73. What is a game theory model for laziness?

It’s 8:00 in the evening and my house is a mess. I have two decisions to make: I can clean the house, or I cannot clean the house. I could also watch movies, or I could not watch movies.

Now I have two different sort of payoffs: my lazy self, who really likes watching movies, and my productive self, who really likes getting things done.

I have four options: I could not clean the house and watch movies. I could not the clean the house and not watch movies. Or I could clean the house and watch movies. Or I could clean the house and not watch movies.

Let’s look at the payoffs for each option.

  • If I watch movies and I don’t clean the house, that makes the lazy part of me happy. 10 points for her. My productive self likes the movie a bit too and is very distracted from feeling guilty, so she gets a payoff of 1 point.
  • If I don’t watch movies and I don’t clean the house (just sit around doing nothing), my lazy self isn’t happy (0 points). And my productive self feels guilty (-5 points).
  • Now let’s say I clean the house and I try to watch movies. My lazy self is sort of happy, but distracted (5 points), and my productive self isn’t very happy because her attention is being pulled in two different directions (0 points).
  • And finally, I clean the house without watching movies. My productive self feels really good (20 points), but my lazy self is indifferent (0 points).
 Don’t clean the houseClean the house
Watch movies(10,1)(5,0)
Don’t watch movies(0,-5)(0,20)
(Lazy self, productive self).

So what decision would I make?

Well, my lazy self always wants to watch movies. That’s a dominant strategy. So I’m going to turn on a movie no matter what.

So when a movie is on, I would rather get totally distracted by the movie than try to split my focus and watch the movie and try to clean up at the same point. So the equilibrium is that I watch movie and I don’t do anything.

I really would rather clean up the house and not watch a movie—I get a much bigger payoff. But a lot of times, that’s not what happens.

If I want to change my behavior, I need to change my payoffs.

So what could I do to change the game?

Well, if I listen to audiobooks or music, then my lazy self can have a higher payoff when I’m cleaning the house. And if I make movies harder to get, then there isn’t as big of an incentive to watch movies.

And if I have a guest coming over or some other motivation, there’s a much higher cost for not cleaning the house.

I’ve change the game:

 Don’t clean the houseClean the house
Watch movies(8,-10)(4,0)
Listen to audiobooks(5,0)(5,20)

In this second game, I want to clean the house and listen to audiobooks. It’s a much better game with better payoffs.

Game theory can be really helpful to try to figure out why we are making the decisions we are and how to change that decisions so that we are happier and following our values better.

(Thanks to Ashley Hodgson—her videos inspired this post.)

3 thoughts on “73. What is a game theory model for laziness?

  1. Or you could just bribe your husband to clean the house and still end up lazy and satisfied. #thinkoutsidethebox


  2. I think of this when I’m arguing with myself about what I want to do. I still end up doing less productive things, but at least I’m thinking. Right?


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