How to Beat Information Addiction Before it Ruins Your Life

How to Beat Information Addiction Before it Ruins Your Life

By Jamie Matthewman
September 27th, 2014

Do you find you waste precious time on social media or email when you could be doing more important work? If so finding out how to beat information addiction could be ruining you chances of success.

Your problem may well be because your devouring information like marshmallows. Let me explain what I mean.

Have you heard of the marshmallow test? A cute, often comical experiment first conducted at Stanford University in 1970, testing the importance of delayed gratification in young children, during the their later lives. Here’s a great example of the test :

In the original study, a child was offered a choice between one marshmallow, cookie or pretzel immediately, or two if he or she waited until the tester returned after an absence of approximately 15 minutes. All the children unsurprisingly wanted to devour the marshmallow, some of whom were able to abstain until the tester returned, in doing so getting a bonus marshmallow.

This isn’t an easy thing to do, because when a certain food we want is off-limits, it tends to take on greater power and value. Often the things you want but can’t, have become ever more enticing. This desire leads to an increase in dopamine levels in the brain, a hormone which causes you to want, desire and seek out.

It increases your general level of arousal, which from an evolutionary standpoint was critical, but it makes over riding our natural evolutionary system really hard; especially for 4 year old’s who more often than not have a penchant for marshmallows anyway!

Follow up studies found that those who succumbed to a quick fix, were likely to detrimentally affect their future success and wellbeing. It found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards, tended to have better life outcomes, such as educational attainment, lower body mass index (BMI) and other life measures.

whats-your-marshmallow-low-delayers

Information is the New Marshmallow

300 years ago, when access to information was sparse. If you were lucky enough to receive a letter from someone dear or own a book, you’d cherish it. You would read it word for word, over and over again, until you could recite it verbatim.

You would go so deep into the words, that you’d feel them with an intensity we rarely go to today, now that information is just another pleasurable consumable like marshmallows – quickly devoured and rarely savoured. Today the ever growing list of media channels like facebook and email, act very much like marshmallows, offering instant gratification should you be unable to resist their charm.

Like a sugary treat, information leaves you wanting more because, not only does the the dopamine system seek sex, food and water, it is also proven to be activated by congnitive rewards.

how to beat information addiction

Our brains have evolved to find information rewarding. In fact not knowing to some can seem stressful, which is why we strive to decrease that uncertainty whenever possible. We want the information and we want it now! So we become habitually transfixed by our phones and ipads, meaning we miss being engaged with those we love.

Today there is an never ending supply of other peoples ideas on hand 24/7, to capture your precious time and attention. I would argue most of us, whether we admit it or not, to some degree have become addicted to this stream of constant data.

how to beat information addiction

Whether you get a quick fix from the various social media feeds, youtube, the internet, your email inbox or even your TV. The abundance of information means there’s never a satisfying end point for the searching nature of your dopamine system, which doesn’t know when it’s had enough.

So it becomes harder and harder to stop browsing facebook or checking your cell phone to see if you have a message or a new text. If seeking isn’t turned off at least for a little while, then you start to run in an endless loop.

How to Beat Information Addiction – Turn Down the Noise

I am not anti-email or social media. I enjoy seeing my friends posting images of their holidays and travel or finding a nugget of wit or wisdom in the expansive world of facebook or Twitter. They are great tools for sharing information and have their own merits, both from a personal and business perspective.  

how to beat information addiction

However it’s not without costs, because the constant switching of attention makes it hard to get anything accomplished. So personally I’ve been keen to turn down the excessive noise, that infiltrates my limited attention span, but how?

We have already discussed that if something’s off limits then it becomes an object of desire, which is why to the person for whom a doughnut is off-limits, it becomes so much more. So advocating abstinence to treat information addiction, is likely to have you thinking about checking for updates on Facebook or if the email you’re waiting for has arrived more of the time.

It is possible you may succumb to the urge to check, just like the children who ate the marshmallow so an alternative is to schedule a limited time for checking on your information sources each day.

– Pick a time and schedule and time limit, say twice a day for 15 minutes a session, for example. This limit allows you to use these tools but also have time for other things. It also forces you to decide what’s important within that limit and to use the limited time efficiently.

To help you facilitate this you can use apps like Blocksite on Google chrome which allows you to choose the days and intervals you want to block access to certain sites.

– Turn off notifications — the dopamine system is especially sensitive to “cues” that a reward is coming. So if you have your phone set up to tell you, you’ve received a text message or email this enhances the addictive effect.

– Adjust the settings so that you don’t receive the automatic notifications. If you want to get work done you need to turn off as many auditory and visual cues as possible. It’s one of the best ways to prevent and break the dopamine loop.

Conclusion

Instant gratification has been proven overtime to affect future success and lead to potentially addictive tendencies. And considering there are countless opportunities everyday for quick fixes such as information, convenience foods or credit cards the habit is easy to develop.

But if you learn to delay gratification it pays off not only in the short term because you feel proud of yourself for avoiding the bait, but also in the long term as you create momentum and change in your life.

You get more done, you improve your financial position, you get healthier. You don’t inherit the ability to delay gratification. You develop it. You develop it by facing off against those things which get in the way of your goals.

The more you choose to say NO, eventually you’ll have two marshmallows instead of just one. I for one would rather have two than one, you?

A question for you…what are some of the methods you use to stop you taking the quick fix?

Jamie Matthewman

About Jamie Matthewman

Jamie is the founder, main contributor and editor of The Inspired Man.

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