Most of my work is done online and it's an everyday struggle not to end up on Twitter or Facebook. While I’m writing whenever I feel a little bit tired, bored, or anything negative I switch over to twitter for a little “rest". It’s not really a rest though. It’s just this mind numbing dull experience. The endless cycle of scroll, stop, scroll stop and perhaps the occasional chuckle. Why do I keep going on these sites if this is my experience?
I even do this while playing poker too. Take a bad beat - Twitter. Get bored - Twitter. Get tired - Twitter. I think I go on twitter for that idea of a potential reward. Maybe someone will post something interesting, maybe I’ll actually interact with people in a more meaningful way than giving or getting a like. The reward comes just barely enough to keep me hooked.
Our brains our trained to seek out potential rewards. Actually that’s part of what dopamine does, it’s a signal to your brain that there is a potential reward. When a potential reward is in sight your dopamine shoots up and motivates you to take action. So when it becomes clear I’m not getting that from poker I want to switch to Twitter/FB. That doesn't mean the activity is actually rewarding though. Here's an example from the book “The willpower instinct”:
“They set up a lever that, when press would electrically stimuli the rats pleasure center. Once the rat figured out what the lever did, he began giving himself shocks every 5 seconds. Other rats given free access to self stimulation showed no signs of satiation, and would continue to press the lever until they collapsed from exhaustion….Olds put levers at the opposite ends of an electrified frid and set it up so that a rat could only receive one shock at a time from each lever. Rats willingly ran back and forth across the electrified grid until their charred feet were so injured the couldn’t continue. Olds became convinced that the only thing that could produce this behavior was bliss.”
I’m skipping the part where they tried it on humans (which is fascinating) with similar results.
“Olds and Milner hadn’t discovered the pleasure center of the brain - they had discovered what neuroscientists call the reward system. The area they were stimulation was part of our brains most primitive motivational system, one that evolved to propel us toward action and consumption. That’s why the rats were willing to electrocute their feet for the chance at another brain jolt. Each time the area was activated the rat’s brain said “Do this again. This will make you feel good!” Every stimulation encouraged the rat to seek more stimulation but the stimulation never brought satisfaction”
That’s how I feel about Twitter. Even though most of the time I feel worse after doing it, the idea of potential reward is too great to pass up especially when what you’re currently doing seems to have no prospect of potential reward. Which if you’ve been playing poker tournaments long enough you know what I mean.
After reading the books like the one mentioned above I decided to not rely solely on willpower to stop myself from going on Twitter. Instead I got a free website blocker. You pick the sites you want to block, the time you want it blocked for and once you click start it’s basically irreversible. It works much more often, when the blocker is on my mind races for other sites to go on but I just end up blocking those too.
Instead of wasting my time on these sites I’ve started to pay attention to what activities actually make me feel good and which don’t, especially when I’m done doing them. Among the best for me are blasting my favorite music, drawing (even though I suck at it), talking to friends (only in person or on the phone though) and going for walks outside.
Even the “wrong” activities work if I don’t do them for too long. I feel good if I watch TV that I enjoy for 20-30mins but terrible if it goes way past 1 hour. I realized there is no wrong activity if you enjoy doing it and manage the time so you feel better afterwards. Even the “right” activities like reading a book can be energy draining if done for too long. Even exercising can make me feel worse if I’m not present and I don’t go hard.
Twitter/FB is just so simple, there is little to no energy or thought needed, whereas art, music, going outside require a lot more. I honestly cant remember a time I felt great after a twitter/FB session though. So now I try to create as many barriers or steps as possible to do activities that are “bad” and vice versa for the good ones. What are the activities that are good for you and how can you make it easier do them? For example if it's art I'd have the supplies and paper together in a place where I can see it, instead of having to look for both of them.
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