I was listening to this segment called, “You can’t get there from here” in the Waking Up app by Sam Harriss and a story he mentions illustrates an uncanny picture about the nature of our minds. Imagine you are caught in an area in New Delhi and you hail a cab to get to Nehru Place but the driver replies, “you can’t get there from here”. Now this answer will surely result in a preposterous feeling as we are all well aware that there isn’t any place on earth we can’t get to with respect to our current location unless of course, we want to go to a different dimension. However, what he really was suggesting was how our own sense of control gets in the way of our own flourishing and that brought me here, to write this article.
A twitch is an uncomfortable feeling we experience whenever we are about to make an important choice. It is that ticklish feeling you experience when you are asked by your friends to go out with them but you were thinking of doing your assignment. A twitch can come by when you’re sitting there unsure of what to do and then you pick up your phone and scroll through social media, making you feel weary and you put it down, only to pick it up back again.
I heard about this term for the first time from a guy named Anthony Ongaro who has a website dedicated to breaking the twitch, and he refers to The Twitch as an impulse, an unproductive response to discomfort. He talks about minimalism, intentional living and lifestyle design but this word stuck to me for a really long time as it seeped into various other major areas of my life.
Therefore, The Twitch demands greater consideration.
To understand the significance of The Twitch, we need to understand our choices and why we make them. Human behaviour is driven by the response to pain and pleasure. Simply put, we avoid pain and we pursue pleasure. When you touched a hot kettle for the first time, your brain immediately formed a neural connection that made you wise enough to not touch a hot kettle with bare hands ever again. When you received an XBOX for scoring well in your exams, you knew instantly that scoring well in exams is rewarding in nature. Which suffices to say that we make choices that result in the highest form of satisfaction and avoidance of painful circumstances.
Dopamine is a hormone responsible for this phenomenon, which creates a feeling of pleasure and reward after the completion of a certain task, causing you to do more of it. Slot machines in casinos, for example, is believed to produce high amounts of Dopamine in the subject who is using it, as the machine rewards certain behaviours. It is designed to hack the neural circuitry as the ambiguity, the lights, the sounds, and the near misses all contribute to keeping a person hooked.
The same psychology goes into the design of social media apps. Remember those wavy dots in the speech bubble you see when someone is typing? They are also known as the “typing awareness indicator” and are designed to create anticipation and suspense. The pull to load more, the colours, the likes, push notifications and all those emoji reactions are emulated from the design strategy of slot machines with the motive to keep you hooked by playing with your Dopamine levels. Dopamine is responsible for your nicotine addiction as well as your marathon medals. In a nutshell, it causes you to go after the feeling of satisfaction.
Why chase satisfaction? That is a very philosophical question to ask but since you’re such a curious individual, I will attempt to answer this with help from a dude named Abraham Maslow and his theory of self-actualisation. According to him, humans are driven to fulfil what he referred to as the “hierarchy of needs”, some of which are physical needs such as food, water, shelter and some are more spiritual such as safety, love, belongingness and self-esteem. Self-actualization occupies the pinnacle of this hierarchy and by accomplishing self–actualization, one is able to say that she has lived a fulfilling life. Our impulse to chase satisfaction is a manifestation of our deep desire to self-actualise, that is, to become what we are truly capable of becoming.
Satisfaction, as important as it is, can be quite deceptive and can be categorised into two of its forms –
1. Instant Satisfaction and
2. Delayed Satisfaction
Instant Satisfaction results in temporary rewards. Social media, gaming, gambling and binge eating that make us feel like we belong, boosts our self-esteem and makes us feel safe only as long as we are in its clutches. Once the euphoria passes away, we come in terms with our current state of reality and feel like something is missing and hence, the cycle continues.
Delayed Satisfaction results in a more sustained form of satisfaction. The reward that comes from delaying our pleasure lasts much longer than that of instant satisfaction and requires grit and routine. Working on a novel, constructing a building, and building a business, are some form of activities that require the delaying of rewards.
It is clear that delayed satisfaction results in a more favourable state of experience for a human being and that is why activities such as farming and engineering exist in the first place or else it would be better if we were all hippies, but that is not the case.
However, to choose delayed satisfaction is to welcome pain and sacrifice. The sacrifice of our current self for the sake of our future self. Sacrifice today for tomorrow. It demands us to redesign our choices and therefore, requires us to become more grounded. Our current sense of self has a set of events that occur in a daily, weekly and yearly basis. Therefore, our results and our outcomes are the same in a daily, weekly and yearly basis. This brings us to the question, what if we did the exact opposite of what we do on a daily basis? And this only addresses one piece of the puzzle.
One simple choice could domino into the kind of person you might become and having that idea is weird in a lot of aspects. You know exactly what needs to be done in order to be one step closer towards who you want to be, and realising that seems somewhat paradoxical in nature. In this paradoxical space between our two sense of selves exists the underlying feeling known as the twitch, a feeling of being neither here nor there. As much as we are inclined to seek the answer by making the right choice, that is, to follow delayed gratification. Personally, I do believe that (that) particular space itself has a lot to teach us than the choice we make because of it.
“The only Zen you’ll find on mountain tops is the Zen you bring up there with you.” – Alan Watts
- Gulzar, Amir & Naeem, Hummayoun & Rana, Aziz & Raja, Naintara. (2011). Pain – Pleasure Theory of Motivation.
- Robinson, Mike. “Designed to Deceive: How Gambling Distorts Reality and Hooks Your Brain.” The Conversation, 21 May 2019, theconversation.com/designed-to-deceive-how-gambling-distorts-reality-and-hooks-your-brain-91052
- Muldrew, Edward. “The Secret Design Tools Which Social Media Apps Are Using to Create Addiction.” Medium, The Startup, 25 June 2019, medium.com/swlh/the-secret-design-tools-which-social-media-apps-are-using-to-create-addiction-e6a502ccb79f