Something struck a chord with me as I listened to Cal Newport’s Deep Questions podcast yesterday (this episode). He was talking about how the creator of Duolingo was hoping to make learning so much fun that people would choose a math or language learning game over (for example) TikTok. Cal argued (and I agree) that in the Dopamine Olympics, social media and non-learning games are always going to win gold against something that requires some strain, like Duolingo.
He then mentioned the concept of Episodic Future Thinking (EFT) which he proposes is a more powerful system to help people do the things they WANT to be doing. And I thought about my own Duolingo habit and my daily planning and made a connection between the two. Sitting there in the morning writing out a plan that actually shows what you — idealistic + fresh morning you! — want the day to look like is a powerful way to ensure you engage with that EFT system rather than defaulting to your id/dopaminergic “what seems the most fun right at this very second” sort of a reflex.
I really really like this concept. I found it so interesting that I actually listened to that part of the podcast twice (and I never do that!). He didn’t specifically mention that a writing out a plan for the day can help get this system going, but I do believe it can. Your plan isn’t just there so you don’t forget to do things; it’s also there to remind you of what you really wanted to do with the day.
Having it be on paper (tangible, actual, real) makes it all the more powerful in my experience.
To Do Lists
Tangentially related SIDE NOTE, I wish people would stop saying to do lists are terrible! It was stated outright in the Nir Ayal interview on About Progress — which, by the way, is a podcast I also really enjoy. Monica the host is lovely, real, and relatable.
It is true that some to do lists are terrible, and also true that some people may prefer other strategies. But writing out a daily list has worked really well for me for a long time and I find it both helpful AND freeing (because if it’s not on the list, I’m not going to stress over it).