Like everyone, I have bad habits I wish to break. One of them is to quit using Facebook and YouTube as they rob me of my focus and distract me from my goals. More specifically, I check Facebook very often and I tend to watch or listen to videos on YouTube that are unrelated to my task at hand. To help me in my endeavor, I ran an experiment based on aversive conditioning, or the idea that you can break a bad habit by associating it to a punishment.
In this case, I coded a software so that my Pavlok watch would give me an electric shock every time I accessed Facebook or YouTube. Each day, I wrote down the number of times the watch zapped me. After three days, I realized I should also note the number of times I began to type Facebook’s or YouTube’s URL, but stopped myself midway.
Below, here are the results. I started the experiment on September 24th and ended it on October 18th.
The zaps broke the “habit loop”
When I first started the experiment, I hadn’t planned to record the number of times I would stop myself from typing Facebook’s or YouTube’s URL. As such, the data is missing for the first three days. This is because I hadn’t fully grasped how the zaps were going to decrease my usage of those sites.
Obviously, the zaps acted as a punishment, but they also made me more aware of my actions. Before this experiment, I would visit Facebook or YouTube whenever I wanted, and the zaps made me realize that I would often do so out of sheer habit, as if I were acting on “muscle memory.” It was so bad that once, I was shocked for checking Facebook and I thought it was a bug because I had no recollection of even typing its URL. Yet, my browser’s history was unequivocal: I had checked Facebook!
Social media is not entirely bad
I stopped the experiment because I realized it was flawed. You see, I sometimes had legitimate reasons for using Facebook and YouTube, and on these occasions, I would deactivate the zaps. However, by the time I was done, I would usually get distracted by a recommended post or video, and here I was, wasting time again – without getting zapped. Even so, my usage of Facebook and YouTube did decrease by a lot.
Thus, I will restart the experiment with the following tweaks:
I will be authorized to use Facebook 5 minutes every day. However, the news feed will be removed through a browser extension named News Feed Eradicator to make sure I don’t get distracted. Once the five-minute allowance has run out, then I will be zapped for checking Facebook.
Whenever I wish to watch a video on YouTube, I will have to deactivate the zaps by typing a randomly generated string of 120 characters. Even then, all video recommendations will be removed through a browser extension called Unhook to make sure I don’t stay on YouTube any longer than I actually need. Once I’m done, I will reactivate the zaps.