I’m back working for Chris now, during my short holiday. I find that the old bad habits are very quick to return, and I let myself be distracted by interesting and amusing websites while I’m supposed to be working. Sometimes I hit a difficult problem, and after a few minutes of brain callisthenics I decide to have a break and do something entertaining instead. This has become such a habit that I hardly think about it anymore, I’ve become very impulsive in this regard.
I guess that impulsiveness is one of my traits, and I don’t like it. My eating habits are characterised by impulsiveness, as are my computer habits. I’ve conditioned myself with easy, cheap and short-lived rewards, at the expense of my health and my integrity. I want to do something about it, I don’t like the feeling of not being in sufficient control of my actions.
For example today I re-created my facebook account. Why would I do such a thing if I tend to be impulsive? My reasoning was that facebook has become ubiquitous and is the best method of contact with my fellow students. It’s pretty weak reasoning, really, considering the amount of time I have wasted on this site in the past.
A few hours after creating the account, I got a message from Paige Munro, a fellow student in my class, who asked: “Is this another forum?”. At first I was very confused about her question, and I didn’t know what to answer. About 15 minutes later, mostly wasted on facebook settings, I suddenly felt bad for wasting my time and realised what she meant. In class, about 5 weeks ago, we had a lecture on impulse control disorder, and we were all asked to identify a bad habit we have that we would like to get rid of. I couldn’t think of any current bad habits (typical, isn’t it?), so I picked one that I felt I had overcome in the past: my impulsive forum-checking.
I used to be registered on a religious forum that discussed LDS beliefs from all sorts of angles. I enjoyed participating in the discussions, and receiving relatively fast feedback on my contributions. The forum also had a reputation system, whereby members could “approve” of a given post if they liked it. This forum had all the ingredients for an impulsive habit, and I felt right into the trap. Each time someone posted a reply to one of my posts, I would receive an email notification. Gradually I found myself spending hours each day replying to messages, having lots of fun but losing huge amounts of productive time.
This put me in a bad spot, because I was sacrificing family income for personal enjoyment. My main client pays me for whatever hours I invoice him for, he trusts me 100%. My wife trusts me that when I say I’m working and she should look after Joshua, I’m really working and not playing games or participating in petty debates on a religious forum. My work ethics seem to be slightly stronger than my honesty towards my wife, because I never declare more hours than I have worked, but I occasionally spend my allotted work time on non-work activities.
So, when I become sufficiently uncomfortable with my general conduct, I put safeguards in place. I changed the password of my account on this religious forum to a random string of characters that I haven’t recorded anywhere. This means I can’t re-register (the forum moderators are very good at identifying and shooting down “sock puppets”), I can’t login and I can’t delete my account. Over a year ago I had also deleted my facebook account.
What did I do today to prevent myself from misspending my time? I set up my Internet router (the device through which all our computers connect to the Internet) so that it would block certain sites between 8am and 5pm. This has proved to be quite effective, although, of course, I can change these settings whenever I feel like it. The good thing is that it’s quite a hassle to change them, so that when I feel an impulse to go to a site where I shouldn’t go, I think of the time it would take to change the settings, and this is enough of a break in my behaviour to break the impulse. I am able to take a step back, think, and decide with a somewhat cool head that I don’t actually want to go look at facebook or this webcomic or whatever, because I’m working right now and that’s what my wife thinks I’m doing etc.
Conclusion: to break an impulsive habit, put up some barriers that make it a little bit harder to perform the behaviour, or require more time for the behaviour to provide the sought satisfaction. This might mean going to the public library to study or work instead of staying at home, so conveniently close to the fridge! If your struggle is the cigarette, you might try to put your cigarettes in a place that requires 5-10 minutes to get to each time you want to get one, such as at a friend’s place or in a 10-times-combination-padlocked safe. The point is that an impulse is short-lived, and when you feel the impulse coming you only care about instant gratification, not about how you’ll be able to satisfy the next impulse.
I just hope that your impulsive habit isn’t reading my blog!
- Addiction to Shopping – When Spending Spirals Out of Control (everydayhealth.com)
- Six tips for changing your behaviour (theglobeandmail.com)
- Controlling the Urge to Pick (everydayhealth.com)
- boys, impulsivity & spontaneity (jdricemd.wordpress.com)
- Is Facebook Turning Us into Narcissists? (saiyo.wordpress.com)