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Forcing Decisions and Flexibility

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Red Dice

I recently re-read one of my favorite novels – The Dice Man.

Without spoiling the story too much, it’s a satirical take on the profession of psychiatry set in the 1960s, with the protagonist Luke Rhinehart discovering the use of chance (in the form of dice) to make life decisions.

While it is a work of fiction, there are a couple of interesting ideas raised in the novel – that is, after all, the purpose of good fiction.

The first is the idea that human behavior is extremely flexible. The second is that anyone is capable of doing anything, especially when the element of choice is removed.


Flexible behavior is important for productivity as it demonstrates that being productive and getting to doing things is largely a mental game. While our environment can dramatically change our states of mind and being, it is important to remember that inside each and every one of us is the capacity to do what it is that we want. All we need is a big enough reason why and some behavioral flexibility. We could also just eliminate needing any reason why completely and do it for no reason at all.

In the novel, various characters create multiple personas to navigate through life. While it’s taken to a humorous extreme in the book, if you think about it, each of us wears different hats and roles every single day – the strict father, the protective mother, the hardworking employee, the Sunday-night Guitar Hero rockstar. Behavioral flexibility is more familiar to you than you realize.

Forcing Decisions

Removing choice from decisions and “forcing” them is actually a great technique for overcoming procrastination. In the novel, the protagonist selects 6 options and then rolls a die to determine which he will carry out.

Sure, it’s a crazy idea. But think about it this way. Say it’s 8pm at night, and you’ve got an article or report to write, but you really don’t want to write.

You write down on paper these options:

  1. Spend 1 pomodoro writing.
  2. Spend 1 pomodoro writing.
  3. Spend 2 pomodoros writing.
  4. Clear excess tasks instead.
  5. Review prior writing.
  6. Go for a walk.

Then you roll a die and go with what you roll.

Here you’ve given yourself a 1 in 6 chance for an “out” – a break from what you’re procrastinating from doing. But at the same time, you also have a 50% chance that you’ll complete your writing using solar flaring-style techniques, and a 33% chance you’ll do something equally productive.

Crazy idea, but it’s another way to help you overcome procrastination.

Disclaimer: You’re all sensible people who know what is fiction and what is reality, so take the above with a grain of salt and as a thought exercise – it is not a justification for subsequent actions to say “the dice made me do it”.

By removing choice from your hand, you’re more likely to carry through with the actions. So the next time you’re going to procrastinate, write down 6 options and pick one – and then go do it.

Some Actions

  • Have a read of The Dice Man, and be prepared to be thoroughly entertained.
  • Think about how flexible your behavior really is, and all the things you think you can’t do that you actually can.
  • The next time you feel like procrastinating, write out some options and throw a die. Or flip a coin. Then follow through.

Photo by: MissTurner

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Posted by Brad  | December 28, 2012 at 7:04PM | Reply

Being productive is definitely a mental game. Lately I have been sick and unable to focus. I spent the past day and a half just messing around on the internet, not really working. I’ve been using this time to read your entire blog, though. I like the concept of eliminating choice. This is definitely one of most useful articles for me.

Posted by Dr_Ngo  | September 25, 2012 at 9:56AM | Reply

Great article.

Not sure if I’m into the dice idea, but I like the “removing choice” option.

It reminds me of my time spent in Thailand / Vietnam. The people have the ability to work 7 days a week, 16 hours a day in hot weather because there’s no other choice. Or how Cortes burned his ships so his crew would have to conquer the Aztecs.

When I’m in the gym and I’m thinking I can’t do one more rep, I tell myself, “Your life’s on the line!!! Can you really not do one more rep?”

We all really underestimate how much we’re capable of.

Posted by Meggin McIntosh  | September 23, 2012 at 8:28AM | Reply

Now THAT is a cool idea. It’s a playful way – and yet purposeful way – to get going on a project you have been putting off. May I offer this idea to people in an upcoming publication with full attribution, of course? I’m working on a new Get a Plan! Guide(R) related to procrastination and this would fit in great.

Posted by Thanh Pham  | September 23, 2012 at 12:41PM

Yes Meggin, feel free to do so as long as the credit is there. Thank you!

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