The Willpower Instinct: Reducing time spent mindlessly scrolling for things to read
I recently finished reading Kelly McGonigal's excellent book 'The Willpower Instinct' having previously watched her Google talk of the same title
My main takeaway from the book is that there are things that we want to do (or not do) but doing them (or not as the case may be) isn't necessarily instinctive and so we need to develop some strategies to help ourselves out.
In one of the early chapters she suggests picking a habit that you want to do less off and write down on a piece of paper every time you want to do it and how you're feeling at that point.
After writing it down you're free to then follow through and do it but you don't have to if you change your mind.
I was quite aware of the fact that I spend a lot of time idly scrolling from email to Twitter to Facebook to LinkedIn to news websites and back again so I thought it'd be interesting to track when/why I was doing this. The annoying thing about this habit is that it can easily eat up 20-30 minutes at a time without you even noticing.
I've been tracking myself for about three weeks and in the first few days I noticed that the first thing I did as soon as I woke up was grab my phone and get into the cycle.
It was quite frustrating to be lured in so early in the day but one of the suggestions in the book is that feeling guilty about something is actually detrimental to our progress. Instead we should note why it happened and then move on - the day isn't a write off because of one event!
Kelly suggests that if we can work out the times when we're most likely to fall into our habits then we can pre-plan a mitigation strategy.
From looking over my notes the following are the reasons why I want to start mindlessly scrolling:
- I'm stuck on the problem I'm working on
- I'm bored
- I'm tired
- I'm hungry
- I'm getting distracted by notifications
- I want to not think for a while
The notifications bullet is easy to address - I turn off notifications on my phone for 4 hours at a time so I don't even know there's anything to read.
I was intrigued to note that I got distracted when stuck on a problem - the main take away here is to check whether the urge to scroll mindlessly is being driven by having to think hard. If it is then I can choose to either get back to it or go for a short walk and then come back. But definitely don't start scrolling!
I often find myself bored on my commute to work so I've addressed this by working out a book/paper I'm going to read the night before and then having that ready for the journey. Lunch time is prime time for mindless scrolling as well so I've filled that time with various computer science/data science videos.
Since I started tracking my scrolling I've found myself sleeping earlier so my assumption is that the extra hours awake were being spent mindlessly scrolling which led to being more tired so a win all around in that respect.
Something I've noticed is that I'm sometimes wasting time on other activities which I'm are not 'forbidden' but are equally unconstructive e.g. chat applications / watching music videos.
The former are obviously useful for communicating with people so I've been trying to use them only when I actually want to chat to someone rather than mindlessly looking for messages to read.
I also find myself not wanting to write down the times I've mindlessly scrolled when I'm doing it a lot on a given day. Being aware of this is helpful as I just write it down anyway and get on with the day.
The summary of my experience so far is it seems beneficial - I don't think I've lost anything by not checking those mediums so often and I've definitely read a lot more than I usually do and been more focused as well.
Now I need to go and try out some of the other exercises from the book - if you've read it / tried out any of the tips I'd love to hear what's worked well for you.