Self Control through software

Leo Efstathiou asked me recently whether I’d rather be smarter, or have more willpower. It took only a moment’s thought to realize that I’d rather have the self-control any time.


And so it was with a sense of wonder and optimism that I normally reserve for sunrises that I fired up Self Control: a Mac application that completely blacklists parts of the Internet. Like a gaoler with a blackjack, Self Control coshes any attempt to blunder down rabbit holes like Facebook or email for some time period you specify. It’s absolutely and delightfully watertight.


The beauty of this is its potential long-term effect. I want to counteract the variable reinforcement schedule that email and blogs provide – with Self Control’s help, I’m hoping to ensure zero reward from them for long enough to break the self-perpetuating cycle of reflexive refresh-pressing.

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4 thoughts on “Self Control through software

  1. good work. i cant wait to get a hold of a mac and try it out. i recently came across this app as well. i will experiment with it and let you know if i notice any improvements. it is built on the “Pomodoro Technique” of concentrating for 25 min straight on a task and then taking a 5 min break.

    hope all is well my friend. we just had a great board game night. if you're around in the city, i would be honored if you would join us for the next one. always great company (i dont hang out with light weights), good food, and good spirits.

  2. OK, now you've got me thinking about learning, which is never good. In particular, I'm trying to figure out whether you can unlearn the blogs/email->DA association by just not exposing yourself to blogs and email. (I'm in an idealized Rescorla-Wagner world where you don't learn about absent cues, which I realize is not the real world.) I guess extinction works, but I wonder how long it takes. I also wonder whether associating email and blogs with some aversive event (a blare of loud noise, a shock through the keyboard) wouldn't be more effective. I suppose the problem with that is that you do sometimes have to check email…

  3. Matt,

    I think you're right that not much learning would happen if you just didn't check your email.

    The genius of Self Control is that every time I'm inclined to check my email, I get that annoying modal Thunderbird connection error. Eventually, I learn to self-censor before I actually hit the 'Get mail' button. Over time, I figure that self-censoring will get easier and easier, and the email urge will diminish in its force and frequency. That's the plan.

    I would surely sign up for an electro-shock keyboard, or one that heats up the longer you spend in your browser.

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