In his really cool book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg recounts Proctor & Gamble’s infamous nightmare, back in the mid-’90s, trying to sell Febreze. (What?! Febreze? Why, that stuff sells itself!) Sure. The now-ubiquitous brand name has transcended its original air-freshener form to make candles, detergents, and, like Google or Uber, has become a verb in our cultural lexicon.
“Dude, you been wearing that onesie all week.”
Febreze proved an innovative product that, unlike its competitors, didn’t just mask bad smells but actually absorbed and eliminated them. P&G was ready to go to bat for their new baby with a Titan army of advertising dosh. Paid off bigly. People from Fairbanks to Finland bought the stuff en masse, loved it, celebrated it. Seriously: Folks wrote blogs about it.
Then the sprayer just stopped spraying.
It’s not often that you know for certain you’ve got a game-changing gizmo, but that’s what P&G figured with Febreze. Rather than pull the plug on their cash-hemorrhaging air freshener, ignored by consumers in favor of larger and less-effective brands, they hired researchers and ad-men from Harvard and the like. They assembled a semi-secret think-tank to solve the problem. Went and interviewed boatloads of the stinky masses.
And customers agreed: Stuff smells swell.
So why didn’t they use it?
“Don’t need no fancy fragrance in my place.”
This even came from a woman with a legion of cats in a house that smelled like ass. And cats.
They finally realized their problem: Our noses become habituated to our environments. Even if it reeks of literal feces, hang out in that house long enough and you’ll stop smelling it (TLC’s show Hoarders is like the Dante version of this phenomenon).
So how’d P&G overcome this challenge? They floated the concept of “noseblind” into our lexicon. Boom. Genius. Sales skyrocket. Febreze team all gets yachts.
Now, what the heck does a spray deodorizer have in common with the Focus@Will app? Glad you asked. The answer is habituation. Keeping your mind from being distracted away from your work while simultaneously keeping you from habituating to your work is the key to focus@will’s audio technology.
You already know about distraction: It’s what happens when you’re playing Matlock reruns in the background to keep grandma occupied, or your kid’s Tickle Me Elmo is begging for his fix.
Or when you turn on the radio while you’re working.
Part of your brain is focused on the distractor, and you can’t concentrate on your work.
But what about habituation? Habituation is the other extreme—your mind gets bored with the stimuli in your surroundings (environmental habituation) as well as whatever you’re working on (goal habituation).
Because your brain seeks novelty, habituation leads to checking your Insta feed, opening emails from Nigerian princes, or calling your ex “just to say hi,” rather than making continuous progress on the screenplay or code or manifesto you’re penning.
Without divulging the recipe to our secret sauce, we can share this much: We conquer these dual problems by ensuring that each piece of music is related to the previous piece from which it flows in a way that keeps you from being distracted by the changes. But that each piece of music is also different enough from the previous piece that you don’t habituate to the music or your goal. In this way, we balance your mind between the two poles of distraction and habituation, keeping you focused on your work.
Now turn on the Focus@Will app—and get a radically honest friend to tell you your place smells like cabbage and hamsters.