Ty was a participant in one of my leadership development classes. In our session on effective meetings, I’d shared research on how much more efficient meetings could be if people refrained from attempts to “multi-task” while in the meeting. The buzzes and beeps from our smartphones, tablets and laptops are addictive. We crave the distraction and the potential reward that comes with an exciting or important text message, social media alert or email.
So Ty set out to curb his craving for distraction.
It was harder than he thought.
“I keep looking at my phone to see if there are any new messages,” Ty told me, “I have it silenced, not even on vibrate, and I am so addicted I keep looking. I can hardly last 10 minutes!”
I empathized. I’d been there myself a couple of years ago when I broke up with email. It is simple, but it certainly isn’t easy.
I explained to Ty that his smartphone habit was based on the repeated and predictable pattern of Cue –> Routine –> Reward.
The cue was his boredom.
When his mind would drift, whether in a meeting or doing independent work at his desk, that was his cue to reach for his phone. Maybe a juicy reward (interesting message) just arrived.
What makes the smartphone habit stick is the craving for the reward.
We all want the kudos email from a customer, the confirmation of a new project with your best client, or a note from your sweetheart.
But more often it is a notice that the cable bill is due, Amazon would like you to rate your recent purchase or Target alerts you to a sale curtains.
Ty’s anticipation for a reward, in fact his craving for a reward, was what made the habit stick.
Once he understood that the craving for the reward was driving his behavior, he understood, and he relaxed a bit. “I get a little hit of that craving when I’m just looking at my phone on my desk, trying to will myself not to look at it,” he said. “I’m going to leave it in my pocket or put it in my desk drawer when I need to concentrate so that I’m not triggering the craving just by looking at it.”
When I last spoke with Ty, he was making good progress on delaying the reward. He’d decided that kicking the smartphone habit altogether wasn’t in the cards for him, but he could at least delay the eventual reward . . . be it a text from his sweetie or a sale on curtains.
What strong cues draw you in?
Share yours below and I’ll reply with some tips to curb them.