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HOT TOPIC How I hacked my dopamine to train and reward desired work behaviors and halt procrastination

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Bekit

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I've been meaning to post this for a while now, thinking it might help other people. I'm also curious to know if other people have experimented with anything similar to this and gotten similar results.

This thread finally prompted me to write this down.

I invented a method for myself that has been extremely successful at building momentum and wins in getting work done.

This was born out of necessity. Failure to act has been my biggest downfall all my life.

Part 1: The Problem
I have skills, knowledge, and intelligence, but then I don't put them to use. I let myself pursue mindless distractions instead of work. I procrastinate. I get off track. I go into la-la-land. I engage in behaviors that are detrimental to my own best interest. Even while I'm seeing myself do it (and hating it), I don't find anything inside myself that gets me to actually change.

In other words, left to myself, in my natural state, I'm a walking, dysfunctional disaster. It's hard to believe that I've made it this far. Just a few small tweaks in some of the situations I've lived through, and I would probably be a homeless addict instead of someone on an upward trajectory towards the fastlane.
  • I know I need to hustle, but I don't.
  • I know I need to get moving, but I put if off, "just a little longer."
  • I know I need to engage and take action, but I let fear and inaction paralyze me.
OK, so the question arises, HOW DO I GET LEVERAGE OVER MYSELF TO DO THE THINGS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO REACHING MY GOALS?

Because my goals are big, beautiful, amazing things.

And there's every reason why I should be able to reach them if I just put in consistent effort.

But that's the problem.

Where do I get the leverage over myself to exert that effort?

Well, to start with, here's what I've tried that has NOT worked.

1. Kicking myself doesn't work. NO amount of beating myself up, threatening myself, or setting up punishments for myself has ever worked. I've experimented with hardcore punishments, like depriving myself of food for an entire day if I don't do the thing I've set myself to do. And I've ruthlessly carried it out, too. But apparently, even hunger isn't big enough to scare me. I have never been able to terrorize myself, abuse myself, or shame myself into doing what I know I need to do.

2. Logic doesn't work. The threat of being homeless and starving if I don't get myself into gear is a logical thing, but it carries no leverage with it. Focusing on logic will increase my frustration with myself, but it won't make me behave any differently.

3. Pep talks and hype don't work. NO amount of emotional speeches, motivational content, or working myself up into a frenzy of positive optimism has ever worked. I get myself into this amazing, exhilarated frame of mind...and I expect that finally, THIS time, I'll finally rise up and DO the thing - and then something inside me always gets the better of me and I'm just like, "Nah. Why bother? I'm going to go on surfing the web for just a little longer."

4. Routine and structure only work to an extent. When I have managed to get myself into a very predictable routine, with lots of structure and accountability, I have tended to perform better. But the trouble is, that structure and routine has only ever come from an outside source. When it's up to ME to create that structure and routine for myself, I'm beating my head against a wall of futility. I'm like a tree trying to pull itself up by the roots. Because the nature of the problem is precisely that I'm lacking in the very self-discipline and self-governance that is prerequisite to creating that structure and regimen. And outside sources of structure and accountability can only go so far, because at the end of the day, YOU have to exercise your own internal locus of control. And where is that going to come from? Inside yourself. But where do you get that if it's missing? For me, this has been a perpetual cycle of defeat.

5. Examining my belief system hasn't worked. This issue, admittedly, has a lot to do with mindset and beliefs, but even when I have gotten my mindset and beliefs to be as healthy as I could possibly get them, it still didn't make a difference in my ACTION TAKING. Beliefs lead to action, so if your beliefs are false and your mindset is unhelpful, then they definitely need a makeover. But I had the advantage of being raised with principles that took me a long way: Take responsibility for your actions. Don't say, "I can't." I am responsible for my own choices. I don't let other people's actions dictate my response. But still, I find myself in this maddening bondage to dilly-dallying, self-sabotage, and procrastination.

6. Caffeine has only worked to a certain extent. I have experimented with a few things that boost the brain's executive function, the part of me that decides, "I'm going to do this now," and then actually carry it out. The main thing that has worked for me has been caffeine. When I'm on caffeine, I can actually decide to do something, and then DO it. But that effect is temporary, because as soon as I've had coffee for a few days and my body becomes addicted to it, it stops working.

OK, what gives? What else is left to try?

Does anybody relate to this?

Giving up is not an option. There has got to be a way to figure this out. So I keep trying.

This year, I embarked on a new experiment. And this one thing has been the most effective method I have ever used on myself to actually get somewhere with myself.

It all started with an offhand comment my sister made about dog training, which I then implemented into a method of training myself.

And my results have been amazing.

I'm going to explain it in the next post.
 

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Bekit

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Part 3. How the game works

The concept for this game comes from the dog training world. Hat tip to my talented dog trainer sister and Karen Pryor. Here is a starter article on clicker training: https://www.clickertraining.com/15tips

The basic gist of it is, the trainer clicks a clicker when the dog performs the desired behavior, even when the dog accidentally does something close to the desired behavior. The trainer rewards with a treat after the click. Very quickly, the dog's brain associates the sound of the click with the feeling of reward. (There's the first step of the dopamine connection.)

I had looked into using clicker training for kids at one point when I was working in the schools, and in the human context, it's called TAGteach. This article provides a good overview of how TAGteach works. https://www.clickertraining.com/node/3323

TAGteach starts with the same clicker method, but it expands upon it so that you can eventually chain desired behaviors together. The article above gives the example of a 6-step morning routine.

Roman's teacher had articulated a 6-step drop-off process. Each morning the students were to:
  1. take their homework folders out of their backpacks
  2. place their homework folders in the basket
  3. put their lunch kits in the small cubby
  4. hang their backpacks up in the large cubby
  5. hang up their jackets
  6. sit at their desks to begin their desk work
The process of dropping off Roman at school occurred in an extremely distracting environment. Roman's parents and teacher tried to keep him on task with the morning routine. However, he wandered off task to chat with a friend, look at something interesting, or start playing. The goal was to have Roman walk into the classroom and complete all six tasks independently—with zero reminders from his parents or teacher.

At first, you tag the behaviors individually. Later, as the individual behaviors become easy, you gradually clump the behaviors together and tag only the successful completion of the entire chain of behaviors.

One tool that facilitates this process is an item called a "TAGulator" (a string of 10 beads, woven in a certain way to record "clicks"). Here is an article that covers the construction and use of the TAGulator:

Putting it all together

Here's how I constructed the game using the "props" I had collected.
  1. A tablespoon or two of chocolate chips
  2. A piece of string
  3. A small eye-screw
  4. Ten small beads
  5. A violin
1. The chocolate chips were my "treat." I have always had a sweet tooth, so I knew that eating one chocolate chip would give me a tiny dopamine hit.

2, 3, and 4. These were my supplies to construct my TAGulator. I screwed the eye-screw into a wooden stand where I set up my computer and hung the string and the beads from it.
26925

Pulling a bead down is an important part of the process, especially once you start chaining behaviors together. While I liked the idea of chocolate chip rewards, I certainly didn't want this game to cost me rotten teeth and 10 pounds of added fat.

The idea is, you start by rewarding yourself every time you pull down a bead. But eventually, you progress to the point where you reward yourself only at the 10th bead. Then you reset the TAGulator and start over with another batch of 10 good behaviors. So rewards come thickly at the beginning and then you continue to reinforce your established patterns at a slower rate.

5. The violin was my "clicker." I didn't have a proper Karen Pryor clicker, so I just looked for something I had in the house that would make a single, pleasing auditory "ding." I set the violin on a table near my desk and plucked the G string each time I wanted to "TAG" a good behavior. You could use anything that makes a noise, such as a small bell or a pen that has a nice click. I am sensitive to sounds and wanted a sound that I would look forward to.

The auditory component of this is not to be missed. Hearing the sound is an important part of forming the association in your brain. It's kind of like the Pavlov's dog effect. You get to the point where the sound alone causes you to salivate. You're harnessing multiple pathways in your brain to stimulate and reinforce the connection.


The Game Begins

In this game, you are both the trainer and the trainee.

Filling both of these roles for me was not difficult. I was already "divided against myself" in my behaviors, as my better judgment struggled against my procrastination and self-indulgence.

But making it into a game gave the "better judgment" side of me just enough leverage to beguile and intrigue the "self-indulgent" side of me into participating.

I set the timer on my phone for one minute.

"I am going to work with diligence and focus until the timer goes off," I stated aloud.

Don't judge.

I was truly that bad. That's how big of a remedial approach I had to give myself.

Hopefully most people reading this won't have to start off THAT small.

But I had to find a way to start with wins.

Like my sister said, "Make each step easy and fun to take."

OK, so one minute it was.

And I succeeded in working for that full minute until the timer went off.

The Celebration

The timer rang. I had successfully worked for ONE FULL MINUTE!

Now it was time to artificially contrive for my brain to get a dopamine hit. This was my method, and it became a ritual that I performed every time in the following way:
  1. I gave the G-string of the violin one nice, loud, resonant pluck.
  2. I physically clapped my hands, smiled, and excitedly exclaimed, "YAAAAAY!" out loud (I warned you this was silly) - but see Ann Cuddy's Ted Talk for the reasons behind this.
  3. I briefly extended my arms up into a victorious "V" pose (again, see Ann Cuddy - though I only held this momentarily, not for two minutes). It felt good to just stretch my arms up that way.
    1. Side thought: Beginning the Dopamine Hacking Game Session with a nice 2-minute power pose might make the whole game even more effective.
  4. I ate one chocolate chip. While I ate it, I focused on really tasting how delicious and enjoyable it was. I smiled and ate it with gusto. I did not let this become stale or old or boring. I actively enjoyed each and every chocolate chip in order to produce as big of a dopamine reward as I could.
  5. I pulled down one bead from my TAGulator.
The celebration ritual didn't take more than 15-20 seconds per time, so (A) it wasn't taking up NEARLY as much time as my excursions into la-la-land and (B) I considered it an investment in my continued success. It felt like winning, even if it was silly. It was effective at helping me to accumulate some wins and momentum.

Early rounds of the game

Round 1: I did five one-minute timers in a row, as described above.

I would work for one minute, celebrate with my 5-step ritual, and then work for one more minute.

One minute was VERY easy. It almost felt too easy, but I wanted to establish a reliable dopamine pathway early with lots of repetition. My goal was for my brain to associate "working with diligence and focus" with a feeling of being rewarded. I wanted to get to the point where my brain WANTED to work instead of having to fight against myself in order to coerce myself to work.

Round 2: I did five two-minute timers in a row.

Still very easy. As long as it stayed easy to perform, I knew I could safely move up to a "harder" level. And as soon as it threatened to get boring if I continued to keep it at that easy of a level, I increased the time.

Round 3. I did five three-minute timers in a row.

Still very easy.

Round 4. I did 10 five-minute timers in a row.

I was still consuming one chocolate chip and celebrating with the 5-step ritual for each 5-minute timer.

It was still very easy.

Round 5. I tried a 15-minute timer.

WOMP, WOMMMPPPPPP.

Failure.

Somewhere along the 15 minute journey, I forgot that I was supposed to be focusing on work.

By the time the timer rang, I was off on some bunny trail or other.

Caught me.

OK, so I learned that 15 minutes was too long.

And I needed rewards to come thick and fast at this early stage. After all, this was only my first day.

So I reset the timer to the last point where I had been successful. 5 minutes.

For the rest of that day, in 5 minute increments, I stated aloud that I would work with diligence and focus. I set my timer. I worked. And I celebrated each win as if it was the winning touchdown at the Super Bowl.

At the end of my work day, I felt GOOD.

I didn't feel like a disgusting, dysfunctional idiot who couldn't get my act together. I felt like I was going to get somewhere with this.

It was working.

I was winning all day instead of losing.

I was making progress and gaining momentum instead of deteriorating.

I had actually found leverage that got the procrastinating part of me to willingly engage and participate.

But would it work again the next day? Or would I be bored and cynical by morning?

Day 2 - The Game Continues To Deliver

On Day 2, I gave myself 5 minute timers all day long.

Every 5 minutes, I celebrated and pulled down one bead.

Every 10 beads, I took a longer break and gave myself a bigger reward. I got up from my desk, moved around, and did something fun for 10 minutes.

I also switched things up and didn't do pure chocolate chips. I mixed salted almonds and chocolate chips together. Each time I earned a reward, I could pick either one almond or one chocolate chip. Either way, I savored it as I ate it as if it was the yummiest thing in the world.

Day 3 - Good Things are Still Happening

I was surprised by Day 3 that I hadn't lost interest in this game.

I also knew for a fact that I was not "out of the woods."

If I tried to go back to "just working normally," I would be off the rails, lickety-split.

So I continued with 5-minute timers.

I didn't yet sense ANY sort of "automatic connection" happening. There was no interior satisfaction or inner association of work with reward yet.

So I just continued. I wanted to give the experiment a good-faith effort.

Week 1 - Nothing Has Ever Worked This Long

The whole week went by, and I was continually amazed that the game hadn't stopped working.

Always before, anything that I would ever try would work for a short time and then I would get bored, lose interest, and the whole thing would fizzle out.

Not this time.

I sensed that I was hot on the trail of using my dopamine in my favor rather than just being at the mercy of it working against me.

(Continued in part 4 - Upgrading the game)
 
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Bekit

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Part 2: The Conditions That Led to Trying This Solution

My sister is a gifted dog trainer. When we were growing up, she had a natural instinct for how to train our border collie to do unusual things. I mean, I know border collies are smart, but she had our dog doing things like loading and unloading the dryer, opening doorknobs, and even reading words written on flashcards.

One time, I remember her saying, "It's easy to teach anything to a dog. All you have to do is break it down so that each successive step is something that the dog thinks is easy and fun to do."

Hmmm.

That comment came into my mind in my most recent bout with my brain.

The internal struggle was fierce.

I desperately needed my brain to perform on command. I was working as a copywriter for an internet marketer, and I was burning out. I had been working for months at a breakneck pace. It was the kind of pace that I could have typically kept up for two weeks, with lots of extra coffee, and I had kept it up for a year. Unsustainable, really.

I did not have the luxury of succumbing to writers block. I needed to crank out copy.

And every day, my brain was like, "Nope." "Nope." "Not gonna write." "Not gonna show up to work today." "You can't make me."

I was going downhill little by little.

I was developing anxiety, something I had never experienced before, and it was interfering more and more with my work.

There were days when I thought I was going to permanently lose the ability to write anything at all.

Instead of just sitting down to work diligently and produce a day's work in 8 hours, I found myself resorting to YouTube, Quora, The Fastlane Forum, and just surfing the web.

"I just can't work right now," I would tell myself. "I need to just go and do this other thing, just real quick." "I need to rest my brain for a minute." "I need just a little bit of pleasure, and then maybe I'll feel ready to dive into work."

The problem was, my work tolerance got shorter and shorter, and my "rest breaks" got longer and longer.

It got to the point where the slightest difficulty at work would turn into a 2-hour detour, or a 6-hour detour, where I was consuming mindless entertainment instead of working.

The whole time I was doing this, I had an awareness of what I was doing, which produced a low-grade dread. The running narrative in my head was, "You're off track. You need to stop this. You need to get back to work. You're not doing yourself any favors. In fact, you hate this. You should stop." But I would continue, zombie-like, and tell myself that I couldn't stop. Or, I would switch to a browser tab that had some copy task on it, and I would instantly crumble under the weight of it. "I just can't face that right now," I would say to myself. "I just need to recover strength a little longer." So the internal battle would go on and on.

This inevitably pushed my work later and later, until I was working until midnight, 1 AM, or 2 AM to get my work done, simply because I hadn't been diligent during the "work hours" portion of the day.

Then I would wake up tired the next morning and have another fierce (but losing) battle with myself, where instead of starting to work early, with focus and determination, I just meandered through the meadow of la-la land for hours before I could prevail on myself to actually work.

In this way, my regular employment was swallowing up all my waking hours, leaving me no time for my fastlane hustle. I knew that I was just plain WASTING TIME with nothing to show for it. I was disgusted with this, but I kept doing it.

It was as if I could not force myself to do what I knew was in my best interest.

I loathed myself for this.

If only I could stop being lazy.

If only I could get my circadian rhythm sorted out.

If only I could actually ENGAGE MY BRAIN IN WORK when it was time to work.

If only I could get enough mastery over myself to be productive.

What was wrong with me, anyway? I NEVER used to have an appetite for mindless entertainment. Why did I even want to do this?

Essentially, I was behaving like an addict. I kept turning to my "drug," even when everything in my system KNEW that it was going to hurt me.

I was watching myself become more and more dysfunctional by the day, and I felt powerless to stop it.

And it was at that juncture that my sister's comment from long ago popped into my head.

"All you have to do is make the dog think that each step is easy and fun."

And that comment merged in my head with the thought, "This is a dopamine issue."

Suddenly, I saw a way to gamify the desired behavior (= work) in a way that would give me a dopamine hit for doing it.

My hypothesis was this:

I'm pursuing dopamine "rewards" when I seek out all this mindless entertainment. I'm feeding a continual dopamine drip, all day long. And I've become addicted to it. But my dopamine pathway is currently VERY unhelpful. My brain feels rewarded for something that is OBJECTIVELY HARMFUL to my success.

So here's what I bet I can do:

I think I can hack my dopamine pathway. I'm going to contrive an "artificial" dopamine hit again and again and again for the DESIRED behavior.

And my guess is that since dopamine is a real thing that really affects my brain, even though I'm artificially contriving this dopamine hit, it's going to forge a new pathway.

And sooner or later, I'm going to feel NATURALLY rewarded for the good behaviors that I want to instill in myself.


So let the game begin!

Armed with my new idea, I went through the house and gathered up my supplies for the game:
  1. A tablespoon or two of chocolate chips
  2. A piece of string
  3. A small eye-screw
  4. Ten small beads
  5. A violin
How I played this "game" was almost laughably, pathetically ridiculous if anyone saw me. Fortunately, I was working from home, so no one did. And I didn't know if it was going to work.

But I smiled and determined to have fun, even if it was silly.

I didn't have anything to lose.

(Continued in the next post.)
 

Bekit

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The Long-Awaited Part 4 - Upgrading the Game

Sorry for the delay in getting this posted, and thank you to everyone who has expressed thanks, support, and anticipation of the next step. It has been gratifying to learn that my experiments with myself have been helpful to other people.

(Side note: The fact that I haven't posted an update to this is actually an indication of how focused I have been lately, as the forum has been one of my "indulgences." #fulltransparency - High forum attendance for me has traditionally been strongly correlated with high work avoidance. Kind of sad on an entrepreneurial forum where we're all about keeping each other motivated to think big and do hard things. But this has turned around for me and gotten into a nice, sustainable balance, where interacting on the forum isn't robbing from higher-priority tasks.)

So back to where I left off...

I had worked for a week or two with my daily experiments. The chocolate chips, celebrations, and other components of the game were continuing to work.

External conditions continued to be bad. I was working with a very burned-out brain and a company dynamic where I was disengaging a little more every day.

But this was giving me a way to faithfully crank out work every day, even though I wouldn't have typically wanted to.

And it didn't feel like forcing myself to do anything.

No longer was I dragging myself to work, kicking and screaming, in the futile endeavor to actually DO anything.

Then came the challenge.

I took a trip where I had to accomplish the same amount of work, but in some very distracting conditions while I was on the road.

At home, I have an office environment that is basically perfect for focused work.

But on this trip, I had to work from a variety of noisy, unpredictable environments, such as airports, the back seat of a car, and various bedrooms belonging to my relatives, complete with many beguiling opportunities to get off track.

On top of that, I had very spotty internet along the way.

Ordinarily, this would have been something along the lines of, "I'm not going to get anything done anyway, so why bother?"

But in this case, I had a plan. The plan had been working up until this point. Would it continue to work with a change of environment?

Off I went. I told a few people about my "game" when it made sense, such as when I was riding in the back seat of my aunt & uncle's car for about 5 hours. (I didn't want them to be concerned that I was losing my mind when I celebrated every five minutes. They happily played along.)

And it was on that trip that I had the first taste of victory.

I was working and had missed a round or two of my game, due to various distractions. BUT I HAD CONTINUED WORKING.

And the biggest triumph was when I realized, "This feels rewarding!!"

Work alone, without any corresponding rewards and celebrations, had produced its own tiny little dose of happiness and intrinsic reward.

I felt like shouting.

YESSSSSS!!!!! THIS IS WORKING!!!

The neural pathway was getting built. I had tricked my brain into making work feel rewarding.

I had moved one step away from turning to my "vices" to reward myself (YouTube, surfing the web, etc), and I had moved one step closer to letting work build its own momentum because work itself had become rewarding.

A Chat With My Sister Leads To A Few Upgrades
Part of the trip involved a brief visit with my brilliant dog trainer sister.

I described my game to her in detail, and she listened with interest. Then she offered me a few pointers for where I could take it to an even greater level.
  • It's high time to stretch your focus beyond 5 minutes. This has become too easy now. You're starting to stagnate.
  • Extend the time between rewards, but don't just extend the time indefinitely into the future, because your brain will know that the rewards are receding into the distance. There is a risk that you will disengage from the game.
  • Instead, stretch yourself to 10 or 15 minutes, but then plan a return to the 5-minute (or even the 1-minute) reward schedule before stretching yourself again to 20 or 25 minutes.
  • Keep varying the frequency of your reward schedules on a sine-curve model. This will give your brain something to look forward to, because at the end of each long stretch, there will be another rapid-fire set of rewards.
  • Intentionally (and gradually) incorporate small distractions into your path. Reward yourself for ignoring them. This is kind of like a dog trainer who intentionally places treats along the path and trains (& rewards) the dog to ignore them.
  • For instance, if your phone is a problem, set up a scenario where you can practice ignoring your phone. Instead of putting your phone in another room where you can't see it, put it in your field of vision. Reward yourself for all the times you want to pick it up and you say no.
  • Be judicious. Set this up so that it is super-easy for you to be successful. Increase the difficulty gradually so that you are eventually ignoring all the multiple "triggers" that used to be your downfall.
  • Think though the "payday" of rewards you are giving yourself. Set up larger and smaller ones, depending on the size or importance of the accomplishment. You will work harder for a bigger payday. And you will feel more rewarded afterward, which reinforces the learning that is taking place.
  • My sister pointed out that by setting up my office to be a "perfect" environment for distraction-free work, what I actually did was train myself to tune into the very smallest trigger of all (my thoughts). You can never get away from your own thoughts. So a better approach is to train yourself to tune out bigger and bigger distractions so that you can handle almost any environment with focus.
All this blew my mind a little bit.

I started taking things to the next level.

Where I Am Today
Fast forward to today. Here are a few of the observations I'd make about myself now.
  • I no longer play this game because I no longer need to (but I would return to it in a heartbeat if needed).
  • My brain now thinks work is rewarding for its own sake. This started really small, 5 minutes and one chocolate chip at a time. But it worked.
  • I have recovered from the burnout that I was experiencing at the time I started this game.
  • I have started to actually work on projects that are valuable to move the needle, rather than doing whatever is the prominent whim or fancy of the moment.
  • The self-loathing, "What-is-wrong-with-me-and-why-am-I-so-dysfunctional" attitude has been replaced with confidence and optimism, now that I am not wasting so much time.
  • My pay has gone up by $1000/month, and I feel like I'm doing less work.
  • I feel more like I am cooperating with my brain than being a victim at its mercy.
  • I can work with or without caffeine. (That is a huge one.)
  • I'm having fun and enjoying work.
=============
THE END
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Jaden Jones

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Im just waiting for the..."To find out what I did with the items, just send $9.95 to the following address"
Its so well written, would almost be worth it lol
 

Bekit

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It's similar to Pomodoros, but the difference is in the training and rewards. I had successfully done Pomodoros in the past, as well as an even better method I had found, which was Work Cycles (by Sebastian Marshall at Ultraworking). But this particular method was at a time where my work performance had deteriorated to the point where I wasn't able to do even a single pomodoro.

I think the method worked, not because it was just "shorter pomodoros," but because of the way that the training was able to incentivize me to adopt a new behavior and stop doing an undesired one.

The desired behavior in this model can be anything that you've struggled to do (not just timed performance). Maybe it's that you get yourself to work out consistently. Maybe it's that you get yourself to keep your house tidy. Maybe it's that you train yourself to be on time. Maybe it's that you implement a morning routine.

The point is not "shorten the time of your work sessions," but "train a new behavior in small increments where each step is easy and fun to do." I just chose a timed work session because it was something with a binary outcome. Either I performed the behavior or I didn't. It was easy to tell and easy to measure that my progress was sticking. And it was easy to gradually increase the difficulty.
 

MakeItHappen

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That's why, after reading Atomic Habits by James Clear, i put up a big daily calender up in my working space and mark every bad (red marker) and good (green / blue marker) habit on it.

The motivation behind this is to cut every bad behaviour from occuring "on your list" day by day and enforce / strenghten the good ones.

I'm doing this for training since 2015 to keep track of progress and keep me pushing, but it never crossed my mind to use this overall for work and personal habits until earlier this year.

With this "system" in place i stopped the excessive use of social media and just use it "as part of the game" like 15-30 minutes a day, integrated waking up at 5.00 o'clock, doing a 15 minute sport morning routine, taking a 5-6 minute cold shower, reading while enjoying breakfast and jumping into work around 7.30 to 8.00 before heading to my slowlane job.

You can even set the quality of your work apart by marking it. Have you been doing "busy" work or were you actually productive? Busy works gets a green / blue W and a red B, productive work gets a green / blue W and a green / blue P. A good question to divide those two is: "Does it move the needle?", id est "Does it provide measurable benefits?" or am i just wasting time doing nonsense?

Guess what. There's hardly any red's on my calender and a lot of blue's and green's. Standing infront of it every day and beeing able to add more blue's and green's on a daily basis is rewarding.

Best of luck to you and your endeavours!
 

ChrisV

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Routine and structure only work to an extent. When I have managed to get myself into a very predictable routine, with lots of structure and accountability, I have tended to perform better. But the trouble is, that structure and routine has only ever come from an outside source. When it's up to ME to create that structure and routine for myself, I'm beating my head against a wall of futility.
Interestingly enough, this is exactly what Barkley suggests:

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnlw2RQUjWQ


Since ADHD is basically impulsivity, it makes people only care about the present. Punishments that are far off? 'Who cares... i'll deal with that when it comes.' This is why we wait until the last minute for EVERYTHING. We need immediate consequences and immediate rewards.
 

WM Roger

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I've been meaning to post this for a while now, thinking it might help other people. I'm also curious to know if other people have experimented with anything similar to this and gotten similar results.

This thread finally prompted me to write this down.

I invented a method for myself that has been extremely successful at building momentum and wins in getting work done.

This was born out of necessity. Failure to act has been my biggest downfall all my life.

Part 1: The Problem
I have skills, knowledge, and intelligence, but then I don't put them to use. I let myself pursue mindless distractions instead of work. I procrastinate. I get off track. I go into la-la-land. I engage in behaviors that are detrimental to my own best interest. Even while I'm seeing myself do it (and hating it), I don't find anything inside myself that gets me to actually change.

In other words, left to myself, in my natural state, I'm a walking, dysfunctional disaster. It's hard to believe that I've made it this far. Just a few small tweaks in some of the situations I've lived through, and I would probably be a homeless addict instead of someone on an upward trajectory towards the fastlane.
  • I know I need to hustle, but I don't.
  • I know I need to get moving, but I put if off, "just a little longer."
  • I know I need to engage and take action, but I let fear and inaction paralyze me.
OK, so the question arises, HOW DO I GET LEVERAGE OVER MYSELF TO DO THE THINGS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO REACHING MY GOALS?

Because my goals are big, beautiful, amazing things.

And there's every reason why I should be able to reach them if I just put in consistent effort.

But that's the problem.

Where do I get the leverage over myself to exert that effort?

Well, to start with, here's what I've tried that has NOT worked.

1. Kicking myself doesn't work. NO amount of beating myself up, threatening myself, or setting up punishments for myself has ever worked. I've experimented with hardcore punishments, like depriving myself of food for an entire day if I don't do the thing I've set myself to do. And I've ruthlessly carried it out, too. But apparently, even hunger isn't big enough to scare me. I have never been able to terrorize myself, abuse myself, or shame myself into doing what I know I need to do.

2. Logic doesn't work. The threat of being homeless and starving if I don't get myself into gear is a logical thing, but it carries no leverage with it. Focusing on logic will increase my frustration with myself, but it won't make me behave any differently.

3. Pep talks and hype don't work. NO amount of emotional speeches, motivational content, or working myself up into a frenzy of positive optimism has ever worked. I get myself into this amazing, exhilarated frame of mind...and I expect that finally, THIS time, I'll finally rise up and DO the thing - and then something inside me always gets the better of me and I'm just like, "Nah. Why bother? I'm going to go on surfing the web for just a little longer."

4. Routine and structure only work to an extent. When I have managed to get myself into a very predictable routine, with lots of structure and accountability, I have tended to perform better. But the trouble is, that structure and routine has only ever come from an outside source. When it's up to ME to create that structure and routine for myself, I'm beating my head against a wall of futility. I'm like a tree trying to pull itself up by the roots. Because the nature of the problem is precisely that I'm lacking in the very self-discipline and self-governance that is prerequisite to creating that structure and regimen. And outside sources of structure and accountability can only go so far, because at the end of the day, YOU have to exercise your own internal locus of control. And where is that going to come from? Inside yourself. But where do you get that if it's missing? For me, this has been a perpetual cycle of defeat.

5. Examining my belief system hasn't worked. This issue, admittedly, has a lot to do with mindset and beliefs, but even when I have gotten my mindset and beliefs to be as healthy as I could possibly get them, it still didn't make a difference in my ACTION TAKING. Beliefs lead to action, so if your beliefs are false and your mindset is unhelpful, then they definitely need a makeover. But I had the advantage of being raised with principles that took me a long way: Take responsibility for your actions. Don't say, "I can't." I am responsible for my own choices. I don't let other people's actions dictate my response. But still, I find myself in this maddening bondage to dilly-dallying, self-sabotage, and procrastination.

6. Caffeine has only worked to a certain extent. I have experimented with a few things that boost the brain's executive function, the part of me that decides, "I'm going to do this now," and then actually carry it out. The main thing that has worked for me has been caffeine. When I'm on caffeine, I can actually decide to do something, and then DO it. But that effect is temporary, because as soon as I've had coffee for a few days and my body becomes addicted to it, it stops working.

OK, what gives? What else is left to try?

Does anybody relate to this?

Giving up is not an option. There has got to be a way to figure this out. So I keep trying.

This year, I embarked on a new experiment. And this one thing has been the most effective method I have ever used on myself to actually get somewhere with myself.

It all started with an offhand comment my sister made about dog training, which I then implemented into a method of training myself.

And my results have been amazing.

I'm going to explain it in the next post.
@Bekit
After I read the fastlane and found the forum, I never really got the time to post anything and was more focused on work. Work work work actually. Until I got kind of stuck in a growing mind numbing administrative pile of emails and boring tasks that just had to be done. My ambition got kind of lost the last 2 years and I sleepwalked back into the slowlane. Although I read many business books, listened to motivational podcasts and have a full mental harddisk of tools, the more I read and heard, the more I got tired and fell into youtube and social media traps.

And then I read this post which popped up from a fastlane email summary..
I said f*ckit and bought myself some beads and a string..

And now, these last two weeks have been the absolute most productive weeks ever in my life probably. This technique works bloody amazing! I just wish I had this from high school on!
I've never been more focussed and driven, my inbox reached zero the second day, something that hadn't happened for years, and I'm finally back on top of things.

I'm planning on writing a post about this in a few weeks if I have some more data. But I just wanted to log in after all these years and finally make time for a post.. your dog training is worth a NYT bestseller!

T H A N K Y O U !!!!
 

Bekit

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Im just waiting for the..."To find out what I did with the items, just send $9.95 to the following address"
Its so well written, would almost be worth it lol

YES. My sales letter is worth its salt.

Actually, the price is going to be $199.95.

.

.

.

.

Just kidding, I'm typing out the next post at the moment.
 

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ChrisV

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My sister is a gifted dog trainer. When we were growing up, she had a natural instinct for how to train our border collie to do unusual things. I mean, I know border collies are smart, but she had our dog doing things like loading and unloading the dryer, opening doorknobs, and even reading words written on flashcards.

One time, I remember her saying, "It's easy to teach anything to a dog. All you have to do is break it down so that each successive step is something that the dog thinks is easy and fun to do."

Hmmm.

That comment came into my mind in my most recent bout with my brain.
This is a really interesting approach. The part of the brain that makes us uniquely human is the prefrontal cortex. In ADHD (or any self-control issue really,) this area isn't working nearly to the extent it should be. So the solution? Train yourself the same way you would any organism without a highly developed prefrontal cortex. Use the limbic system instead.

Armed with my new idea, I went through the house and gathered up my supplies for the game:
  1. A tablespoon or two of chocolate chips
  2. A piece of string
  3. A small eye-screw
  4. Ten small beads
  5. A violin

This is brilliant.

I have no idea where this is going... that list of items is so random.

:rofl:

Dope thread. If and when @MJ DeMarco ever gets the rep system back, I owe you some.
 

Rabby

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I love this. Also waiting for part 4. Brilliant to think of training yourself as trainer and trainee.

You know, one thing this points out is that the company you're producing copy for is missing something.

Ahem.
27178
One thing I have learned to make an effort to do, is show people appreciation for each piece of work they do. Especially if they are disconnected from the customer and can not directly receive the sunshine from them. This is so important. If you automate your business and leave, you have to make sure that people in the business are still giving and getting this type of attention, the positive feedback!

D.S.

...because that bears repeating.

I think there's also a business building lesson in your thread. ANYONE can run into this kind of low motivation problem. It happens when we're plugged into screens as if we're machines. For some people, it's easier to find yourself here than others, but anyone will lose productivity without positive feedback.

The funny thing is, you've shown how easy it is to create this feeling of feedback. You add a scent to Febreez, mint to toothpaste, a like button to facebook, or a violin and chocolate chips to work (LOL). Having implemented this, I'm expecting motivation superpowers from you :hilarious:

Also, I'm stealing your chocolate chip idea, as I love chocolate chips.

A few books I can think of that have commented on this feedback loop in one way or another:
  • Unscripted (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
  • Atomic Habits
  • The Power of Habit
  • The Motivation Myth
For me, Unscripted and The Motivation Myth helped fix this concept in mind, along with an observation of employee performance, and a comment from a business consultant. With the employee, I noticed everything was better for a few weeks, or months, if I found some way to show appreciation. Not just money, appreciation. Acknowledgement, credit. People want to feel like they're doing something that helps, and they become addicted to that feeling - it makes them feel like "part of us," a contributing member. Then I noticed the same thing with another employee. At some point I tried it with students, and lots more of them completed their classes on time, and referred their friends. Then one day the business consultant said something more or less like, "an employee's biggest motivation is feeling like they're contributing to something that's worth doing." The idea I got from it was, wow, people want that feeling that something good came out of their work.

Anyway, I mention that because an idea can take lots of different paths before we find a cool way to actually apply it. Brains are confusing.

D.S.

This is big. I love your silly method, don't worry about it being silly ;) Looking forward to the continuation!
 

André Casal

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Ok, just want to give my feedback on this.

Went to buy chocolate chips the day I read this. Tried it and it has been working for 4 days straight. Very happy with my productivity and, honestly, very happy in general. I’m off to buy the ingredients for a TAGulator now, so I can start chaining 10x25min work sessions for a bigger reward and break.

I’m not sure this would have worked without having a clear, consistent, path ahead and mostly rid of internal conflicts.

Routine and coffee help too.
 
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Bekit

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Awesome, thank you!

A few questions:

  • How long did it take for you to start associating work as a reward without the treats?
  • It reads like you only ever did the 5-minute rewards before you stopped the game, is that correct? Or did you experiment with the 10-20minutes etc?
  • If you did change how long were you at each stage? e.g. 2 months 5-minute rewards, 3 weeks 10-minute rewards
  • When you were doing 5-minute rewards how often do you think you ended up continually working on average? like how long was a session in general, 1,2,3 hours? were you taking breaks?
  • Do you want a dog now? ;)
Thanks so much, this post has had a big positive impact on me, thank you
Glad you enjoyed this.
  • How long did it take for you to start associating work as a reward without the treats?
    • It was approximately 2 weeks after continuously practicing these rewards every 5 minutes for the entire workday that I had the first little nugget of "automatic" reward
    • It took several months to get to the point where I am at today. I started in April. It is now September. That's about 6 months overall.
  • It reads like you only ever did the 5-minute rewards before you stopped the game, is that correct? Or did you experiment with the 10-20minutes etc?
    • Sorry, I sort of glossed over the implementation of the upgrades to the game with the simple phrase, "I started taking things to the next level," and then I fast-forwarded to today. This was partly because I was afraid I would never finish this post if I tried to write too much detail, and partly because my implementation of the upgrades would look different from someone else's.
    • Once the inner brain-reward connection got fired up, I quickly worked back up to being able to do 25-30 minute session instead of 5 min, and I would practice either the standard pomodoro technique to keep myself on track, or do Sebastian Marshall's Work Cycles, which for me worked even better than Pomodoros.
  • If you did change how long were you at each stage? e.g. 2 months 5-minute rewards, 3 weeks 10-minute rewards
    • I sort of loosened up my implementation as I looked for different ways to implement my upgrades, so it's hard to say. I also changed jobs and had to adjust to a whole new set of tasks and work rhythms, so that muddied the waters a bit.
    • The most notable stage for me was the 5-minute reward stage. That was what got the ball rolling. It lasted around two weeks, maybe two and a half or three... This would have been back in April, and I didn't take detailed records, so I am just going by my memory.
    • I would not say I have made uninterrupted progress from the time I started until now. It has been more of an up-and-down roller coaster ride, but with an overall trend of progress, despite the dips.
  • When you were doing 5-minute rewards how often do you think you ended up continually working on average? like how long was a session in general, 1,2,3 hours? were you taking breaks?
    • That's a good question. When I started, my stamina for work was basically nonexistent, so even 5 minutes was a real victory. But I would say that once I got started, I would do 2-4 hours in a row of continuous 5-minute sessions, followed by a break and then another multiple-hour session. Again, this was back in April, so I'm just trying to recreate from memory what my sessions looked like. At that time, I was (a) very burned out, so a lot of things are a blur, and (b) very chaotic in my work habits, where some days I would work from 6 AM to 2AM, some days I would work from 4 PM to midnight, some days I would work from 5AM to 8AM and then take a break and not get back into "work mode" until the afternoon, etc.
  • Do you want a dog now?
    • Haha nope :)

You and your sis should write a book. All the mechanics are easier digest when framed via dog training. Taking something new and relating it to something known = better comprehension.

That's a great idea!
 

Andy Black

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Following, because you write so well @Bekit, and because I'm intrigued by the list of items too!

Also... I log into the forum, Facebook, and recently YouTube multiple times a day - but I'm typically in and out. I consider it part of what I do to figure out those platforms so I can produce better. I'm curious how and why it's different for others that they end up over consuming.
 

ChrisV

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Going back to my first post, about increased accountability, I wanted to give a shoutout to @LightHouse who uses a similar method with his clients.


This is a brilliant strategy for anyone with Self-Control issues. If your own Self-Control neural mechanism aren't working, like we were discussing in my other thread, use someone else's. Or set it up in a way that it doesn't matter. Setting it up that way bypasses the need for executive function and uses different brain structures to achieve the same result. Humans have a strong desire to avoid shame. So setting it up that way is essentially like a prosthetic prefrontal cortex, where the desire to avoid shame steps in for the PFC. It's like a blind person uses a cane, and taps the ground with it, essentially giving him echolocation like a bat.

(Btw, it's really fascinating how canes for the blind work)


Basically you tap the cane to the ground then the sound waves come back and depending on the time and location of the signals you can tell what objects are nearby.

But I digress. The point is, if you're weak in one area, strategically capitalize on your strengths in order to compensate for those deficits.

Another thing I see people do is write things down. Since Self-Control and Working Memory go hand-in-hand, Working Memory often is affected. Sticky Notes, iPhone note taking apps, notebooks. The notebooks becomes your prosthetic working memory.
 

bornoim

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It's a good time for me to discover this forum, great thread!

So I experimented a bit with the system myself, only thing I changed is instead of process oriented rewards (like rewarding onself for working 5 minutes) I tried product oriented rewards (finishing tasks) which I generally prefer.

The advantage I see in this is:
- It gives you an incentive to split tasks into sub tasks for which you can reward yourself upon completion. This makes your work more structured and further decreases procastrination. Probably the biggest plus for me.
- It gives you an incentive to get shit done fast, maybe even skip not so important tasks entirely, so you get your reward faster.

The disadvantage might be, that rewards are not as reliably frequent as with the time split approach.

So I don't know if this approach is really an improvement and I'm only at it for three days, but I'll continue experimenting. It's perhaps subjective, but in the past when I only focused on working rather than finishing stuff, I tended to be quite ineffecient ( although I tend to be quite inefficient in general lol)
 

cjibjibson

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I have been thinking of a similar concept, but yours is much more refined, I love it.

However, I will still keep some of my idea, and adapt it to yours and mine might help some of you too.

The difference with mine is that instead of using chocolate chips I use coins and a glass piggy bank.

I will set the timer for whatever I need and then for every successful batch of work done, I will drop a coin into the piggy bank.

maybe it's 5cent, 10cent, 25cent or 50cent I'm not sure yet.

And at the end of every week or month, this money MUST be spent on something fun and irresponsible. Right now I'm thinking clothes, I enjoy buying clothes, but I don't allow myself to often because my money could be better spent, and when I do spend money on clothes I feel guilty.

I'm hoping this will motivate me like the chocolate chips did for you, and it will do it without me having to eat sugar.

I have the piggy bank, now I just need a load of coins :D

Oh also I was thinking of using the smaller coins for the short time frames, e.g 5cents for 5 mins, and then go to the bigger coins as I move to longer times e.g. 50cents for 1 hour.

Edit: Another thing about the coins and the jar, is that it provides the audio and visual stimulation the "clink" of the money dropping each time and the sight of the cash growing.
 
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I've been meaning to post this for a while now, thinking it might help other people. I'm also curious to know if other people have experimented with anything similar to this and gotten similar results.

This thread finally prompted me to write this down.

I invented a method for myself that has been extremely successful at building momentum and wins in getting work done.

This was born out of necessity. Failure to act has been my biggest downfall all my life.

Part 1: The Problem
I have skills, knowledge, and intelligence, but then I don't put them to use. I let myself pursue mindless distractions instead of work. I procrastinate. I get off track. I go into la-la-land. I engage in behaviors that are detrimental to my own best interest. Even while I'm seeing myself do it (and hating it), I don't find anything inside myself that gets me to actually change.

In other words, left to myself, in my natural state, I'm a walking, dysfunctional disaster. It's hard to believe that I've made it this far. Just a few small tweaks in some of the situations I've lived through, and I would probably be a homeless addict instead of someone on an upward trajectory towards the fastlane.
  • I know I need to hustle, but I don't.
  • I know I need to get moving, but I put if off, "just a little longer."
  • I know I need to engage and take action, but I let fear and inaction paralyze me.
OK, so the question arises, HOW DO I GET LEVERAGE OVER MYSELF TO DO THE THINGS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO REACHING MY GOALS?

Because my goals are big, beautiful, amazing things.

And there's every reason why I should be able to reach them if I just put in consistent effort.

But that's the problem.

Where do I get the leverage over myself to exert that effort?

Well, to start with, here's what I've tried that has NOT worked.

1. Kicking myself doesn't work. NO amount of beating myself up, threatening myself, or setting up punishments for myself has ever worked. I've experimented with hardcore punishments, like depriving myself of food for an entire day if I don't do the thing I've set myself to do. And I've ruthlessly carried it out, too. But apparently, even hunger isn't big enough to scare me. I have never been able to terrorize myself, abuse myself, or shame myself into doing what I know I need to do.

2. Logic doesn't work. The threat of being homeless and starving if I don't get myself into gear is a logical thing, but it carries no leverage with it. Focusing on logic will increase my frustration with myself, but it won't make me behave any differently.

3. Pep talks and hype don't work. NO amount of emotional speeches, motivational content, or working myself up into a frenzy of positive optimism has ever worked. I get myself into this amazing, exhilarated frame of mind...and I expect that finally, THIS time, I'll finally rise up and DO the thing - and then something inside me always gets the better of me and I'm just like, "Nah. Why bother? I'm going to go on surfing the web for just a little longer."

4. Routine and structure only work to an extent. When I have managed to get myself into a very predictable routine, with lots of structure and accountability, I have tended to perform better. But the trouble is, that structure and routine has only ever come from an outside source. When it's up to ME to create that structure and routine for myself, I'm beating my head against a wall of futility. I'm like a tree trying to pull itself up by the roots. Because the nature of the problem is precisely that I'm lacking in the very self-discipline and self-governance that is prerequisite to creating that structure and regimen. And outside sources of structure and accountability can only go so far, because at the end of the day, YOU have to exercise your own internal locus of control. And where is that going to come from? Inside yourself. But where do you get that if it's missing? For me, this has been a perpetual cycle of defeat.

5. Examining my belief system hasn't worked. This issue, admittedly, has a lot to do with mindset and beliefs, but even when I have gotten my mindset and beliefs to be as healthy as I could possibly get them, it still didn't make a difference in my ACTION TAKING. Beliefs lead to action, so if your beliefs are false and your mindset is unhelpful, then they definitely need a makeover. But I had the advantage of being raised with principles that took me a long way: Take responsibility for your actions. Don't say, "I can't." I am responsible for my own choices. I don't let other people's actions dictate my response. But still, I find myself in this maddening bondage to dilly-dallying, self-sabotage, and procrastination.

6. Caffeine has only worked to a certain extent. I have experimented with a few things that boost the brain's executive function, the part of me that decides, "I'm going to do this now," and then actually carry it out. The main thing that has worked for me has been caffeine. When I'm on caffeine, I can actually decide to do something, and then DO it. But that effect is temporary, because as soon as I've had coffee for a few days and my body becomes addicted to it, it stops working.

OK, what gives? What else is left to try?

Does anybody relate to this?

Giving up is not an option. There has got to be a way to figure this out. So I keep trying.

This year, I embarked on a new experiment. And this one thing has been the most effective method I have ever used on myself to actually get somewhere with myself.

It all started with an offhand comment my sister made about dog training, which I then implemented into a method of training myself.

And my results have been amazing.

I'm going to explain it in the next post.
This is a fun read.
Part 3. How the game works

The concept for this game comes from the dog training world. Hat tip to my talented dog trainer sister and Karen Pryor. Here is a starter article on clicker training: https://www.clickertraining.com/15tips

The basic gist of it is, the trainer clicks a clicker when the dog performs the desired behavior, even when the dog accidentally does something close to the desired behavior. The trainer rewards with a treat after the click. Very quickly, the dog's brain associates the sound of the click with the feeling of reward. (There's the first step of the dopamine connection.)

I had looked into using clicker training for kids at one point when I was working in the schools, and in the human context, it's called TAGteach. This article provides a good overview of how TAGteach works. https://www.clickertraining.com/node/3323

TAGteach starts with the same clicker method, but it expands upon it so that you can eventually chain desired behaviors together. The article above gives the example of a 6-step morning routine.



At first, you tag the behaviors individually. Later, as the individual behaviors become easy, you gradually clump the behaviors together and tag only the successful completion of the entire chain of behaviors.

One tool that facilitates this process is an item called a "TAGulator" (a string of 10 beads, woven in a certain way to record "clicks"). Here is an article that covers the construction and use of the TAGulator:

Putting it all together

Here's how I constructed the game using the "props" I had collected.
  1. A tablespoon or two of chocolate chips
  2. A piece of string
  3. A small eye-screw
  4. Ten small beads
  5. A violin
1. The chocolate chips were my "treat." I have always had a sweet tooth, so I knew that eating one chocolate chip would give me a tiny dopamine hit.

2, 3, and 4. These were my supplies to construct my TAGulator. I screwed the eye-screw into a wooden stand where I set up my computer and hung the string and the beads from it.
View attachment 26925

Pulling a bead down is an important part of the process, especially once you start chaining behaviors together. While I liked the idea of chocolate chip rewards, I certainly didn't want this game to cost me rotten teeth and 10 pounds of added fat.

The idea is, you start by rewarding yourself every time you pull down a bead. But eventually, you progress to the point where you reward yourself only at the 10th bead. Then you reset the TAGulator and start over with another batch of 10 good behaviors. So rewards come thickly at the beginning and then you continue to reinforce your established patterns at a slower rate.

5. The violin was my "clicker." I didn't have a proper Karen Pryor clicker, so I just looked for something I had in the house that would make a single, pleasing auditory "ding." I set the violin on a table near my desk and plucked the G string each time I wanted to "TAG" a good behavior. You could use anything that makes a noise, such as a small bell or a pen that has a nice click. I am sensitive to sounds and wanted a sound that I would look forward to.

The auditory component of this is not to be missed. Hearing the sound is an important part of forming the association in your brain. It's kind of like the Pavlov's dog effect. You get to the point where the sound alone causes you to salivate. You're harnessing multiple pathways in your brain to stimulate and reinforce the connection.


The Game Begins

In this game, you are both the trainer and the trainee.

Filling both of these roles for me was not difficult. I was already "divided against myself" in my behaviors, as my better judgment struggled against my procrastination and self-indulgence.

But making it into a game gave the "better judgment" side of me just enough leverage to beguile and intrigue the "self-indulgent" side of me into participating.

I set the timer on my phone for one minute.

"I am going to work with diligence and focus until the timer goes off," I stated aloud.

Don't judge.

I was truly that bad. That's how big of a remedial approach I had to give myself.

Hopefully most people reading this won't have to start off THAT small.

But I had to find a way to start with wins.

Like my sister said, "Make each step easy and fun to take."

OK, so one minute it was.

And I succeeded in working for that full minute until the timer went off.

The Celebration

The timer rang. I had successfully worked for ONE FULL MINUTE!

Now it was time to artificially contrive for my brain to get a dopamine hit. This was my method, and it became a ritual that I performed every time in the following way:
  1. I gave the G-string of the violin one nice, loud, resonant pluck.
  2. I physically clapped my hands, smiled, and excitedly exclaimed, "YAAAAAY!" out loud (I warned you this was silly) - but see Ann Cuddy's Ted Talk for the reasons behind this.
  3. I briefly extended my arms up into a victorious "V" pose (again, see Ann Cuddy - though I only held this momentarily, not for two minutes). It felt good to just stretch my arms up that way.
    1. Side thought: Beginning the Dopamine Hacking Game Session with a nice 2-minute power pose might make the whole game even more effective.
  4. I ate one chocolate chip. While I ate it, I focused on really tasting how delicious and enjoyable it was. I smiled and ate it with gusto. I did not let this become stale or old or boring. I actively enjoyed each and every chocolate chip in order to produce as big of a dopamine reward as I could.
  5. I pulled down one bead from my TAGulator.
The celebration ritual didn't take more than 15-20 seconds per time, so (A) it wasn't taking up NEARLY as much time as my excursions into la-la-land and (B) I considered it an investment in my continued success. It felt like winning, even if it was silly. It was effective at helping me to accumulate some wins and momentum.

Early rounds of the game

Round 1: I did five one-minute timers in a row, as described above.

I would work for one minute, celebrate with my 5-step ritual, and then work for one more minute.

One minute was VERY easy. It almost felt too easy, but I wanted to establish a reliable dopamine pathway early with lots of repetition. My goal was for my brain to associate "working with diligence and focus" with a feeling of being rewarded. I wanted to get to the point where my brain WANTED to work instead of having to fight against myself in order to coerce myself to work.

Round 2: I did five two-minute timers in a row.

Still very easy. As long as it stayed easy to perform, I knew I could safely move up to a "harder" level. And as soon as it threatened to get boring if I continued to keep it at that easy of a level, I increased the time.

Round 3. I did five three-minute timers in a row.

Still very easy.

Round 4. I did 10 five-minute timers in a row.

I was still consuming one chocolate chip and celebrating with the 5-step ritual for each 5-minute timer.

It was still very easy.

Round 5. I tried a 15-minute timer.

WOMP, WOMMMPPPPPP.

Failure.

Somewhere along the 15 minute journey, I forgot that I was supposed to be focusing on work.

By the time the timer rang, I was off on some bunny trail or other.

Caught me.

OK, so I learned that 15 minutes was too long.

And I needed rewards to come thick and fast at this early stage. After all, this was only my first day.

So I reset the timer to the last point where I had been successful. 5 minutes.

For the rest of that day, in 5 minute increments, I stated aloud that I would work with diligence and focus. I set my timer. I worked. And I celebrated each win as if it was the winning touchdown at the Super Bowl.

At the end of my work day, I felt GOOD.

I didn't feel like a disgusting, dysfunctional idiot who couldn't get my act together. I felt like I was going to get somewhere with this.

It was working.

I was winning all day instead of losing.

I was making progress and gaining momentum instead of deteriorating.

I had actually found leverage that got the procrastinating part of me to willingly engage and participate.

But would it work again the next day? Or would I be bored and cynical by morning?

Day 2 - The Game Continues To Deliver

On Day 2, I gave myself 5 minute timers all day long.

Every 5 minutes, I celebrated and pulled down one bead.

Every 10 beads, I took a longer break and gave myself a bigger reward. I got up from my desk, moved around, and did something fun for 10 minutes.

I also switched things up and didn't do pure chocolate chips. I mixed salted almonds and chocolate chips together. Each time I earned a reward, I could pick either one almond or one chocolate chip. Either way, I savored it as I ate it as if it was the yummiest thing in the world.

Day 3 - Good Things are Still Happening

I was surprised by Day 3 that I hadn't lost interest in this game.

I also knew for a fact that I was not "out of the woods."

If I tried to go back to "just working normally," I would be off the rails, lickety-split.

So I continued with 5-minute timers.

I didn't yet sense ANY sort of "automatic connection" happening. There was no interior satisfaction or inner association of work with reward yet.

So I just continued. I wanted to give the experiment a good-faith effort.

Week 1 - Nothing Has Ever Worked This Long

The whole week went by, and I was continually amazed that the game hadn't stopped working.

Always before, anything that I would ever try would work for a short time and then I would get bored, lose interest, and the whole thing would fizzle out.

Not this time.

I sensed that I was hot on the trail of using my dopamine in my favor rather than just being at the mercy of it working against me.

(Continued in part 4 - Upgrading the game)
This is so much fun to read.
What's really working most powerfully here is that you break the task down to small steps you can succeed by.
The food reward makes it a game that might eventually challenge you with boredom.
The ritual sensations provide a sensory feedback loop to keep you on task. The intuition is just great.
Have a look at Nir Eyal's solutions to distractibility here:

 
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garyfritz

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I have skills, knowledge, and intelligence, but then I don't put them to use. I let myself pursue mindless distractions instead of work. I procrastinate. I get off track. I go into la-la-land. I engage in behaviors that are detrimental to my own best interest. Even while I'm seeing myself do it (and hating it), I don't find anything inside myself that gets me to actually change.
Have you been peeking inside my brain?? This is ME, right down the line.

It's consoling that I'm not the only one, but consolation is not what I need. Your reward system is brilliant. I never would have tried it because it feels so gimmicky and contrived. But if it works, it's gold.

So... you haven't really said yet, DOES it work? (You said "my results have been amazing" but you haven't given any specifics.) Have you consistently been more productive? Have you started to learn to be productive WITHOUT the clicker and treats every 5 minutes? Have you trained new dopamine reward systems so you can be self-rewarding and self-motivating like one of those "normal" people? Or is it like the wheelchair-ramp mentioned in the Barkley video that @ChrisV posted -- someone in a wheelchair needs the ramp, regardless of how many chocolate chips you train them with.

Barkley's point was brilliant: ADHD people need IMMEDIATE feedback. We don't "get" long-term consequences and rewards, not the way we are motivated by immediacy. Yeah I know this project is due next week, but my brain thinks it needs cat videos RIGHT NOW. And lots of RIGHT NOWs ends up sliding into next week, and then you're in trouble. So your system gives you some immediate small motivators to keep you working on the more-important tasks. That makes total sense.

Well, to start with, here's what I've tried that has NOT worked.
This is also valuable, if for no other reason than to explain to "normals" that the things that work for them don't work for us. There's a REASON you had to resort to dog training.

Thanks, @Bekit. ++++++rep if I could.
 
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ChrisV

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Barkley's point was brilliant: ADHD people need IMMEDIATE feedback. We don't "get" long-term consequences and rewards, not the way we are motivated by immediacy. Yeah I know this project is due next week, but my brain thinks it needs cat videos RIGHT NOW. And lots of RIGHT NOWs ends up sliding into next week, and then you're in trouble. So your system gives you some immediate small motivators to keep you working on the more-important tasks. That makes total sense.
Yea when not medicated / supplemented properly i'm pathologically retarded. I'll be working on a coding assignment and realize I just spent the last 4 hours perfecting my programming console theme.

I once spent an entire week making every coding symbol a perfect unicode one

27143
 

Bekit

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I love this. Also waiting for part 4. Brilliant to think of training yourself as trainer and trainee.

You know, one thing this points out is that the company you're producing copy for is missing something.

Ahem.
View attachment 27178
One thing I have learned to make an effort to do, is show people appreciation for each piece of work they do. Especially if they are disconnected from the customer and can not directly receive the sunshine from them. This is so important. If you automate your business and leave, you have to make sure that people in the business are still giving and getting this type of attention, the positive feedback!

D.S.

...because that bears repeating.

I think there's also a business building lesson in your thread. ANYONE can run into this kind of low motivation problem. It happens when we're plugged into screens as if we're machines. For some people, it's easier to find yourself here than others, but anyone will lose productivity without positive feedback.

The funny thing is, you've shown how easy it is to create this feeling of feedback. You add a scent to Febreez, mint to toothpaste, a like button to facebook, or a violin and chocolate chips to work (LOL). Having implemented this, I'm expecting motivation superpowers from you :hilarious:

Also, I'm stealing your chocolate chip idea, as I love chocolate chips.

A few books I can think of that have commented on this feedback loop in one way or another:
  • Unscripted (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
  • Atomic Habits
  • The Power of Habit
  • The Motivation Myth
For me, Unscripted and The Motivation Myth helped fix this concept in mind, along with an observation of employee performance, and a comment from a business consultant. With the employee, I noticed everything was better for a few weeks, or months, if I found some way to show appreciation. Not just money, appreciation. Acknowledgement, credit. People want to feel like they're doing something that helps, and they become addicted to that feeling - it makes them feel like "part of us," a contributing member. Then I noticed the same thing with another employee. At some point I tried it with students, and lots more of them completed their classes on time, and referred their friends. Then one day the business consultant said something more or less like, "an employee's biggest motivation is feeling like they're contributing to something that's worth doing." The idea I got from it was, wow, people want that feeling that something good came out of their work.

Anyway, I mention that because an idea can take lots of different paths before we find a cool way to actually apply it. Brains are confusing.

D.S.

This is big. I love your silly method, don't worry about it being silly ;) Looking forward to the continuation!
You are SO right.

This was missing. NO ONE felt appreciated in that company. Everyone was driven to perform, push harder, and "just work some nights and weekends until we get caught up." No one's ideas were encouraged or accepted. And guess what? The company is falling apart.

It was helpful that you pointed this out, because I've been running into similar lack of motivation issues in my current job, and the same factor is present. My copy is dismissed, deleted, and altered until it the sales ability of the copy is gutted. No one understands or appreciates copy, even though they HIRED me to write their copy. So I've been running into similar turbulence and lack of motivation, and I've been wondering, "What's wrong with me? Why can't I get it together and just do stuff?" But I see now - this is why.

(I've also been privately saying to myself, "If this was a freelance relationship and this company was my client rather than my employer, I'd fire them just like that." I get WAY more love on the forum for my writing than I have gotten at this particular job.)

BUT - one of the owners does consistently thank me and shows appreciation. So I am more motivated to stick with it and not just bounce than I would be otherwise.
 

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