7. The Secret to Self-Control
approximately nine out of ten soldiers who used heroin in Vietnam eliminated their addiction nearly overnight.
Compare this situation to that of a typical drug user.
Typically, 90 percent of heroin users become re-addicted once they return home from rehab.
If you’re overweight, a smoker, or an addict, you’ve been told your entire life that it is because you lack self-control—maybe even that you’re a bad person. The idea that a little bit of discipline would solve all our problems is deeply embedded in our culture.
When scientists analyze people who appear to have tremendous self-control, it turns out those individuals aren’t all that different from those who are struggling. Instead, “disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations.
the way to improve these qualities is not by wishing you were a more disciplined person, but by creating a more disciplined environment.
Bad habits are autocatalytic: the process feeds itself.
You feel bad, so you eat junk food. Because you eat junk food, you feel bad. Watching television makes you feel sluggish, so you watch more television because you don’t have the energy to do anything else.
Once the mental grooves of habit have been carved into your brain, they are nearly impossible to remove entirely—even if they go unused for quite a while. And that means that simply resisting temptation is an ineffective strategy.
One of the most practical ways to eliminate a bad habit is to reduce exposure to the cue that causes it.
Rather than make it obvious, you can make it invisible.
Self-control is a short-term strategy, not a long-term one. You may be able to resist temptation once or twice, but it’s unlikely you can muster the willpower to override your desires every time.
your energy would be better spent optimizing your environment.
Make the cues of your good habits obvious and the cues of your bad habits invisible.
- The inversion of the 1st Law of Behavior Change is make it invisible.
- Once a habit is formed, it is unlikely to be forgotten.
- People with high self-control tend to spend less time in tempting situations. It’s easier to avoid temptation than resist it.
- One of the most practical ways to eliminate a bad habit is to reduce exposure to the cue that causes it.
- Self-control is a short-term strategy, not a long-term one.
HOW TO CREATE A GOOD HABIT
The 1st Law: Make It Obvious
- Write down your current habits to become aware of them.
- Use implementation intentions: “I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].”
- Use habit stacking: “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”
- Design your environment. Make the cues of good habits obvious and visible.
The 2nd Law: Make It Attractive
The 3rd Law: Make It Easy
The 4th Law: Make It Satisfying
HOW TO BREAK A BAD HABIT
Inversion of the 1st Law: Make It Invisible
- Reduce exposure. Remove the cues of your bad habits from your environment.
Inversion of the 2nd Law: Make It Unattractive
Inversion of the 3rd Law: Make It Difficult
Inversion of the 4th Law: Make It Unsatisfying
THE 2ND LAW: Make It Attractive
8. How to Make a Habit Irresistible
Like the baby gulls automatically pecking at red dots, the greylag goose was following an instinctive rule: When I see a round object nearby, I must roll it back into the nest. The bigger the round object, the harder I should try to get it.
It’s like the brain of each animal is preloaded with certain rules for behavior, and when it comes across an exaggerated version of that rule, it lights up like a Christmas tree. like a beak with three red dots or an egg the size of a volleyball
Junk food, for example, drives our reward systems into a frenzy.
After spending hundreds of thousands of years hunting and foraging for food in the wild, the human brain has evolved to place a high value on salt, sugar, and fat. Such foods are often calorie-dense and they were quite rare when our ancient ancestors were roaming the savannah.
Placing a high value on salt, sugar, and fat is no longer advantageous to our health, but the craving persists because the brain’s reward centers have not changed for approximately fifty thousand years.
The modern food industry, and the overeating habits it has spawned, is just one example of the 2nd Law of Behavior Change: Make it attractive. The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming.
They exaggerate features that are naturally attractive to us, and our instincts go wild as a result, driving us into excessive shopping habits, social media habits, porn habits, eating habits, and many others.
Compared to nature, these pleasure-packed experiences are hard to resist. We have the brains of our ancestors but temptations they never had to face.
THE DOPAMINE-DRIVEN FEEDBACK LOOP
By implanting electrodes in the brains of rats, the researchers blocked the release of dopamine. To the surprise of the scientists, the rats lost all will to live. They wouldn’t eat. They wouldn’t have sex. They didn’t crave anything. Within a few days, the animals died of thirst.
In one study, mice received a powerful hit of dopamine each time they poked their nose in a box. Within minutes, the mice developed a craving so strong they began poking their nose into the box eight hundred times per hour.
Habits are a dopamine-driven feedback loop.
like eating food, drinking water, having sex, and interacting socially.
When it comes to habits, the key takeaway is this: dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure, but also when you anticipate it. Gambling addicts have a dopamine spike right before they place a bet, not after they win. Cocaine addicts get a surge of dopamine when they see the powder, not after they take it. Whenever you predict that an opportunity will be rewarding, your levels of dopamine spike in anticipation. And whenever dopamine rises, so does your motivation to act.
It is the anticipation of a reward—not the fulfillment of it—that gets us to take action.
THE DOPAMINE SPIKE
Before a habit is learned (A), dopamine is released when the reward is experienced for the first time. The next time around (B), dopamine rises before taking action, immediately after a cue is recognized. This spike leads to a feeling of desire and a craving to take action whenever the cue is spotted. Once a habit is learned, dopamine will not rise when a reward is experienced because you already expect the reward. However, if you see a cue and expect a reward, but do not get one, then dopamine will drop in disappointment (C). The sensitivity of the dopamine response can clearly be seen when a reward is provided late (D). First, the cue is identified and dopamine rises as a craving builds. Next, a response is taken but the reward does not come as quickly as expected and dopamine begins to drop. Finally, when the reward comes a little later than you had hoped, dopamine spikes again. It is as if the brain is saying, “See! I knew I was right. Don’t forget to repeat this action next time.”
Your brain has far more neural circuitry allocated for wanting rewards than for liking them.
Desire is the engine that drives behavior. Every action is taken because of the anticipation that precedes it. It is the craving that leads to the response.
We need to make our habits attractive because it is the expectation of a rewarding experience that motivates us to act in the first place.
HOW TO USE TEMPTATION BUNDLING TO MAKE YOUR HABITS MORE ATTRACTIVE
even if you don’t really want to process overdue work emails, you’ll become conditioned to do it if it means you get to do something you really want to do along the way.
The habit stacking + temptation bundling formula is:
- After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [HABIT I NEED].
- After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT].
If you want to read the news, but you need to express more gratitude:
- After I get my morning coffee, I will say one thing I’m grateful for that happened yesterday (need).
- After I say one thing I’m grateful for, I will read the news (want).
If you want to watch sports, but you need to make sales calls:
- After I get back from my lunch break, I will call three potential clients (need).
- After I call three potential clients, I will check ESPN (want).
- The 2nd Law of Behavior Change is make it attractive.
- The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming.
- Habits are a dopamine-driven feedback loop. When dopamine rises, so does our motivation to act.
- It is the anticipation of a reward—not the fulfillment of it—that gets us to take action. The greater the anticipation, the greater the dopamine spike.
- Temptation bundling is one way to make your habits more attractive. The strategy is to pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do.