The last post talked about the importance of consistency to achieve goals and to improve yourself. In this post, we are going to see what is the biggest hindrance to self-improvement and consistency.
It’s 8 AM. You open your eyes, still drowsy, and think of all the work you have to do today. Picking up your phone, you check all the WhatsApp messages you received during the night so that you don’t miss anything important. Then you start checking your Instagram feed for a while, scrolling down on the infinite feed. You see a funny reel in your feed and then you continue watching a few more reels. You look at the time and it is 8:40 now, you got a little late. You don’t feel sleepy anymore so you get up and do your daily chores.
What do you do when you are in public transport, travelling to work? After you ordered food at a restaurant? Bored at work/school?
I believe you use your mobile phone in all these situations, just like the thousands of others who do the same. I too do the same. Website taking too long to load on my PC? Let me check my messages on my phone. Code compiling? Check notifications on Twitter. No matter what, we all keep checking our phones all the time.
How good is this is for us?
When was the last time you were bored for more than 15 minutes? And bored means no usage of mobile phone, PC, or any other device. Can you sit straight for 10 minutes without doing anything?
Our mind is constantly bombarded with notifications, messages, and emails. This distracts us and we lose focus from what we were working on. A person uses his smartphone for an average of 5 hours per day! This is almost 1/3 of your awake time. And this smartphone usage is not a single time block, but rather smaller chunks of time. Every time you use your smartphone in the middle of your work, you take up some time to switch back to work, to focus again. This is the context-switching time. This loss of focus reflects on your productivity. You are able to finish less amount of work because of all these distractions.
Well, you are probably spending more than 1/3 of your awake time on your mobile phone. This means that you must be doing something really important there, right? Something super important that if you miss will cost you a fortune.
In 90% of the cases, this is not true. Now imagine spending 1/3 of your day on something that does not improve you.
It does not end here
This is bad not just because you are spending a lot of your time here getting distracted from your actual work. This is worse because it is making you dumb.
Every time you start using your mobile phone instead of working or studying, you are wiring your brain to get even more distracted. You become whatever you practice. Have you ever noticed that when you start working on something, as soon as you encounter something tough you start using your mobile phone? Start reading a book, and within 5 minutes you start searching for your phone to read messages or see a meme or read the news.
The smartphone has rewired your brain to be unable to do difficult tasks.
Your brain releases a chemical called dopamine when it feels rewarded. The more random is the award, the more dopamine your brain releases thus getting you addicted. App developers employ this tactic to get you addicted to some actions on the app. Ever saw that when you hold and drag your screen down to refresh your feed on apps like Instagram, Gmail, Twitter, it takes a while to load and refreshes suddenly. This is the typical slot machine-like trick they employ for higher kicks of dopamine.
The Dopamine Effect
Your brain releases some amount of dopamine after every activity, depending upon how enjoyable it was. It is an important neurophysical process. But as with every activity, excess dopamine can harm you as well.
Imagine some pipes carrying dopamine in your brain. They are narrow to take only a very small amount of dopamine. You are content with that small amount of dopamine. But with the release of large amounts of dopamine, these pipes get larger. Slowly the receptors in your brain start getting less receptive to this stimulation. Thus you need even more dopamine to create the same amount of pleasure in your brain. This makes you crave some things. Social media, porn can cause this. Opioids release such a large amount of dopamine that they cause dependence on them.
The Money at Stake
You are fighting billion-dollar conglomerates to get your attention back. They spend billions just to make that one feature in a way to get you the most addicted. So that you keep coming back to them. Your attention is your most valuable asset [Click to tweet]. Protect it from others and use it for yourself.
How to stop getting distracted?
As mentioned in the previous issue of this newsletter, if you practice being distracted you will get better at being distracted. So just do the opposite.
Practice not getting distracted. Here are a few steps to help you.
- Get bored
Allot time when you do not do anything. No work, no fun and just get bored. This will help you get comfortable in not doing anything.
- Dedicate a deep work time with 0 distractions.
Fix a place where you work. Ask your family to not disturb you during that period.
- Have a separate digital space for work
Use a separate device for your work if it is possible for you. For example, smartphone for fun and PC for work. If you use your PC for some other work too, then dedicate a different user account with no distracting software. If you cannot create a new user, have a separate browser for work. I use Firefox for focused work and Edge for other work. You can employ the same tactic if you are using mobile phones.
- No notifications
Keep your phone somewhere else if possible. Otherwise, turn off all the notifications and keep it on silent (use Do Not Disturb feature on Android). Even during your day, try to switch off notifications for all the apps which are not important. Even for those apps which you need to check only once or twice a day. Keep your notifications turned on only for the apps that you must check every once in a while. I don’t believe we have any such mobile app.
If you combine all of the above and take it to a super-hard difficulty level, you make it a dopamine-detox. You can try doing a dopamine detox by staying away from any electronic gadgets for a fixed period of time. Start small such as for 6 hours, and you can keep increasing it up to the time it is viable for you. It helps a lot in helping you get comfortable getting bored.
Coming to the tools of the toolkit, you can start your habit of meditation using an awesome app called Atom [FREE]. It starts by teaching you that it is not your fault that you cannot make meditation a habit. The app uses science to build the habit of meditation. I used this app to build my habit and it is four months since then and I have missed meditating only 4 times.
Another awesome app is Simple Habit [FREEMIUM]. It has a lot of meditation series available for each part of your life. You can listen to a different meditation audio for each activity in your life. For example when you are walking or just woke up or when you have an exam, or just before a presentation.
To block websites on your browser, you can use LeechBlock NG [FREE] (Chrome, Firefox). You can specify which sites to block and during what time and you are good to go.
If you have to use YouTube to study or for work, you can get distracted by the comments or the suggested videos, or the home page. Block all of this using the Firefox add-on called DF YouTube [FREE].
To block websites and apps on your Android phone (and track their usage), you can use the Digital Wellbeing feature. Or you can use another app such as Stay Focused [FREEMIUM] to do the same.
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