I have terrible self-control in certain areas of my life. Chief among my vices is the habit of staying up late on the internet (YouTube is my drug of choice). While I rationally know staying up late is bad for me, I act contrary to my best interests with each rationalization of “just one more video.” Suddenly, it’s 3 o’clock in the morning and my lunch for work still hasn’t been made.
In an effort to combat my akrasia (Greek for “weak will”), I’m taking a leaf out of Odysseus’s book. In the Odyssey by Homer, Odysseus is faced with sailing past some Sirens. In antiquity, Sirens were dangerous mythological creatures who would lure sailors to their doom using their song. Odysseus wanted to hear the Siren’s call, but knew he would be unable to resist their spell. In a brilliant move, Odysseus had his crew stuff their ears with beeswax to block out the song, and Odysseus had himself lashed to the ships mast to prevent him from leaving the ship.
Odysseus and the Sirens by Herbert James Draper, c. 1909 – jigboxx.com, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9684835
The story of Odysseus is held up in modern behavioural economics and psychology as an exemplar of not only acknowledging that humans are notoriously bad at acting in their own best interest, but also in showing us that we can take steps to overcome our weaknesses. Odysseus, rather than holding on to illusions that he will make good decisions in the future, instead opts to build systems of accountability that will save him from erroneous beliefs about the strength of his will.
Inspired by his story, I have adopted a new system to resist my own Siren’s call. I hooked my wifi router up to an indoor vacation timer and set it so that every night at 11:45pm, my internet gets shut off. The systems stays off while I’m at work and turns back on at 5:00pm as I’m getting home from work.
This is obviously not a fool-proof system. I can still manually override the unit if I want to reconnect to the internet, and truthfully I have done just that when I wanted to finish creating my slide decks for class and upload them to the e-learning system the college uses. So far, I have not overridden the system for personal reasons, so on that front, at least, it has been a success. Another obvious problem is that while my internet is shut off, I can still distract myself with other screens, such as the television, my Gameboy, and most critically my phone.
Nevertheless, I rate this systems as a success in getting me off the computer earlier than normal. In previous posts I discussed how I am waiting for the term to wind down so that I can begin to focus on other, less pressing tasks. This is just a first step in getting me to make responsible decisions that are aligned with my goals and values. Sometimes, we need to lash ourselves to the masthead to stop us from doing stupid stuff.