MVP: Urgent stimuli have the same effect on us a bell did for Pavlov’s dog.
Pavlov’s dog, you remember that, right? Neurologist Ivan Pavlov conditioned a dog so that it associated a bell with food. When Pavlov rang the bell, the dog began to salivate as if it was getting food.
Our brains work in a similar fashion. We can learn to associate one thing with another, even when there isn’t a logical connection.
One night last week I couldn’t sleep. I decide it would be better to be productive than to just lie in bed staring at the ceiling. So, I walked across the hall to my office (the good and bad of a home office) and began working.
Do you know what I did from 1-3 am?
I cleaned up my email inbox. I moved things out, flagged others, and cleaned it all up.
It felt good when I finally went back to sleep.
When I got back to work in the morning (a bit later than usual 😉), I realized that in those two hours I had achieved nothing meaningful. All the emails that needed responding to still needed responding to, and the emails I had moved were irrelevant – no matter which folder they would have been sitting in.
But it had felt like I achieved something at 3:00 am!
Have you ever added a completed item to your to-do list just so you could cross it off?
It isn’t very different from salivating.