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The New LifeHacking #6 – Staying Away from Harmful Gadgets

The New LifeHacking #6 – Staying Away from Harmful Gadgets

In my prior article, Tricking Yourself into Making the Changes You Need, I wrote about the right blend of supports that are needed by those who want to change critical time-management behaviors. These supports help us make the transition from the habits we use today to the ones we intend to practice at some point in the future; they help prevent the collapse of well-intended plans once our willpower inevitably fades.

Thankfully, we live in an age where powerful new technologies are being introduced every day that have the power to shape habits on a massive scale. For example, it’s clear now that smartphones have transformed the world’s daily habits in ways that were never anticipated when these devices were popularized in the early 2000’s.

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In fact, the makers of these devices imagined a connected future in which users would be untied from their desktops and office, giving them greater choices and flexibility, increases in productivity and more balanced lives. This future has been realized in part, but it’s far from the total picture. In exchange for greater convenience, we are now working more hours than ever before and are available to receive and reply to messages late in the night and early morning and on weekends, holidays and vacations. Not even sick days are exempt. At the same time, dangerous multi-tasking while driving has become a world-wide problem, and the increased discovery of fecal matter on phones shows our new tendency to use smartphone in unlikely places.

New technology has led us to a world of new workplace habits on a massive scale, including both good and bad habits. The creators’ intentions are quite beside the point and it’s fair to say that they we are using these devices in ways that were simply not imagined. Unfortunately, this all points to our tendency to adopt new technology in ways that are unplanned, and therefore unproductive. We jump to using the shiniest new gadgets without understanding how we want to use them.

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Readers of Lifehack who have followed this series of 6 articles could place themselves in a very different position. After completing an analysis of their current systems, and setting new target practices, they know they can get a good idea of the new habits they want to implement, and how quickly they wish to make the transition. They don’t fall into the trap of trying to change everything at once, and have a good idea of the habit support system they need to succeed.

With this knowledge, they can make much more sophisticated, and effective choices about the kind of technology they should be looking for to help complete their improvement plans. Instead of having their habits shaped by the latest release, they forgo what they don’t really want as they search for what they really need.

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In my book, Bill’s Im-Perfect Time Management Adventure, I took the liberty to introduce an email app into the story that I wish someone would invent, as it would fill a gaping hole in my time management system. I called it “Tzinbox” and in the book it’s used by the employees of Syscon, the setting for the book, a weekly report to employees on how well their email, and therefore their time, is being managed. In the story, it returns a score that tells the protagonist, Bill, whether or not his time/email management skills are improving.

On reflection, you’d probably agree that this is the kind of app that should exist. It probably doesn’t because we are too busy chasing gadgets, and not busy enough figuring out where the gaps are in our systems. We leave new technology ideas to the companies that produce software, mobile devices and computer.

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It’s a mistake. The roots of lifehacking weren’t about mindlessly chasing down tips, tricks, shortcuts and gadgets in the hope of quick, slick improvements.

Instead, the new Lifehacking is about intelligently analyzing our needs and gaining a deeper understanding of what we really need. Then, it’s up to those of us who live on the cutting edge of personal improvement to clamor for features, add-ons, plugins, apps, gadgets, programs, devices – anything that we need to be more productive.

We need to get off our collective behinds and separate ourselves from the thoughtless consumerism that has turned knowledge workers into the most distracted people on the planet. The New Lifehacking isn’t about just following trends. It’s about doing the work to figure out what people need, starting with a sophisticated understanding of our own shortcomings.

In my final article in this series on I’ll describe what’s possible if we pull together all the ideas presented in this series of posts.

More by this author

Francis Wade

Author, Management Consultant

How To Manage A Post-College Productivity Dip Why You Need to Understand and Accept Your Productive Type A Tendencies The New Lifehacking #7 – Why You Should Be Open to New Stuff, But Wary About Using It The New LifeHacking #6 – Staying Away from Harmful Gadgets The New Lifehacking #5 – Tricking Yourself into Making the Changes You Need

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

More About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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