Behaviors are Signals: Why I Don't Believe in SelfControl

There's an app for OSX called SelfControl that allows you to completely block certain sites from your computer so you can't waste hours on Facebook, Reddit or whatever your favorite source of procrastination is.

There are a lot of similar apps out there and blocking sites outright is a highly recommended strategy for curtailing our wandering, unfocused minds.

But here's the truth, at least for me: if I block certain websites that distract me, I'll just find other distractions.

Blocking distractions isn't enough. Behavior as a Signal

One way of interpreting behaviors is to judge them:

  • Exercising is good
  • Eating broccoli is good
  • Watching TV is bad
  • Working many hours a day is good
  • Playing video games for 8 hours is bad
  • Reading memes on Reddit for an entire afternoon is bad

We judge behaviors all the time and that's fine but there's another way of interpreting them.

You can also recognize that, if you observe them over time, our behaviors are communicating with us.

When I wake up for a week straight, excited to start working on a particular project, messages are being signaled:

"This is work you love - do more of this!"

"This is a great work environment for you, notice what's working so well and insist on it in the future."

Likewise, when I'm avoiding work to go on Facebook, another message is being communicated:

"The work I've accepted into my life lately is less interesting to me than Facebook is."

You can choose to block the message by using an app to prevent you from going to Facebook - if that works, great! But, you'll probably just keep fighting against yourself.

Another option is to hear the message loud and clear, re-evaluate the decisions you've been making and get yourself back into a situation where you're doing work that is more interesting than cat-memes.