Let me start with the things I like, namely the author’s invention of a self-fulfillingly self-enforcing commitment file:
I once had a file I could write commitments in. If I ever failed to carry one out, I knew I’d forever lose the power of the file. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Since any successful use of the file after failing would be proof that a single failure didn’t have the intended effect, so there’d be no extra incentive.
Then the author gives some cautionary tales about committing to the wrong things. I think these are important. Generally my contention is that the version of you making decisions in the face of immediate consequences is a fundamentally compromised version of you. There are people for whom this isn’t true. And those seem to be the people the author is talking about. Like the person who can’t see how awful grad school is from a distance; they only see it from in the trenches.
(Let me pause here with a reminder that we can both be right, namely, Slate Star Codex’s Should You Reverse Any Advice You Hear?)
But I don’t buy the argument that commitment devices mean teaching yourself to be blackmailed. You can call it blackmailing oneself or simply arranging one’s future incentives. Or simply hard-committing to something you’re certain you want to follow through on.
Which is probably the crux of it: Be really dang sure that the thing you’re committing to is something you really want. We harp on this a lot in Beeminderland. Like the Want-Can-Will Test with the first question “How certain are you that want to do this?”.
I should also mention that Beeminder has what I think is a clever way to minimize the consequences of being wrong about what you really want. We lay it all out in our article on Flexible Self-Control but the idea is that you’re only ever committed for the upcoming week. You can change your commitment and the changes take effect a week from now.
But fundamental to all this is my assumption that you can make rational decisions at a distance. I think it’s good to question this and my suspicion is that there are distinct personalities for whom it’s true and not true.
So maybe this isn’t even a rebuttal. I agree that people should think carefully about the possibility that they’re not actually akratic – that their motivation failures are a symptom of a deeper problem with their goals. Whenever someone misdiagnoses their goal problems as akrasia it’s quite an epiphany. They make a more fundamental change in their life and their motivation problems magically go away. And, per the typical mind fallacy, they’re horrified by things like Beeminder which have the potential to mask the underlying problem. So I just want to assure the author that some of us really do need things like this!