Why Apps Can’t Replace Self-Control

There’s an app for everything – you know that.

But the more disturbing and – to be honest – useless trend I’m seeing in apps is the type that “force” self control on you.

You can automate anything you want in the world, and that’s great news for people who struggle with self-control. You can automatically have savings deducted from your bank account, so that you force yourself to save money. Simple, a new type of online bank, can “hide” money from you, which is exciting a lot of consumers, based on what I’m reading. They think that’s the “killer” feature that’s going to make Simple successful.

I like the concept and design of Simple. I’m a huge believer in online-only banks. But this feature, to me, addresses a symptom, not a problem.

Apps Put Band-Aids on Bigger Issues

Lifehacker recently ran an interesting post on different apps that force you to do things. For example:

  • You can get an app that will force you to check-in at the gym with your GPS. If you don’t do so, it will take money from you.
  • You can get an app that will force you to achieve the goals that you set, or it will publicly post an embarrassing picture of you.
  • You can get alarm clock apps that make you do certain things, like scan barcodes in your kitchen.

And so on. But have we reached a point in our society where we need to rely on technology to force us to reach our goals?

It continues – there are browser extensions that you can use to block time wasting websites during times where you want to be productive. You can literally force yourself off of Facebook and Twitter, etc.

The same goes for porn. If you are trying to stop looking at porn all day and night, you can install setups that block it for you.

But are these things getting to the core of the problem? What happens when you are in an environment where these things aren’t going to be used?

The Real Problem: Lack of Self-Control

I’ll be honest: these types of scenarios are for wimps. Gutless cowards who can’t see the bigger picture in their lives.

And I’ve been one of them, don’t get me wrong! I’ve tried many of these. But I found ways to work around them anyway. They don’t slow me down for too long. So not only do they not work all that effectively, they’re not fixing anything.

It’s like having a broken arm and your doctor gives you a painkiller. Sure, you can function now because your arm doesn’t hurt anymore, but it’s not fixing the problem.

You can’t control yourself.

You refuse to accept that you are your own worst enemy. That you’re being lazy and irresponsible. That you’re screwing up.

You refuse to accept that you’re fat because you’re not taking care of yourself. You refuse to accept that you don’t have enough time in the day because you waste hours and hours of it. You refuse to accept that you don’t have any money because you don’t pay attention to where it’s going.

Running the Race Backwards

Having an app to force you towards your goals is a completely backwards way of trying to achieve anything.

When you stand at the starting line of a race and you hear the pistol, you start running, right? Which way are you facing? Forwards. Why? Because that’s where the finish line is. That’s your goal.

You don’t reach the finish line by accident because you’re running away from the starting line. That makes no sense. So you don’t get anywhere in life by setting up ways to make missing your goal more painful. There’s plenty of pain already there!

Being fat means looking unpleasant, possibly a quiet dating life, difficulty performing certain activities, a breakdown of your body over time, probably an early death, and jeopardizing the health of your children by passing on bad habits.

Being broke means carrying more debt, living in crappy homes, denying yourself fun stuff, eating garbage, being unhealthy, and not being able to provide for your children.

If you ask me, these consequences are crazy-worse than losing $10 to an app, or an embarrassing photo going public. This isn’t a game – this is life, baby.

And another thing – go read an interview with or the works of any great achiever in history:

Et cetera. There’s one thing you’ll see in common with all of them: they didn’t succeed because they had some system of punishment in place when they didn’t reach their goals. They knew that life would punish them.

They were able to zoom back and think, Hey, what I do in this life is important, so I better take my time, talents, and money seriously!

In other words, nobody got rich by hiding money from themselves. Nobody got in shape by being forced to check-in at the gym with their phones. They achieved goals because they knew, at their core, what their motivations were – and they recognized how important those goals were.

So, Now What?

Ditch your apps. Ditch your goal punishments. Keep it simple.

Like I wrote a couple days ago, finding a deeper motivation than external things is what is going to spur you on towards your goals.

“And what if I fail?” Well, go after it again. Dust yourself off and try again. Maybe you can go just a little bit further next time. Everybody who’s achieved anything has failed a bunch of times. That’s how you learn what you’re made of. That’s how you develop your talents. You screw up. You fall short. You fail. But then, you get up and try again.

In my yoga workouts, crazy ex-wrestler and current yoga guru Diamond Dallas Page repeats over and over again,

“Hey, if you fall down – guess what? Get back up again! Over time, you’ll build strength.”

When you take the easy method of some of the yoga positions, he encourages you to do it, but as you get comfortable in those positions, start to challenge yourself just a little bit at a time. Because again – that’s how you build strength.

You won’t get anywhere without self-control, and no app will help you build that. Only you can. And the only way to do it is by using it.

You build strength in your legs by using them. You build strength in your lungs by exerting them. You build strength in your heart by pushing it to pump just a little harder.

You build your self-control by using it. Keep using it, and it will start to become habit. That’s the only way to be successful in this world.

Do you disagree? Agree? Share in the comments!

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Comments (2)

Great thoughts! Although I wonder if the apps can at least help kick-start habit formation for people who have a hard time keeping the “big picture” in view. The chance of having a heart attack 10 years from now “feels” less painful than losing $50 today if you don’t work out, even though obviously the former is far worse than the latter. Hopefully the goal is that eventually he person develops a habit where they won’t need the app’s “discipline” anymore.

As for me, I’m making steady progress towards my goals, and I’ve never been able to integrate apps into my life and productivity. For the longest time I tried find a to-do list app or productivity app that I would actually stick with, but it was always more work than it was worth to remember to update the darn thing. I still haven’t found a system that beats 1) my memory; and 2) occasional pencil and paper. I know this is totally anti-GTD philosophy, but it works!

Thanks Shayna! I agree that the apps can be useful for kick-starting, and it’s totally my opinion and what works for me. I feel like people put too much stock in those things (and can easily find workarounds rendering them useless). To me, it’s much more effective to keep focused on the big picture, even if it is much more difficult to do. Thanks for the comment – and good luck on knocking out your goals too! Pen and paper are always a useful tool! 🙂

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