Adding Cognitive Steps to Master Distraction
A couple of weeks ago, I deleted the Facebook app from my cell phone. It’s not that I opposed Facebook. I definitely use it. I am a social gal. However, most of us agree that it can be a major distraction. What’s more, a distraction is even more powerful if succumbing to it is an easy thing to do. For instance, online buying can be a real problem because purchasing is only a click or two away. Website designers know that you stand a greater chance of following through on a purchase if the path to do so is clear and simple.
This can potentially paint a picture of us being slaves to distraction. After all, temptation is everywhere. However, we can use that knowledge and turn the tables on those distractions. How? By making it more difficult to follow through on something. I like to call it, “adding cognitive steps.”
For instance, when you use Facebook on your phone, it’s way too easy. First, the phone is always with you. Certainly you can make this more difficult by putting your phone in another room or in your purse. However, once you get it in your hand, you can touch the app and you are signed right in. That’s only 2 cognitive steps to complete the task. Now if you delete the app and now have to sign into Google, that’s step 1. After that, you have to pick the Facebook login, then put in your username, then your password, and then answer whether you want to “save this device” or not. After that, you get a text that confirms you have signed in with another device that you will ultimately delete. Getting onto Facebook now becomes a hassle involving at least 5 cognitive steps! A delightful bonus is that you get at least 5 opportunities to say, “Quit wasting your time” and move onto something more productive.
In some ways, we know this intuitively already. If you have to go to the store to buy potato chips rather than having them on hand, you are more likely to not eat the potato chips. However, the world of point and click has made it deceptively simple to succumb to distraction. Or temptation! What creates endless engagement, or worse, addiction, is often masquerading as a convenience. Plus it makes the prefrontal cortex of the brain work extra hard to ward off the temptation. How exhausting!
Of course, Facebook is only an example. You can use this strategy for any temptation you want to master. I used to tape myself into my chair to finish papers in college. Do you know how difficult it is to move around with a chair taped to your backside? Or to free yourself from the tape then retape yourself back to the chair? You want to get something done? Resist an impulse? Make it more difficult to do the opposite, especially if it’s enticing you with convenience.