practicing

Practicing Enkrateia and Overcoming Akrasia

By Gui Costin

Do you procrastinate? From time to time, just about everyone has failed to follow through with their commitments or intentions. We all would prefer rewards now rather than later, and discount the future disproportionately relative to how far away it is. In other words, we often tend to act against our own interests. Let’s take a look at practicing Enkrateia and overcoming Akrasia.

What are Akrasia and Enkrateia?

Ancient Greek philosophers were also familiar with procrastinating. We humans have historically suffered failure of will and self-control, and act against our better judgment. The Greeks called this akrasia. Pronounced “ah-CRAZE-ee-ah,” it translates to “lacking command.” Akrasia is what makes you hit the snooze your alarm or otherwise postpone something until later.

Aristotle defined its antonym, enkrateia—pronounced en-KRAH-tay-ah—to mean “be in power over oneself” and stems from possession or power over something or someone.

Because the tendency of human brains is to place higher value on immediate rewards than on future rewards, we often fall victim to akrasia. But how do we overcome it?

Practicing Enkrateia

Enkrateia comes from the adjective enkratês. In this sense, it refers to power over yourself or self-control. Developing new habits for sustained long-term productivity to achieve your goals is how to embrace enkrateia.

One way you can get started in developing new habits is to break them down into their component parts and focus on just getting started. Don’t concern yourself too much with the results until you’ve mastered the art of showing up. For example, you have a goal to read a chapter a day. But you have a busy schedule and aren’t sure when you can fit in time to read the whole chapter.

Instead of abandoning your goal, consider changing the goal. If you can find 15 minutes, set your goal to read for 15 minutes. If you can find an hour, set your goal to read for an hour. In this way, you’re getting your reading done. Even a small amount of progress is progress. If your goal is to write a report and you feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the project, break it down into smaller steps. They will feel more manageable and achievable, and you’ll be less likely to procrastinate because you’re working on a smaller and easier task.

Overcoming Akrasia

Try designing your future through commitment devices. A commitment device is a strategy you use to control your behavior to align with your long-term goals. It’s a way to limit your choices so that you steer yourself toward achieving what you set out to do. Everyone does this to a certain degree, whether in their personal or professional life. You might watch your favorite TV show only while you’re folding laundry or exercising. Or perhaps you treat yourself to a coffee after finishing the big report.

Maintain your momentum through small rewards for completing the steps in the journey toward your goal. By doing so, you’ll be more likely to finish your larger tasks, and more likely to overcome akrasia.

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