The approach is simple and effective, but you may not like it.
The “Carrot” And The “Stick”
About a week ago, I wrote the article “Why It is Impossible For You To Focus”, which sought to address the benign issue of our inability to focus, even for a short period of time.
I promised to share my two-pronged approach to optimizing my focus for learning. As the name suggests, my approach has 2 components, which I call the “Carrot” and the “Stick”.
The “Stick” approach, as the name suggests, is a painful but nonetheless necessary process designed to distance yourself from the toxic source which causes your lack of focus.
The approach is simple:
Restrict access to ALL activities that distract you
Why this is important:
Our brain gravitates to activities that provide for dopamine release.
The activities that provide instantaneous feedback, such as scrolling through social media, or video games, are highly stimulating activities that provide for the release of dopamine. This dopamine release is what compels you to these activities.
Believe it or not, our brains are not hard-wired to align with our long-term goals. If anything, the brain instinctively prefers to avoid and resist tasks that proves uncomfortable and challenging.
Take the scrolling of your twitter feed as an example: You are in a safe, comfortable, and non-threatening environment, engaging in an activity with minimal physical exertion, and getting access to new, social feedback with every scroll and swipe.
Comparing that with activities that require long periods of focus, a graphical illustration may look something like this:
It is extremely difficult to engage in long periods of focus, if you have easy access to an array of activities that provides your brain with a high level of dopamine stimulation.
This is why you need to restrict yourself to distracting, dopamine releasing activities.
Implementing the “Stick”
Reducing social media consumption could mean the following (my methods get more drastic with each bullet):
- Store your social media apps deep within your phone (in a folder of folders of folders… you get the picture)
- Log out of social media every time you use it
- Delete your apps altogether
- Delete your account altogether
If your addiction is toward video games:
- Delete your games on your PC
- Keep your PlayStation / Xbox every time after each play
- Sell your PlayStation / Xbox
Remember, the goal is to restrict or remove your access to the activity. If you are still able to easily get access to the activity, IT WILL NOT WORK.
During the first few days of doing this, you may feel horrible and unmotivated, and that may just as well be normal, as your brain is re-adjusting to its new reality.
With these activities out of your reach, your brain will start to look for other ways to seek for other sources of dopamine release.
With your list of dopamine-releasing activities out of the way, the next approach seeks to leverage on your brain’s response to dopamine to encourage productive behaviors.
How does the “Winner Effect” work?
Any time you pose yourself a challenge, no matter how big or small, and you achieve that thing, your brain secretes dopamine, which contributes to your experience of pleasure.
And the more you achieve your challenges, the more dopamine is secreted in your brain, the more you would want to do it. This creates a positive reinforcement loop.
Dopamine helps reinforce enjoyable sensations and behaviors by linking things that make you feel good with a desire to do them again — Source: healthline
Using the same graphical illustration as above, our objective is to reinforce productive activities through the mechanics of dopamine release.
How Do We Create A Challenge-Achievement Loop?
The short answer to this would be to break down your goals into smaller, achievable outcomes.
The goal here is to drive consistency, so much so that you get into the habit and groove of putting in the time and hours.
Start Small: Here’s How I Did It
As part of a self-experiment to learn Machine Learning, I’ve come up with a breakdown of tasks in bite-sized, achievable goals. Each goal takes no less than 30 minutes to accomplish.
- Walk through a portion of calculus related to machine learning
- Code through a Python lesson module that I’ve purchased from Udemy
- Watch an application of Machine Learning on YouTube
This process may not be the most effective and time-efficient way to learn Machine Learning. Nonetheless, breaking down my goals into bite-sized bits ensures that I stay consistent through my goals, even while juggling a 14-hour work day.
My two-pronged approach is intentionally designed to be simple and straightforward. It is in no way a new or novel approach.
Nonetheless, this article was made more as a deep-dive to educate you on the thought process to my approach, and the science behind the effectiveness of this approach.
Useful Sources and Information:
- The Future of Creativity and Innovation is Gamification: Gabe Zichermann at TEDxVilnius
- “Dopamine and Addiction: Separating Myths and Facts”: Healthline
- The Winner Effect: The Neuroscience of Success and Failure, by Ian H. Robertson