Share Progress Not Goals

Don’t Share Goals

When we share goals we think it’ll help keep us accountable. We believe committing to a new career or a healthier life is easier if we have support from family and friends. And, if we start to fall behind, we’ll have people to encourage us.

Unfortunately, without asking for these supports you’re unlikely to get them. Holding someone accountable is taxing. It may even hurt a relationship. Offering encouragement may seem easy, but it can’t do much without a plan to support it.

Worst of all, if you share goals publicly, you may hurt your chances at goal attainment. This is especially true for identity goals. Those related to perceptions of you; a better spouse, or a budding doctor.

When we announce identity goals it shifts others’ impression of us. We look better in their eyes for improving ourselves. But, people taking note of our intentions elicits a premature sense of completeness, says Peter Gollwitzer.

He conducted a series of studies highlighting this effect in 2008. Each of which showed some degree of this effect hampering progress towards goals.

In one experiment, participants committed their time to studying clinical psychology techniques. Two groups were formed, one where goals were acknowledged, the social reality group, the other whose goals were ignored.

The social reality group with a strong commitment towards their identity goal spent less time working. On average they worked 8 percent less than the social reality group with a weak commitment. And, up to 30 percent less than those with a strong commitment whose goal went unacknowledged.

In another experiment, law students publicly or privately stated their intentions of becoming a jurist. Gollwitzer’s intent was to measure feelings of goal completeness after social recognition. As expected, participants whose goals were acknowledged felt closer to being jurists. A shocking outcome considering they hadn’t put in any effort.

These experiments show how sharing goals deters achievement. Not only do we assume others will view us as closer to goal attainment, but we trick ourselves as well. When we’ve felt a sense of satisfaction or accomplishment, we mitigate our own effort. Why put in the work when we’ve already experienced a sense of fulfillment?

Sharing Progress

While progress takes up the bulk of the goal attainment, planning and effort is haphazard. In fact its often completely dependent on the individual. Even if the goal itself is common, e.g. weight-loss or learning to manage finances. But what seems to matter across all intentions is progress monitoring.

In 2015 a group of researchers noticed a lack of consensus on progress monitoring. They undertook a meta study including 136 research papers. Each looked at the effects of progress monitoring on goal attainment.

Researchers found public progress sharing or reporting via electronics has larger benefits than private monitoring. It increased goal striving through commitment, accountability, public perception, and positive framing.

Progress Monitoring

Once a public commitment is made we’re more likely to act in accordance with it. This is due to our desire for consistency in self and others. While this seems to conflate with advice to not share our goals, I’d argue its essentially different. Stating a goal is nothing more than intention. Whereas progress shows a commitment to self and a change in behavior. A sticking point for consistency.

Personal accountability is a key aspect to public sharing. Progress monitoring is difficult because it forces individuals to own up to discrepancies. In private it’s easy to brush aside failures or setbacks. We understand our reasons and can make excuses. But in public we’ve got to address the self-deception. Excuses turn into calls-to-action that help rectify and adjust behavior. We become accountable to our progress rather than complicit in failure.

Acknowledgement of progress encourages further accomplishments through public perception. Each time we share our progress we receive some form of praise for our efforts. Encouragement from friends and family is something to strive for, a form of intrinsic motivation. This, in turn, creates a reinforcing loop. As we consistently progress the praise continues encouraging further progress until goal attainment.

Finally public sharing allows for positive framing of progress. While it helps track distance to a goal it also allows you to remark on how far you’ve come. Noticing the effects of hard work offers another venue for intrinsic motivation. We can pat ourselves on the back over accomplishments and embolden our work.

Focus on Getting Started

When you start working on a goal, crucial steps must be undertaken to complete it. But, when you share that goal with others it alters your social reality. You hear some praise about how ambitious you might be or how capable you are. This tricks your mind into believing part of the goal is already done. In response you feel as though you can put less effort in. “Your brain mistakes the talking for action”, as Derek Sivers puts it in his Ted talk on the subject.

Instead you should resist sharing your intentions. Focus on getting through the initial steps to get started and monitor your effort. Then share your progress to your heart’s content.

The Attention Economy Robs Us of Time

Supply & Demand.

In 1971 Herbert A. Simon had a modest prediction about the growth of information technology and how it would affect us. His description demonstrates the issue with the attention economy.

“…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consume. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently.”

His premonition is identical to the current state of multimedia. As content increases, attention regulates our consumption more than access to information.

Attention itself is a limited resource. We only have so many hours awake and distractions abound. Distracted minds are actually a good thing for content producers. They want us to consume or interact with content as often and as long as possible. And they know an entertaining product can pull us away from even the most important work.

What it interrupts or how much enjoyment we get out of it couldn’t be less important. As long as we continue to attend, tech companies can guarantee our business.

Originally, information technology was the constraint between attention and consumption. Sluggish internet, limited distribution, and high fees meant content handled better offline.

As with all things technology these obstacles were overcome. We have an endless stream of media at our fingertips. But our limited processing power, choice agency, and attention are outside Silicon Valleys scope.

Advertisers and app creators know and understand these constraints. The attention economy provides incentives for companies to manipulate our constraints. The more time we have on their apps, the more ad revenue they earn, the quicker they can grow.

It’s not exactly evil, it’s just how a market economy works.

Information Overload

A primary externality of the attention economy is information overload. Every company sends out as much content as often as possible, relying on you to choose what you’ll consume.

But that’s a pretty inefficient way to make a choice. Overload often means settling rather than making an informed decision. If you’ve ever flipped through channels in boredom, you know how easy it is to settle.

Overload occurs when the amount of information exceeds our processing power. The personalization of content, reproducibility of information, and access have made information overload a prominent feature of our society. The attention economy helps drive this phenomena. Notifications on your phone and browser push for your attention. Each delivers morsels of information meant to pull you away from your current focus.

Filter Failure

Not all researchers think that quantity of information is the problem. Instead our inability, or the producers inability, to filter information, termed “filter failure” is to blame. If we, or the companies providing information, knew what we needed there’d be no issue. Sadly, knowing ahead of time what you’ll need in the moment is impossible.

If technology filters our information, we’re likely to fall into a echo chambers. We’ve seen that in our most recent election cycle. Currently we work in tandem with content distributors to filter information. We provide some data about ourselves and they make suggestions. But those subtle nudges can override our best judgement.

Consumption Explosion

The amount of multimedia available to us now is staggering. Both Google and Apple have over two million apps in their stores. Dozens if not hundreds of ways to stream video. An endless supply of games triple-A and indie. And, a proliferation of news channels and podcasts. Yet the growth of each of these media types increases several fold each year. For those of us that love to relax or kick back we’ve got one major issue, how do we take it all in?

Attention Economy Multitasker

Even as we do other work we keep a constant buzz of distraction in the background. A report from Deloitte noted, “more than 90 percent of US consumers now multitask while watching television.” With millennials admitting they balance up to four additional activities while watching TV. And, as we know, multitasking means they’re not getting much out of any of these media sources. At best, each is distracting from the other.

It’s estimated we spend 6.5 hours per day on multimedia, but manage to consume 8.5 hours in that time frame. We double up, scrolling through Instagram while Netflix plays, text with music on, and let the tv go while playing video games.

We always have something to hold our attention, for now this works out great for creators. Even if we only catch a glimpse of their content. They can still pull in revenue from ads. But as more tech companies jostle for position, they’ll need more of our attention to make it worth their while.

In the Face of Attention Scarcity

To stay competitive in the attention economy media companies have to invest in content and consumer data. Including how our brain regulates attention. The goals of the attention economy are often in direct contrast to our individual goals. Whether you want to spend more time with family or get in shape is irrelevant, even detrimental, to media companies. Because all those moments away from technology impact their bottom line.

YouTube autoplays videos, removing us from the decision making process. Facebook and Twitter push us further into our favorite niches, giving us more content we agree with without allowing us to see another side. Snapchat confuses friendship with streaks. And every other app has some form of notification meant to prompt you into paying it attention.

As we struggle to understand our own mind, tech companies continual research the underpinnings of cognition. They deploy their research through subtle developments. Almost imperceptible in everyday use. We usually shrug them off as minor changes. Or worse, we take for granted that they’re for our benefit. But we know that’s not always the case.

Each addition means to increase consumption and reduce time away from our screen. Notifications and automated video shift how you interact with your phone or computer. Over time these consumption patterns become habits changing your perception of what’s important. Eventually changing what you attend to and how you make decisions. Your brain starts functioning on autopilot around technology. If you’ve ever closed an app only to immediately reopen it, you know what I mean.

Reclaiming Time in the Attention Economy

To take control we need to understand how companies manipulate our attention.

Our primary connection to these companies is through the apps on our phones. They pull us in with notifications, reminders, accessibility, and promised entertainment. Tristan Harris and his team have several recommendations for taking back time. Notifications should come from people, not applications. Apps should only have access to your attention if give it to them. Only friends, family, and coworkers should have the instant access cell phones provide.

Second, you should add a few taps between apps for entertainment and you. Keep tools like maps, calendar, note takers, and workout trackers on your home screen. The rest should go where they belong, on the apps tab. Adding steps between use and consumption gives you a few more moments to think over your best use of time.

With computers you can install apps like RescueTime, StayFocusd, and Adblock plus. RescueTime monitors and reports the amount of time you spend in individual apps and web pages. A great tool for highlighting what apps you spend too much time in. It also serves as a stepping stone for managing your consumption. It’s far easier to reduce time in apps if you know how much you spend on each.

Adblockplus does exactly as the name implies. Each ad it removes is one less source of information your brain needs to filter through. One less distraction to fight against. Giving you back more energy to focus on what’s important.

StayFocusd limits the time you spend on distracting websites like Netflix or Facebook. Instead of trying to manage your own browsing you can let this extension work for you. A true tool for productivity.

Apps used for focused work

On your phone you can download Forest. An app that lets you lock yourself out of your phone with a couple quick taps. It’s easy to get back in, but you have to go through a couple shame inducing prompts to do so. Hopefully those are enough to dissuade you from whatever distraction you’re seeking.

How Will You Pay Attention?

While Simon’s prediction for the future of information may have come to pass, what happens next is up to you. Do you make changes in your life to counteract the effects of multimedia companies or do you let them tighten their grip on your attention? If you’re willing to let more time pass into the hands of an outside influence, then your choice is made.

If you feel as though your time is better spent elsewhere you’ll need to take the steps above to regain your time.


For further information watch this talk by TimeWellSpent co-founder James Williams.

James Williams – Distraction by Design: Why the Attention Economy Is in a Moral Crisis


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The Positive Side of Stress

What Prompts Stress?

We experience stress when a personally significant situation exceeds our ability. To avoid failure, stress provides support to meet those demands. Stress itself is a neutral response and many of it’s effects, taken in the short term, are positive.

Unfortunately, stress has received a bad rap over the last twenty years. Positive psychologists have urged us to purge stress from our lives and to worry over it’s cumulative effects. While chronic stress can be devastating, it’s unfair to conflate it with the stress we experience every day.

How do our Bodies Respond to Stress?

When stressed our body releases the hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and oxytocin. These chemicals instruct the liver to produce more glucose. In turn glucose provides us with a boost of energy meant to aid us in confronting challenge. For most individuals excess blood sugar is then reabsorbed into the body.

Cortisol has additional impacts on our body, primarily in the brain. Cortisol, a glucocorticoid, impairs memory retrieval, but increase memory formation. In response to situations of duress this is exactly what we want. We need to act to avoid uncertainty and danger, not be bogged down by memories of similar events. Strong memory formations help us to avoid stressful situations in the future. Stress ensures memories form with deep links to the experience.

When the body releases oxytocin it’s encouraging you to seek support from friends and family. Shelley Taylor, director of Social Neuroscience at University of California, Los Angeles, studies the effects of stress and its relationship with oxytocin. When oxytocin releases during times of social duress or anguish it may, “lead people to seek out more and better social contacts”, she says. The direct effect of stress-related oxytocin are still under investigation. But research indicates that our bodies release it to encourage positive social behaviors.

Each of these responses is beneficial in it’s own right. Taken together they create an environment of action and support that shows we should see stress as positive. Or at the very least, a neutral response to challenges.

The Purpose of Stress

The purpose of stress is to help us respond to difficult situations in the short term. When followed by rest our body is able to return to homeostasis. Ultimately, stress is a neutral response. What impacts us is the extent of the response and severity of the stressor. We weren’t meant to accommodate multiple, simultaneous burdens or especially severe ones. Long-term unemployment or the loss of a spouse are outside its role. Those events require the support of social interaction, exactly what our brain primes us to do.

Stress acts as a motivator under pressure. It helps us focus, trains our thought, and provides energy and supports. But our response to these feelings determine its impact. Does that focus feel like fixation? Do we feel ourselves getting anxious or energized? The answer to that question outlines our response. When it’s positive psychologists refer to this as ‘eustress’.

What Prompts Eustress?

Plenty of experiences demonstrate the beneficial effects of stress. Often times we naturally enter into a state of eustress, but we attribute our excitement and energy to being, “pumped up”. Rather than recognizing the effects of positive stress.

  • Engaging in a Challenge/Setting Goals

Challenges are important, they push us towards our limitations and sometimes ask us to exceed them. This can come from taking on new responsibilities at work, becoming a parent, or a difficult exam. These are often welcome changes, but they will cause mental and physical pressure. That’s a positive thing, it helps us develop and discover new strategies to cope with difficult situations. 

  • Competition

Competing lets us measure our abilities against peers. It provides us with the opportunity to assess our strengths and weaknesses in a safe, structured environment.  This environment provides an external cue for positive interpretations of stress. If competition results in failure we can try again after we’ve grown.  

The competition needs to be one you seek out. Being held to others standards reduces our autonomy and can lead to a negative mindset.

Factors of Eustress

Eustress is dependent on one’s self-efficacy, mindset, outside supports, and self-control

Self-Efficacy is the primary factor of whether we perceive a situation as causing eustress or inviting distress. It is the belief in our ability to overcome a challenge or goal. As Hans Selye, who first demonstrated the existence of biological stress, said, “It is not stress that kills us, but our reaction to it.”

It’s in this notion of response that determines effect. The higher our self-efficacy the more likely we are to perceive it as a positive experience. So, when we act as if a task is a challenge, rather than an obstacle our assumptions around difficulty change. Low self-efficacy negatively impacts you, conflating actual demand with your perception. Poor perception may make you hesitant to even start as you ‘know’ the result will be failure.

Mindset, taken from Carol Dweck’s work, models our perception to challenge. Individuals with a growth mindset understand that even failure can have positive outcomes. Even if we don’t meet a challenge now, the experience will make us more likely to meet it in the future.

Those with a fixed mindset, like those with low self-efficacy, believe they have set abilities and that failure is an obvious outcome. The difference is in response to that failure. Individuals with a fixed mindset assume it is impossible for them to improve. They believe we establish our abilities at an early age. Reframing mindset can pivot distress towards eustress.

Positive Stress

With high self-control we’re able to focus on challenges and limit procrastination. This gives us the benefit of time. The more time we, the more opportunity we have to experiment with different solutions. Allowing ourselves the time to experiment mitigates the feelings of dread we associate with failure.

Outside Supports: Not every challenge needs to rest squarely on our shoulders. We have many opportunities in life to seek out help and advice to better handle negative experiences. These supports illicit an environment that reduces mental burden and increases efficacy. Even if you don’t end up reaching out for support, the comfort of it can be enough to motivate you.

Reframing Stress

We often hear solely of the negative effects of stress; the toll it can take on our body and it’s pervasiveness in daily life. But stress is neutral. We all experience its positive and negative effects. In many instances our perceptions, not stress itself, influence those outcomes.

If we live in a constant state of worry, we’ll only produce more opportunities for negative stress to creep in. Instead I’d advocate we take the time to better understand our own abilities and how we navigate challenges. Ruminating on stress provides no benefits, and diminishes its purpose.

 

Seven Components of Self-Regulation

Self-Regulation Theory

Self-regulation is the process of guiding thoughts, behaviors, and actions in our long-term interest. These skills are the premise behind self-regulation theory and a factor in academic achievement. Self-regulation stems from self-awareness, or the knowledge of one’s strengths and limitations. This practice is pivotal for goal attainment, personal responsibility, and developing growth mindset.

In character development it’s common to talk about traits as all encompassing. If you have grit, self-control, or compassion that’ll be the cornerstone of your success. We know this isn’t the reality. Every person needs social skills to navigate the complex relationships in their lives.

Thankfully, self-regulation doesn’t operate in a silo. It’s components skills and functions culminate to maximize effectiveness. The discerning use of each of these processes is adaptive. Because, only the individual knows what they are seeking, and how they can best achieve their goal.

Mental Abilities

Specific Proximal goals

These goals act as progress indicators and a source of motivation. They have immediate action steps achievable in relatively short amounts of time. Proximal goals work as stepping stones towards a distal goal. Ideally, you set a long-term, or distal, goal first and work backwards with proximal goals.

Strategies for goal attainment

Setting strong goals doesn’t guarantee goal attainment. We must develop processes supporting our chosen pursuit. Research by Kurt Lewin highlights four problem areas for goal attainment. They are getting started, staying on track, willingness to give up on ineffective methods, and staying energized.

Monitoring performance for signs of progress

Growth Mindset IconOne of the primary ways to promote intrinsic motivation and an important mechanism in change and growth. Self-monitoring is different for every activity and may be an in depth process or incredibly simple. Health related goals range from tracking steps to intricate body measurements . It’s up to each individual to determine how beneficial their method is and what they’re looking to achieve.

Belief and understanding that cause gets results

This competence helps determine the effort individuals put into overcoming challenges and the choices they make. It’s often referred to as growth mindset or self-efficacy and has seen a huge resurgence in education. Lacking self-efficacy means you attribute failures and successes to outside sources or strokes of luck. You’re less likely to internalize accomplishment and have a tendency to avoid challenge. If you lack growth mindset you believe circumstance and outcome are predetermined, so what’s the point?

Restructuring one’s physical and social context to make it compatible with goals

To me, the most difficult aspect of self-regulation. This process can include distancing yourself from friends and family who detract from your ideal state. Or, needing to pursue spaces conducive to your work style. Finances, social dependency, and physical location limit this skill. Unfortunately it’s difficulty is related to its necessity. It’s absurd to expect long-term goal pursuit when immediate gratification is present. But, that doesn’t mean you’re hampered if you can’t follow this skill completely. Communication can provide a lot of compromise.

Effective time management

A suite of smaller skills that serve to make the most of your time. Time management includes quality sleep, single task focus, removing distractions, and keeping a schedule. There are dozens of time management techniques, or ‘life-hacks’, but some are far more beneficial than others. I’d suggest limiting the amount you try and use, otherwise you’ll end up wasting time trying to be more effective.

 

Adaptation and flexibility to interruption

Few things ever go as planned, but our ability to rebound determines whether we achieve our goals. That’s why adaptive people think ahead and see failure as a time for readjustment rather than a stopping point. Planning for interruptions is an easy way to work flexibility into your distal goals. A buffer ensures you won’t have to readjust your schedule for every negative event.


Sources

NYU Psych – Gollwitzer

Zimmerman – Self Regulation

10 Benefits of Quality Sleep

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Smartphone Addiction, A Growing Problem for All Ages

Overuse Runs Deep and It’s Meant to

In 2012, Harvard Business Professor, Leslie Perlow released “Sleeping With Your Smartphone”. A look at the Boston Consulting Group’s struggle with smartphone addiction and the results of letting employees unplug. Of the 1600 managers and professionals she worked with,

  • 56% checked their phone within an hour of going to sleep.
  • 51% checked continuously during vacations.
  • 70% looked at their phone within an hour of waking up.
  • 44% said they would experience a great deal of anxiety if they lost their phone and couldn’t replace it for the week.

These statistics are the habits of professional adults and older millennials. A generation who grew up alongside smartphones, but can remember a time without them. According to the 2017 mobile results by the Pew Research center, 92% of adults aged 18-29 have a smartphone.

The prominence of technology in young adult and teenage life is alarming. As Tristan Harris, founder of TimeWellSpent puts it, “never before in history have basically 50 mostly men, mostly 20-35, mostly white engineer designer types, had control of what a billion people think and do, when they wake up in the morning and turn their phone over.” These engineers and designers work hard to maximize every moment we spend in their app. They’re paid to get us to scroll past ads, consume content, and come back for more. Because of this, social media giants review practices and new research to tighten their grip on attention.

Reinforcing their behavior to promote passive consumption comes straight from the top. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix recently said, “Netflix biggest competitor is sleep”. Not competition from HBO, Amazon Video, or YouTube, but an innate human need. There’s enough room in the media industry for multiple successful corporations. The most difficult part of growth is the limited time each individual has to consume content. Netflix, and other media giants, can’t do anything to mitigate your need for sleep. But, they can make content more appealing so you make poor choices.

Phone habits interrupt sleep

A Change in Behavior 

Logging into social media provides satisfaction derived from an altered mood and triggered by feelings of joy. Psychologists call this variable ratio schedule. It’s identical to how slot machines and gambling become addictive. It’s impossible to tell when we’ll get reactions to our tweets, photo’s, or status updates. So, we keep coming back, hoping for a couple comments or likes to give us affirmation.

This behavior alone isn’t unhealthy. Interacting with friends and family is one of the positive aspects of social media. We’re exposed to different viewpoints, new opinions, and interests we didn’t know we had.

When we spend time with our partners, have lunch with friends, or need to focus at work, the tug of smartphones is a real distraction. Quick cans of your phone add up. If its too frequent you end up out of the loop, conversation breaks down, and you’ll upset someone you care about. Especially if your habit of checking the phone coincides with a friend unpacking their stressful day.

Unfortunately, social media is the perfect habit forming loop. We need a cue, our notifications. A simple routine, opening an app. And a reward, the responses to our post, a tag, or a mention. These are all enabled by some craving, distraction, boredom, or lack of focus. This loop is what makes social media so appetizing and so hard to distance ourselves from.

Smartphone addiction caused by habits
Every habit starts from a craving

Concerned with the impact of smartphone use on teenagers and young adults the Royal Society for Public Health, conducted a study of 1500 14-24 year olds. This subset of individuals is often referred to as “digital natives”. Young adults who’ve never lived in a world without cable internet.

The report, social media and young people’s mental health, highlights heavy social media users, those who get around two hours a day. They’re more likely to suffer from social anxiety, depression, poor body confidence, lack of sleep, and a heightened fear of missing out. But, there is some good news. The same group noted feelings of emotional support and community building, access to health experts, self-expression, and maintaining relationships.

It’s possible the lack of education around smart phone use is the monumental barrier to change. It’s common to see toddlers and young children watch videos on their parents devices. Without any interaction or context these videos provide little to no education opportunities. Because we grew up outside of their influence it’s easier to see the impacts of smartphones. Digital natives will never have that opportunity. They need some other way to understand the effects of always being plugged in.

Phone Addiction on the Brain

Notifications inhibit our ability to focus on a single task. They’re intrusive in active engagement as the need to address them builds up over time. Even hearing the chime or buzz on your phone is enough to set off the Ovsiankina effect. Which states a task stays in working memory while it goes unaddressed. Suddenly your phones gives you a new goal, acknowledging a notification. Some part of your brain wants to pay attention and respond. It’s a constant distraction.

Forget multitasking, very few of us can do it, roughly 2% of the population. The brain is capable of rapidly switching between tasks, making us feel as though we’re multitasking. But, this ability is only useful for short bursts of immediate task activation. Trying to write a couple hundred words while checking your phone will result in failure. As a result, you’ll need to revisit each topic multiple times whereas focusing on one and then the other would have net better results.

Our brain has to make a cognitive sacrifice when switching tasks. Accomplishing multiple projects in the same time period doesn’t make you a multitasker. It makes you the person dedicated to inefficiency.

Even having our phone in the open, on silent, is enough to decrease cognitive capacity. Professor Ward at the University of Texas at Austin had participants take a series of tests measuring cognitive capacity. Individuals were instructed to leave their phones on the desk, placed in a bag, or left in another room.

Participants with their phones in another room drastically outperformed the group with their phones in view. And marginally outperformed the group that had their phones tucked away. The strain your brain is put under trying to ignore your phone is enough to cause cognitive decline. Notifications amplify this effect, but aren’t necessary for intrusive thoughts. The mere presence of your smartphone limits cognitive ability.

Technology does a great deal to impinge on our focus. There used to be time devoid of outside interaction. We didn’t have access to an endless supply of information and entertainment. In these moments individuals focused on their side projects or hobbies. Now, we have to carve that time out.

In an interview with Forbes, Daniel Goleman outlines three types of focus; Inner, Outer, and Other. Smartphone addiction dismantles inner focus. Our ability to self-manage and prioritize daily life. Instead we direct our inner focus towards social media and other apps. One of my coworkers calls this, “the scroll”. Our habit of devouring content from Reddit, Instagram, Facebook, or any other feed.

Smartphone Addiction Solutions

People send notifications. Machines send distractions.

Turn Off NotificationsGo into your settings and stop notifications from any app that doesn’t have direct human contact on the other end. Apps are designed to suck you back in. This means no games, YouTube, Facebook, or Reddit.

Go into your SETTINGS > NOTIFICATIONS and turn off any notification that doesn’t come from person. Keep apps like Messenger, Messages, and GroupMe.

Tools in the front. Distractions in the back.

Productivity UpfrontPut your todolist and functional apps up front. Anything that helps you stay organized or productive belongs on your homepage. Everything else belongs in the apps section. You should put as much distance between yourself and distractions as possible. Every tap counts.

Charge outside of your room

Keep your phone out of reach at nightThe blue light from phones affects melatonin and makes you feel awake later in the evening. I don’t follow this rule exactly. Instead, I put my phone on the other side of the room. I still like to use it as my alarm clock, but now I have to get up to turn it off. This serves to get me moving and helps me avoid checking my phone first thing in the morning.

Apps that manage time

Apps used for focused workI track and manage the time I spend online with two different apps. RescueTime measures my time on different applications on my phone and computer. It helps me track my productivity and highlights where I spent the most time getting distracted.

The other is Forest. It provides a simple overlay for my phone reminding me to focus any time I unlock my phone. I turn this on at work and home. It’s main premise is reminding you that you were trying to avoid looking at your phone. Nothing flashy.

Solutions for More Focus

Curate content down to what’s important.

When learning a new skill it’s important to keep it in your field of vision. This includes your digital space. Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube let you limit the content in front of your eyes. Take the time to sort through what’s essential and what isn’t. It’s a minor step to getting yourself sorted.

If you’re learning how to draw make sure you follow other artists on Twitter and Instagram for inspiration. Take the time to engage with them and turn distracting apps into productive ones. The same goes for any video sharing app. There are endless tutorials available through YouTube. Make sure you’re following your favorite teachers and limit your exposure to distracting content.

Drop Apps you check at home.

If the first thing you do when you get home is check Facebook, Quora, or your personal email, then uninstall the apps on your phone. Unless you have a real reason like, fiscal or familial responsibilities, you have no reason to keep getting caught up in the scroll. Remove the apps from your phone and wait until you get home.

You’ll need something else to do.

If you follow just a couple of these you’re going to have a lot of free time. You need something to take over that time or you’re going to fall right back into old habits. Boredom is an absolute barrier to getting rid of bad habits. Bring a book with you, read long-form articles, or go for a walk. Any quick adjustment that will distract you from your phone will help replace bad habits.

Remember Your Motivations, They Drive You

Motivation is a “part of popular culture as few other psychological concepts are”. Those are the words of Martin Maehr and Heather Meyer, spoken almost two decades ago. Since then the fervor to understand motivation has only increased. But for some perplexing reason, we still discuss motivation and our motives as though they’re a brand new topic.

We view motivation as a limited source of energy. We can’t start our list of errands or head to the gym because ‘we’re just not motivated’. But, this isn’t how motivation works. It comes from our motives, our reasons to change or act in the first place. Everything we do has a motive behind it, but we forget the importance when we aren’t focused. Even lounging around the house comes from our motivation to relaxation. When we need to work we don’t need divine intervention, we need better a better understanding of our reasons to act.

Your motives drive you
Motives Drive Action

Our focus on motivation as an external source impinges it’s effectiveness. This external view is called extrinsic motivation and it’s only a fraction of what motivates us. Extrinsic motivators, like money and recognition, are reasons to act thrust on you by others. Whereas intrinsic motivation stems from the delight and fascination with the activity itself. Almost all the work you do involves a mix of each. But, unless you’re completely aware of the why behind your actions you might end up assuming things about yourself that aren’t true.

Intrinsic motivation is internal, long-lasting, and self-sustaining, but slow to develop. It’s also far more subjective. Depending on the context this can be a positive or negative. These characteristics support positive habits and make it a pain to drop negative ones. Extrinsic motivators are short-term, restricted, quick fixes with broad impact. They may undermine intrinsic motivation and often require rewards to increase over time.

Within either type of motivation are the incentive and aversive salience attention modifiers. These properties regulate the intensity of your behavior.

When we discuss motivation, we focus on positive incentives. We want to know what we get out of acting or behaving in a certain way. In psychology this is called incentive salience or approach behavior. the two factors, wanting and liking, compose incentive salience. The wanting factor determines our desire to consume or attain. It shifts our focus from simple objects or outcome to one that occupies our attention. The liking portion is the immediate pleasure we get after consumption.

Influenced by perceived value and required effort both factors can vary over short periods of time. As we work through decisions motivation fluctuates, sometimes rapidly, entirely in the unconscious.

Other times we use our conscious mind to figure out the best possible outcome. Like, how we want to unwind for the weekend.

You’re stressed, you decide your best option for Friday night is to kick back with a bottle of wine. Your first glass is fantastic. A preferred brand, you’ve been looking forward to all week, and the taste is exceptional. It’s possible you’re even more eager for the second glass than the first. But, once your second is empty you’ve got to decide just how deep into the bottle you want to go. After all you’ve got a hike in the morning and it’s been awhile since you drank. After a quick appraisal the third glass seems less appealing. It’s incentive salience has decreased and your aversion to another glass has increased. You decide to cork the bottle. Better safe than sorry.

Aversive salience, the impact of alcohol in our example, that caused avoidant behavior. We weren’t demotivated to drink another glass, we had legitimate reasons not to. The effects were associated with an undesirable outcome.

It’s difficult to account for all the factors that ultimately drive us towards action or inaction. It’s this lack of understanding around our motivations that make it tricky to deal with. Of course it’s hard to get up and go to the gym; your home is comfortable, you want to relax, and the gym doesn’t seem fun. Each of these are powerful motivators detracting from hard work, they’re averse and need to be recognized.

When we fail to understand our reasons to act we’re easily swayed. Our attention shifts from one salient distraction to the next until we’re finally reminded of our task. At that point, it’s impossible to tell if we’ll get back on track.

To detail what we know about motivations impact on behavior Dan Ariely designed an experiment focused on the importance of meaning. In his experiment participants built Bionicles that were subsequently taken apart for later use. For each Bionicle built, participants earned a small amount. Completing the first netted 3 dollars, the second $2.70, the third $2.40, and so on until they either gave up or the amount paid out reached zero. This was dubbed the meaningful experiment.

In the second condition participants built the same models but the experimenters reused them each time. If they agreed to build another they received a second, but if they decided to build a third for $2.40 they were given the initial model to reconstruct. This was called the sisyphic condition after the Greek myth of Sisyphus. Punished for his hubris and forced to push a boulder up a hill only to have it roll down as he neared the peak. This condition was meant to emulate Sisyphus and his unending, meaningless work.

Meaningful and Sisyphic Motivation Choices
Different Models Can Break Motivation

In the meaningful condition individuals built 50 percent more models than the sisyphic. A staggering amount of effort for a small difference. These individuals weren’t changing the world or helping the impoverished, they played with toys for pocket change. There was no opportunity to ascribe meaning, but the differentiation mattered substantially.

In another version of the experiment nothing was built or paid for, participants only heard the description of each condition. They understood meaning is important. But, they underestimated the magnitude. They expected the meaningful condition to build 15 percent more, less than a third of the total amount.

Ariely didn’t stop with the first few experiments. He knew some participants were fond of Legos and wanted to understand how that would change their behavior. In the meaningful experiment attachment to Legos correlated with effort, but, in the sisyphic experiment, attachment was meaningless. In Ariely’s own words, “this manipulation of breaking things in front of people we basically crushed any joy they could get out of this activity. We… eliminated it.”

In his final experiment participants had intrinsic and extrinsic incentives, but a change in process sapped their motivation. What we perceive as motivating; joy, effort, and money, lose potency without meaning. Understand what your goals and actions mean to you before blindly chasing them.

Your motives decide the intensity and frequency surrounding your behaviors. If you want to stay motivated you need to understand what’s motivating you and what keeps you in place. Leverage this knowledge and make changes that facilitate your goals.


Further Reading:
Motivation is Meaningless

Impostor Syndrome, You’re Better Than You Think

“The problems of success can be harder because nobody warns you about them. The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakeable conviction that you’re getting away with something and any moment now they will discover you. It’s Impostor syndrome.”

These words shared by renowned author, Neil Gaiman, to the graduating class of the University of Arts in 2013 highlight the dilemma of achievement.

Despite it’s name impostor syndrome isn’t a disease, but an experience. P. R. Clance and Suzanne Imes first introduced impostor syndrome in their seminal research paper, “The Imposter Syndrome in High Achieving Women”. Their research focused primarily on accomplished women, because this group talked about it openly. The pair worked for five years interviewing over 150 highly successful women. Women who had earned PHDs, honors in university, or regarded as exceptional in their field.

Regardless of their achievements they were incapable of internalizing their accomplishments. Instead, they assumed that success came from dumb luck, charm, or error in others judgement. The fact their discipline and talent was met with adulation seemed inconceivable. The researchers noted one particularly extreme example, a woman with “two master’s degrees, a PHD, and numerous publications didn’t even feel qualified to teach remedial college class in her field.” Imes and Clance found that this was in stark contrast to how men discussed their success and failures.

As research on impostor experience expanded no subgroup lacked the ability to feel like an impostor. It’s estimated that 70% of the population will experience Impostorism at some point in their lives. Individuals with traditionally poor access to their area of expertise are more susceptible to impostor episodes. And, by extension, more likely to suffer its debilitating effects.

Part of the impostor experience is the fear it imbues in individuals. The worst possible outcome is being found out as the fraud you imagine yourself to be. If you take a chance to open up you put yourself in a fragile position. Suddenly your abilities are under scrutiny. Exposure means that your peers will finally take a serious look at your work. Speculation runs rampant and silence triumphs. When you can’t discuss your experience you never get the opportunity to work through it.

It’s assumed this mental blockage is more typical in older men. While younger men, particularly millennials, are better at expressing themselves. The stereotypes surrounding men encourage them to shun feelings, they can’t be trusted. Any fears they possess are a sign of weakness and should be dealt with in isolation. After all, asking for help highlights our frailty. At least, this is the public assumption and as mentioned early, was the experience of Clance & Imes. But, when the CIPS, the scale used to measure impostor syndrome, was administered anonymously, “men were expressing it to the same degree”, says Clance. Which goes to show the disparity between reality and social-perception.

Impostor Syndrome Characteristics

Impostors, those suffering from some level of Impostor Syndrome, experience a range of characteristics. It’s not necessary to harbor each of these feelings at once but, some assortment is indicative of Impostorism.

  1. The Impostor Cycle – Induced by impostors ability to discount their achievements and set outlandish goals for themselves. Discrepancies between expected outcome and results serve to reinforce feelings of impostorism. As these incidences escalate and work becomes increasingly difficult, acknowledgement becomes more frequent and public. This drives impostors to work even harder on their next task and to expect more from themselves. In the end they’re overworked and incapable of continuing.
  2. Need to be the best – Impostors are incapable of distinguishing exceptional peers from average ones. They assume the number of exceptional individuals are far greater than in reality. Instead of viewing their work as exceptional they undermine it by pitting it against other high achievers. As a result Impostors are likely to dismiss their accomplishments.
  3. Superman/Superwoman – Related to the need to be the best. Impostors are besot by unrealistic expectations either from parents at an early age or by themselves. They think that high quality work should be done without struggle. And, when they inevitably exert some effort they deem themselves failures.
  4. Fear of failure – Performance related tasks are met with dread and anxiety. Any possibility of not attaining the highest level of accomplishment is met with overworking. Impostors do whatever they can to insure they meet the highest standards to avoid exposure.
  5. Discounting Praise/Denying Competence – It’s common for individuals suffering from impostor experience to ascribe success to external forces. When their abilities are praised they brush them off as circumstantial. Worse, some impostors will try and reason why they don’t deserve accolades. This creates a negative feedback loop for Impostors to focus on.
  6. Guilt and Fear of Success – Comes from their apprehension to take on more responsibility and ‘expose’ themselves. If Impostors are working to exhaustion at their current pace, then success means they’ll have to try even harder. How are they going to be able to manage even more work? With this mindset individuals have to walk a delicate line. Maintain a healthy work life balance while over-achieving.

The number one trait associated with Impostorism is conscientiousness. Defined using the Big Five, conscientious individuals exhibit high levels of diligence and likely fall into the trap of perfectionism.

Perfectionist set unrealistic goals because they need to feel worthy of praise. They believe the only way to meet outside expectations is to have goals above and beyond the average. These associations promote high levels of organization, strong work habits, and careful deliberation. None of these traits are bad in isolation. In fact, they are highly sought after soft skills. But when they conflict with your ability to clearly see yourself, they are harmful.

Since these outlandish goals are often unachievable Impostors self-deprecate. Even if the work they completed is of high caliber their inability to meet their own standards enforces impostor experience.

Worse, impostors have a paradoxical experience involving diligence and self-perception. Impostors work hard to avoid being ‘found out’. This hard work is met with praise which they perceive as a threat. The more attention they get the harder they must work to avoid detection. Since they’re already capable, they beget more recognition and the cycle continues. This creates a vicious circle of work, stress and exhaustion that Impostors have little hope of avoiding.

You’d assume adoration mediates Impostorism, but research and interviews show otherwise. Maya Angelou once shared her encounters with Impostorism, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.” Her statement serves to highlight how long-lasting and difficult impostor experience can be. Even at the heights of fame.

Impostor syndrome undermines our self-perception

I was interested in my own rating on the imposter scale. It’s difficult not to be when you delve into a topic. I rate quite high, 61 out of 100, just past the cusp of frequent feelings of impostor experience. This is definitely accurate. I rate highly on trait conscientiousness according to the Big Five personality assessment. Which means I’m more susceptible to contend with perfectionism. I work hard to keep up appearances, but I don’t know for who or for what. Most people commend me for my diligence, but I imagine if I internalize their praise my drive will fade away. That’s something I’m not comfortable with yet.

I know I should be kinder and more flexible with myself. I don’t do anyone any good when I can’t perform at my fullest due to exhaustion, and my own work will suffer as a result. It’s definitely worthwhile to take a step back and attempt to check where I am in life and what I’ve achieved.

The American Psychological Association has some suggestions on how to manage Impostorism.

  • Talk with mentors and peers about their experiences with impostor syndrome. As noted earlier it’s expected that 70% of the population experiences Impostorism. It’s incredibly likely someone who’s opinion you value understands what you’re going through. Get support from people who know your work and that you feel comfortable with is a strong step towards internalizing your abilities.
  • Don’t mitigate your work. Stop trying to justify why you aren’t worthy of praise. The people around you aren’t so daft that they couldn’t detect a fraud. They’re paying respects to you because your work adds value. Recognize that and remember what you do well.
  • Be kind to yourself. Respect the process, not only the results. Diligence is an admirable trait. Instead of working yourself through the night take a break and gauge your progress. Cut yourself off in order to get rest. The negative habits you’ve built up through impostor syndrome take time to break.

Impostor experience doesn’t need to be a part of life. The next time you start to feel like your work isn’t worthy of praise remember how common this phenomena is. Internalize your success and let it motivate you, rather than the fear of being ‘found out’.


Further Reading on Impostor Syndrome

Many men are suffering from Impostor Syndrome

How various minority groups suffer from Impostor Syndrome

Neil Gaiman on Impostor Syndrome

 

 

Procrastinate Your Way To Productivity!

Productive procrastination is the act of putting off primary goals to focus on minor errands. Usually the chores you’d dread doing any other day, but because you have some daunting task down the line, you’ll do anything to avoid it. You can use this state to your advantage. If your chores are piling up or you’ve been slouching on work, what better opportunity to get them done than avoiding more work.

One of my current goals is consistent writing. But unless I have structure during my work time I’m prone to forget about it. Even when I do remember it takes quite a bit for me to start writing. I tend to need motivation from finishing other work to dive in.

When it’s too difficult to write I don’t want to fall back on bad habits. This is where the procrastination piece comes in. Instead of opening up Facebook or Youtube I set my sights on my easiest task. Usually these are positive habits I’ve developed; reading a book, cleaning my room, or going to the gym. Though, on occasion I fall behind watching Game of Thrones and spend the evening catching up.

My process is similar to a to-do list. Yet, I don’t fret over what does and doesn’t make the list. It only needs to provide value in the short or long term. This includes, and sometimes mandates, rest and relaxation.

What I do instead of hard work has produced some of my favorite results. When I first started going to the gym I was hoping for recognition. I wanted to be fit and noticeable (admittedly by women). Now I go to start off my day right or clear my head. It’s the perfect time to listen to podcasts, meet like-minded people, and get energized. All with the added benefit of getting into shape.

I’d say the same about the time I’ve spent learning Excel. What started as one of the only things I could do at a monotonous job is now my primary source of income. I’ve landed jobs, created side projects, and boosted my productivity. These aren’t buzzwords you’d ever associate with endless hours on social media.

None of this would be possible without a well of motivation. That’s exactly what procrastination is. At least if you look at it the same way as famed humorist Robert Benchley.

While his peers described him as a tenacious writer during his tie as a freelancer in the 1920s. He often described himself as a loaf. The difference existed due to his unique perspective. While he knew how to get work done, it wasn’t always the right work.

“The secret of my incredible energy and efficiency in getting work done is a simple one,” he claimed. “The psychological principle is this: anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.” Anyone who’s finished a surprising amount of arduous work to avoid another task knows how true this is.

Stanford philosophy professor John Perry is an avid procrastinator and hard worker. While he calls his process structured procrastination, the outline is interchangeable. He’s got quite a few strategies for getting stuff done outlined in this Business Insider article.

He offers some counterintuitive advice that feels like a major takeaway. When we’re faced with a major task we assume taking a whole day to focus on it is our best option. After all, with nothing else on our plate there’s no way we won’t finish.

This is flat out wrong. If you’re lacking time management skills well before a deadline you won’t have them in the final hour. Combined with the stress coming from an absence of resources, you’ll seldom do your best work.

When you cut down on other obligations you remove a source of motivation. If you’ve only got one thing to do, you won’t get anything else done. At least that’s the hope. In reality you’re still going to procrastinate. Meaning you’ll do a lot and accomplish little. Worst of all, if you fail to finish your one task you’ve blown a whole day. You’ll feel guilty over a wasted day and still need to find time to get things done.

It’s important to build a list of tasks to complete. The little victories you get from checking off assignments elicits substantial motivation. Even if you put off your most important task until the very end. You’ll have drive from earlier accomplishments to push through.

Defining your expectations and outcomes provides you a structure to work with. That’s exactly what we need when we procrastinate.

When you’ve got abstract goals it’s difficult to say whether you’re procrastinating or not. Dr. Pychyl at the University of Ottawa notes that our intention to do act decides if we’re procrastinating. During an interview with NPR he mentioned a crack running across his windshield,

“I don’t feel I’m procrastinating in getting it fixed because I’ve never set an intention and said, next Wednesday I’m going to get it fixed. Now once I set the intention and if I go past that date, then I’m truly procrastinating because for some reason, I thought that was the optimum time to act.”

He makes an important distinction between a failure to act and failure to form an intent. Sometimes we get intentions from outside sources, other times we pass it onto ourselves. When we discover that purpose we have a decision to make,

“… what are you going to do with your time?” John Perry asks, “Are you going to just sit on a couch feeling bad about not doing it? Then you’ll end up being both a procrastinator and very depressed.”


Further Reading:

Productive Procrastination is not an Oxymoron – Interview with John Perry

How to be a Productive Procrastinator – An NPR recording with John Perry and Timothy Pychyl

Use Procrastination to Get Things Done – Interview with John Perry

Self Control – A Two Step Process

The Two Step Dance

Proper self-regulation is a two step process;

  • Either identify a self control conflict and proceed, or fail to and indulge.
  • If you identify conflict respond with indulgence or resistance.

With only a vague notion of intent it’s nearly impossible to identify fringe conflicts or respond properly to surprise temptations. In this article we’ll focus on how individuals can guard against ingrained tendencies to mitigate self-control and avoid goal-oriented behavior. Attention, proximity, and time frame each impact decisions in their own way, and as a choice becomes more salient the harder it is to identify as conflict and the easier it is to fall into a temptation trap.Conflict Decision Tree

Credit: Kristian Ove R. & Ayelet Fishbach

“Just One More”

Decisions against goal-oriented behavior are easy to justify moment to moment. Individual outcomes from trivial choices won’t feel like they matter unless you look at them over the long haul.

Getting a cup of coffee each morning is a rather trivial expense, $2 every morning for a convenient, fresh cup of coffee in a welcoming environment. But, when you compare that with the cost of homebrew, or even k-cups, you’ll end up spending twice as much every day. And that’s just for a single 12oz cup of coffee. The costs only go up once you get into lattes and flavored beverages.

Framing events in aggregate, over the long term, is essential for conflict identification. This is true for almost every vice that starts with, “I’ll just have one more”. We like to think that one off’s are non-consequential events. But measured together, against long-term goals, it’s easy to see the true impact.

A fun-sized candy has no real caloric impact, 70-100 calories, but when viewed as a one time monthly impact you’ll have consumed 2100 – 3000 extra calories. A full day’s worth food for most adult men. Time spent checking your phone, the extra YouTube video each night, or foregoing a walk each day have profound impacts over weeks, months, and years.

Two experiments, one in 1999 and another in 2009, identify how wide frame perspectives increase self-control.

Read et al., used lottery tickets that offered either immediate lesser awards or larger, delayed rewards. Participants were tasked with choosing between the two tickets over varied time frames. The selections involved choosing multiple tickets over multiple weeks in one sitting or choosing each ticket for each week individually. Researchers found individuals who were forced to consider multiple outcomes at once tended towards larger rewards, the opposite was true for those who had to make individualistic choices.

In a subsequent study by Myrseth and Fishbach participants were tasked with measuring their consumption of potato chips on the day the experiment was to take place. Study members were given two calendars with slight variations to make their decision from. The ‘Narrow-Frame’ calendar was laid out like a standard calendar with the experiment day highlighted to emphasize significance. The ‘Wide-Frame’ calendar lacked grid lines and had no individual emphasis. The goal of which was to encourage individuals to see days as connected and not as isolated events that happen independent of each other.

Failure to view choices in aggregate can lead to goal failure, a longer period of habitation, or an inability to accurately measure your progress.

Credit Amber Avalona
Little dated, but how it should be.

Future Self, isn’t Better Self

Common temptation avoidance phrases take the form of, “I’ll do X now, but I won’t in the future.” There’s a mental illusion taking place that says our future self will be better at negating temptation than we are now, solely through force of will. If you’ve ever tried changing a bad habit, or picking up a new one in lieu of another behavior you’ll recognize how wrong this presumption is. Yet we do it often enough to recognize it’s commonality in all of us.

External change, a new partner, job, or home are more likely to impact behavior and habit than willpower. External change thrusts us into new environments we must adapt to if we want to continue down that path, but internal motivations have to be acted upon by the individual.

It’s easy to get these situations conflated. Whether it was your choice or because of the environment you started to take the bus to work. The answer is likely both, but we’re tempted to attribute results, especially positive, to our own volition. We congratulate ourselves for good choices and tend to assume we can make good choices for ourselves later on.

In attempting to balance goal pursuit and temptation, individuals are far more likely to choose temptation first and goal second. They delay the cost associated with indulgence and also expect to resist similar or identical temptations in the future. This ends up as goal failure without recognition as the future self is expected to comply with goal pursuit, while the current you is actively failing.

Ayelet Fishbach and Ying Zhang ran a series of six experiments evaluating how participants would react to conflicting temptations due to environmental triggers.

While all experiments yielded similar results we’ll be taking a look at the final experiment which provided more real world applicability while the previous results give supporting evidence.

Fishbach and Zhang tested whether food choice was changed by presentation. University of Chicago students, who indicated their current weight was above their desired weight, were offered a choice of snacks, chocolate or fresh carrots, for their participation. During the experiment food options were either mixed together for selection or in their own separate piles next to each other.

When choices were mixed together participants chose chocolate at a rate of 53% versus apart at 29%. Experimenters suspect that when choices are presented together they are seen as complementary. In this scenario individuals opt to ‘balance’ their short and long term outlook, maximizing benefits now for delayed rewards realized in the future. When students were presented with choices apart each pile appears to be a distinct, competing choice. Highlighting the potential pitfall by keeping choices apart allowed participants to choose their high-level goals over immediate desires.

The act of balancing is a way to justify goal-avoidance. Albeit in the future, in exchange for an immediate gratification. The assumption that choices can be complementary opposes the real world view of self-control and habituation. Attempting to manage varied paths of opportunity will slow you down and, at worse, you’ll give up when it takes longer to reach you desired outcome. None of this is to say that you can’t stray from a goal, or use substitutes. Nicotine patches, cheat days, and budgeting to splurge are all forms of goal-avoidance, but they’re done purposefully as part of a larger plan to change habits.

Save to Splurge

Managing Self-Control

When considering both biases we find that proper self-control starts with the following mechanisms,

  • Individuals see decisions over the long-term, not as isolated events.
  • Decisions are consistent, individual actions won’t change much over time.

While these processes help us identify self-control conflicts they don’t necessitate our response or whether or not we’ll be able to resist. Precommitment , If-Then plans, and abstract/concrete representations of temptations all promote goal-pursuit.

Precommitment is the act of removing options from your future self. We assume that we won’t be able to resist temptation in the future and instead of waiting to find out if it’s true, we simply remove the possibility. Precommitment can take the form of,

  • A grocery shopper purchasing fruits instead of sweets so they aren’t tempted at home.
  • The commuter choosing a new route home to avoid their favorite fast food.
  • A shopaholic blocking their access to eBay and Amazon.
  • A fledgling fitness enthusiast choosing the gym closest to home so they have fewer excuses to skip.
  • Cooking a large dinner ensuring there are leftovers for lunch the next day instead of going out.

If-Then planning is a technique used in preparation of temptation and for specific events. Simply put the If-Then takes the form of, “If X happen, then I will do Y.” While we’re quick to think of long-term goals for ourselves, we often don’t take into consideration what exactly this process will look like. Instead of just “reading more” you’d say “at seven each night I’ll sit down and read for twenty minutes”. You’re using an explicit cue to trigger an action. As this becomes hardwired you stop needing a specific external marker and can start relying on habit.

Abstract/concrete representations involve visualizing temptations in a way that makes their appealing qualities less tangible while encouraging goal outcomes to take a front seat in your mind.

During the Marshmallow Test’s, Walter Mischel sought a way to increase a child’s ability to wait for a larger treat in a few minutes, rather than a smaller one now. His team had children imagine the tiny marshmallows as clouds while describing their ‘cool’ traits like size and color. These children were able to resist immediate gratification at much higher rates than those who were left to their own devices.

Identification and Response

A two-step model of self-regulation ensures that we meet our goals at every step of the process. We reduce the likelihood of tricking ourselves into indulgence and when we do identify a conflict we have ways to deal with temptation. We also realize that proper self-control isn’t only a response to a situation, but relies on identifying how we engage with our environment.

When analyzing our lives and what changes we want to make it’s imperative we understand both steps on the road to better habits. The more small successes we encounter the more durable our habits become. The identification protocols and responses outlined above lay the groundwork for successful indulgence resistance.