Pain descent vs. pleasure ascent

Beeminder is a great tool for increasing agency, but since it works by increasing the pain associated with following your immediate incentives until you snap into working on longer term goals, it seems limited in that regard (especially since you have to overcome an initial twinge of pain to create beeminders). From my personal observations, I’m most agentic when what I want to work on feels like ascending a slope of curiosity or positive emotion. Usually this is intrinsic to the task in some way: putting a puzzle together becomes easier as you assemble it, but the desire to see it complete and associated rush also become stronger.

Related thoughts/questions/notes:

  • ADHD/autism/disorders with hyperfixation components are experienced internally as a massive spotlight that occasionally constricts to a hairs width when a steep enough slope is found.
  • Maybe the main effect of medications for those disorders is allowing the perceived valence landscape to constrict to a specific “directional derivative” that you want it to, rather than sprawl diffusely over everything else. Doing that might change the relative feeling of “rush”.
  • A subset of really successful or impressive people I know (this isn’t broadly true, though is more common among people with autistic/attention-deficit traits) seem to have an internal experience of work that resembles addiction or dependency far more than discipline.
  • If we can artificially modify the pain landscape (without substances), why can’t we do the same to the pleasure landscape (without substances)?
    • What methods might already exist for this/could be repurposed for it?
    • I’ve heard of trying to convince yourself that you like something, but this seems limited by the amount of pleasure convincing yourself delivers.

The “energy landscape” model of the mind used here is of course extremely limited and probably deeply incorrect, but I think it’s a metaphor that seems true enough to point to more interesting innovations in productivity/akrasia technology. I’m curious if other people have previously had similar thoughts about this.


Not sure what this means: “allowing the perceived valence landscape to constrict to a specific “directional derivative” that you want it to”
Like ADHD medication lets you change what the Good Feelings apply to, so that you get Really Good Feelings when you work on things in line with your intention?

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I’ve also thought about whether I can make myself more obsessed with work. It would be very convenient to feel about my job the way I feel about hyperfixations.

I think access to an easy flow of information about a topic is mostly what gets me into a hyperfixation. “Here’s some info, can I find more? I can! I succeeded at finding more info! Oh let’s do that again, I love succeeding!”

It’s hard to apply that to a field where I am the Information Creator. But maybe it would be cool if a chatbot spat out a bunch of fun facts about the history of whatever specific thing is I’m working on.


I’d add that as you do more of a thing, you get better at it, and get more pleasure/less pain from doing it. You might also find yourself doing it faster and faster (of course there’s a limit to that). Or you learn more about the intricacies of the thing and find new aspects to appreciate that you didn’t even know existed.