Understanding Effort - Deepstash
Understanding Effort

Understanding Effort

What makes something effortful? For example, why is it harder to do a math problem than play a video game?

Understanding how effort works is essential. Many of our goals will require a lot of it. If we have the wrong view on how effort works, many of our systems will fail or be poorly designed.

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A new way of thinking about effort is in terms of opportunity cost. In the paper "An Opportunity Cost Model of Subjective Effort and Task Performance", Robert Kurzban and co-authors argue that certain parts of your brain can deploy many possible functions.

However, the executive will limit the number of simultaneous tasks and apply it only to the most valuable activities. This experience of the cost-benefits will feel like effort. When your current activity doesn't feel like a good use of your limited mental bandwidth, you feel like doing something else.

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At first, the ego-depletion theory was the dominant model on how effort works. It argues that willpower was a resource that could be depleted. Like a muscle, it could also be strengthened.

But the theory was criticised. Giving a reward could increase effort, suggesting it wasn't a physical limitation.

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In the opportunity-cost framework of effort, when you get rewarded for an effortful activity, the experience of effort becomes less unpleasant, meaning we can increase our self-control by remembering that certain actions yield positive results.

If persistence in doing a difficult task pays off, you'll find it easier to endure in the future.

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How effortful something feels will depend on what else is available. It is more effortful to work with an alternative nearby, such as your smartphone to browse Instagram instead.

If we see effort as a comparison of alternatives, then habits - automated behaviour - can reduce the desire to reach for a substitute.

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Effort is the experience that what you're currently doing is not worth it.

It's like computer time-sharing. The computer resources don't get used up, but they are limited. If you want to do something like running a major background process, like a backup or rendering operation, and want to play a game, you have to decide to shut it off or wait until it is finished.

The opportunity cost model is similar, except that opportunity costs are experienced as effort.

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The willpower to do a specific activity depends on learning the value of the activity itself.

The opportunity-cost theory suggests that if you can establish that a particular activity is rewarding compared to alternatives, it will become less effortful.

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RELATED IDEAS

Effort as Energy Expenditure

Effort represents an investment of a fixed resource, like calories.

For this reason, running takes more effort than sitting. It takes more calories and strains muscles and joints. If you run non-stop, you will need to eat more to stay alive, and you will wear your muscles out.

However, effort as energy expenditure does not fully answer why we struggle to take action, as effortful tasks, such as playing tennis, is more fun than doing nothing.

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Self-control

It’s your ability to resolve conflicts between your short-term desires and your long-term goals.

For example, successful self-control means sacrificing immediate pleasure (cookies and cakes) and choosing the delayed reward (healthy weight).

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The Focused Life at Home

The goal of the focused life at home is to choose where to spend your time.

Unfortunately, our free time fails to live up to our ideal and instead of spending time on our hobbies, books or familiy moments, we get caught in the low-quality leisure trap - easy and available distractions like phones, television and social media, rather than the pursuits that actually matter.

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