That is, the participants have to be "blind" to the treatment they receive. Are these controls tight enough? Not yet! Studies have found that if the person giving out the pills knows who gets the drug and who gets the placebo, he can give subtle clues, even unknowingly, that tell participants what they're getting. So both the person giving the pills and the people receiving the pills must be blind to who is receiving what. The experiment is then said to be "double-blind." Even with double-blind controls in place, other factors can come into play that may influence the results. What if there were more men in the drug treatment group, and more women in the control group? What if the people in the drug group exercised more or ate more healthy foods? These things could also affect the study's results, and may lead us to believe falsely that the drug had an effect when it didn't. To overcome these problems, we have to randomly assign people to the different groups. By randomly assigning a large number of individuals to the different groups, we should get a similar mix of subjects in each of the groups. As you can see, if you want good evidence, many different types of controls have to be built into a study. Without adequate controls, the door is open to alternative explanations, and there's no sound basis for choosing one over the other. Since many people don't realize the importance of tight controls, they are prone to accept the results of studies when they shouldn't. This unquestioning attitude leads to beliefs in all types of pseudoscientific phenomenon. Think back to the ESP experiments reported earlier. In those studies, subjects could actually see or feel indentations of the symbols they were trying to identify on the backs of the Zener cards. The controls were very loose, and so alternative explanations abounded. Pseudoscience often gets results to support preconceived beliefs because their studies are not tightly controlled. The bottom line is, if we don't assess the quality of the test, we're more likely to form erroneous beliefs.

Statesmen who sign important treaties know how important it is to "trust, but verify." The two parties can commit their promises to paper; they can shake hands and say to each other, "You have my word on it," but that doesn't relieve either of them of the duty to keep watch on the other. You may tell me that you've drastically reduced your supply of nuclear missiles, but hey, how about letting me be the one to count them? In the same way, when it comes to reconnecting with your authentic self, you need to take the attitude of "trust, but verify." Trust that this is work worth doing. Trust that you have within you everything you need in order to be, have, and do everything you want from life. Trust that you are the best judge, by far, of what is best for you. At the same time, be ruthless about testing your thoughts. Verify that your own internal responses and interpretations will stand up to the test of authenticity. When it comes to verifying, make use of the tools that you've been given. Remember the "litmus test" for authenticity, the four-part test that we talked about in Chapter 11. Whenever you feel yourself to be at a crossroads, as Joan was in that parking lot after lunch, take command of the situation by putting that test to work. I submit to you that if Joan simply sat in her car for a few minutes, applying each of the four criteria to her thoughts, she would quickly detect the sabotage going on. She would soon see that the option of reverting to her old self, the fictional self that Alice and Becky seemed to prefer, would flunk the rationality test in a big way. She could regain much-needed optimism and balance simply by discovering the defects in her own thoughts. The same is true for you: When you suspect sabotage, don't hesitate to apply the test. Be ruthless about discarding any thought that fails. Likewise, you'll need to develop authentically accurate alternative thinking. Having discovered that your initial response fails the test of authenticity, what other options can you come up with? Throw yourself as many lifelines as you can. Give yourself permission to generate as many alternative responses as possible--then test each one of them for authenticity. Pursue only those that are truly Triple A.

I'm not saying this two-step process will come naturally, certainly not at first. But neither does learning an instrument, or being an effective parent, or anything else that is worth doing. You already know that doing something well takes time and effort. Likewise, if you will only commit to doing it, day after day, you can become an expert in Triple-A thinking and Triple-A living. You couldn't stand up for your authenticity when you were a child, but you can stand up for it now. The first person that you need to assert yourself with is you. The most effective time to introduce a precommitment is after we've addressed the first three aspects of the Indistractable Model. If we haven't fundamentally dealt with the internal triggers driving us toward distraction, as we learned in part one, we'll be set up for failure. Similarly, if we haven't set aside time for traction, as we learned in part two, our precommitments will be useless. And finally, if we don't first remove the external triggers that aren't serving us before we make a precommitment, it's likely not going to work. Precommitments are the last line of defense preventing us from sliding into distraction. In the next few chapters we'll explore the three kinds of precommitments we can use to keep ourselves on track. Inventors David Krippendorf and Ryan Tseng came up with a simple way to stop their unwanted habit of late-night snacking on indulgent foods. Their device, kSafe (formerly Kitchen Safe), is a plastic container equipped with a locking timer built into the lid. An effort pact prevents distraction by making unwanted behaviors more difficult to do. We are experiencing an explosion of new products and services vying to help us make effort pacts with our digital devices. Whenever I write on my laptop, for instance, I click on the SelfControl app, which blocks my access to a host of distracting websites like Facebook and Reddit, as well as my email account. I can set it to block these sites for as much time as I need, typically in forty-five-minute to one-hour increments. Another app called Freedom is a bit more sophisticated and blocks potential distractions not only on my computer but also on mobile devices. Forest, perhaps my favorite distraction-proofing app, is one I find myself using nearly every day.

Every time I want to make an effort pact with myself to avoid getting distracted on my phone, I open the Forest app and set my desired length of phone-free time. As soon as I hit a button marked Plant, a tiny seedling appears on the screen and a timer starts counting down. If I attempt to switch tasks on my phone before the timer runs out, my virtual tree dies. The thought of killing the little virtual tree adds just enough extra effort to discourage me from tapping out of the app--a visible reminder of the pact I've made with myself. Apple and Google are also joining the crusade against digital distractions by adding effort pact capabilities to their operating systems. Apple's iOS 12 allows users to schedule time constraints for certain apps through its Downtime function. If users attempt to access a listed app during specified hours, the phone prompts the user to take an additional step in order to confirm that they want to break their pact. Newer versions of Google's Android come with Digital Wellbeing features that provide similar functionality. Adding a bit of additional effort forces us to ask if a distraction is worth it. Whether with the help of a product like kSafe or an app like Forest, effort pacts are not limited to those we make with ourselves; another highly effective way to forge them involves making pacts with other people. The Forest app is a simple way to make an effort pact on your phone. In previous generations, social pressure helped us stay on task--before the invention of the personal computer, procrastinating at our desks was obvious to the entire office. Reading a copy of Sports Illustrated or Vogue or recapping the details of our long weekend while on the phone with a friend sent clear signals to our colleagues that we were slacking off. In contrast, few people today can see what we're scrolling through or clicking on while at the office. Hunched over our laptops, we find ourselves checking sports scores, news feeds, or celebrity gossip headlines throughout the workday. To a passerby, these acts look just the same as performing competitive research or following up on sales leads. Disguised by the privacy of our screens, the social pressure to stay on task disappears. The problem becomes more acute when we work remotely. Since I tend to work from home, I find it all too easy to get off track when I know I should be writing. Perhaps bringing back a bit of social pressure when I'm having trouble staying focused could be helpful?

I put the question to the test and asked my friend Taylor, a fellow author, to co-work with me. Most mornings, we sat at adjacent desks in my home office and agreed to work in timed sprints of forty-five minutes. Seeing him hard at work, particularly at times when I found myself losing steam, and knowing that he could see me, kept me doing the work I knew I needed to do. Scheduling time with a friend for focused work proved to be an effective way to commit to doing what mattered most. But what if you can't find a colleague with a compatible schedule? When Taylor went away to speak at a conference for a week, I needed to re-create the experience of making an effort pact with another person. Thankfully, I found Focusmate. With a vision to help people around the world stay focused, they facilitate effort pacts via a one-to-one video conferencing service. While Taylor was away, I signed up at Focusmate.com and was paired with a Czech medical school student named Martin. Because I knew he would be waiting for me to co-work at our scheduled time, I didn't want to let him down. While Martin was hard at work memorizing human anatomy, I stayed focused on my writing. To discourage people from skipping their meeting times, participants are encouraged to leave a review of their focus mate.5 Effort pacts make us less likely to abandon the task at hand. Whether we make them with friends and colleagues, or via tools like Forest, SelfControl, Focusmate, or kSafe, effort pacts are a simple yet highly effective way to keep us from getting distracted. Most people who suffer from depression are very good at negative self-talk. Finding negative, critical things to say about themselves seems to come easily. "I am a loser" and "I am no good" are fairly universal (and inaccurate) beliefs among those who have this illness. But this is not healthy for you. With depression, you have to learn to think about yourself in more positive terms and to give yourself credit for your accomplishments, no matter how small. You have to practice endorsing yourself, on purpose, consciously, and get comfortable having those positive thoughts in your head. Practice saying "I am a good __" (fill in the blank) several times a day until it feels natural to you.