulsiveness, you can use time boxing (Pomodoro)

Percentile Feedback by Seth Roberts: You graph your progress throughout the day as a percentage of the day spent working since you woke up, and at the same time, you plot it against all the previous days so that you can see how you’re doing compared to the past.

Learning Strategy:

  • Get excited about a skill
  • While you’re excited, make time and hack up motivation to practice it
  • Learn how to practice it from reading or from a teacher
  • Start doing it right away

Whatever goals you pick, you should have some way of measuring the results. Many goals are about making you happier, so make sure you’re measuring your happiness.

“When I was starting success spirals, I thought I could average twenty minutes of Anki practice a day. I thought of the planning fallacy and cut that in half for a conservative estimate, then performed a Hofstadter adjustment and set me success spiral goal for five minutes a day.”

“I can’t count how many times I’ve told myself I could do something without needing to get too strict about it, only to rationalize quitting (or postponing) when the going gets tough.”

Don’t make the mistake of under hacking your motivation and then not completing the goal!

“Stopping after you reach a goal is better than stopping before you start, during your pursuit, or never.”

Increasing Expectancy:

  • Success Spirals: Win at something small then keep leveling it up
  • Vicarious Victory: Hang out with motivated people
  • Mental Contrasting: Visualize the success you want to have and then contrast it with where you are now
  • Guarding Against Excessive Optimism: Don’t get trapped by the planning fallacy

Increasing Value:

  • Find Flow
  • Find Meaning: Look for ways to connect tasks to major life goals
  • CSI Approach goals
  • Optimize Your Energy
  • Productive Procrastination: If you can’t do your main work, get other little tasks out of the way
  • Create Rewards: When you succeed, celebrate it, by congratulating yourself or giving yourself a treat
  • Focus on Passion: Know what you’re passionate about and steer your life towards those passions
  • Task Trading: If you don’t want to do something find someone who will trade that task with you

Reducing Impulsiveness:

  • Make a recommitment
  • Burn your ships
  • Set goal reminders
  • Timebox your tasks
  • Build useful habits
  • Schedule play before work, so you know when you’re taking a break

Reducing Delay:

  • Break your goals down so the ends feel nearer
  • Let yourself plan fallaciously so you’re more motivated

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