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Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Red Button: How to Make Real Lasting Change

How to Make Real Lasting Change

If a rat pushes the green button, they get one pellet of food immediately. If they push the purple button, they get ten pellets after ten seconds.

Given both buttons to choose from
just like us
every time
they push the green button.

So the experimenters changed it up. They only gave them one choice, the purple button. The rats pushed it, but before the ten seconds was up, they showed the green button.
If they could resist,
they would get all ten pellets.
Not a chance.
They pushed the green button and would get one lousy pellet.

Bad news for them, bad news for us.

Given the choice of long term health and fitness or death by cardiac arrest, we choose fast food, cigarettes and watching TV.

Given the choice between taking our medication, getting up early, and studying for that test, we often fail.

I am sick of getting just one pellet.

How do we change? How do we make real lasting change?

Hope. The next step in the experiment is informative.
They added a red button.
It didn’t give any food … ever.
But, here’s how it worked.

They would show the purple button, then show the red button. If the rat didn’t press the red button, the green button would appear, it would press the green button and get one pellet immediately. But, if they pressed the red button, the green button wouldn’t appear.

The rat could choose to block future temptation and guarantee that it would get the larger reward.

The present rat knows that the future rat has no self-control, so the present rat makes the choice not to let the future rat get into a situation that is tempting.

It worked…some of the time.

It may not guarantee success, but it gives us a clue.

So, how do we make real lasting change?

Start with what you want. Then, figure out what temptation is blocking you from getting what you want. Then, block yourself from that temptation. Simple? Yes, with a lot of introspection and a little creativity, we can find a way to block our future rat self from settling for one pellet.

The problem with what you want is usually that it is in the future. The further it is in the future, the less important it seems right now. Even if it is life itself, since the heart attack won’t be coming for years, we ignore it. It isn’t important right now.

So, we need to set up substitutionary rewards that allow us to enjoy in the present the good choices that we want to make each day.

Want to stop looking at porn on the internet, get Covenant Eyes installed on your computer. Everything you see on your screen gets emailed to your Mom or spouse or pastor or friend or the daily news.

The motivation is not having someone you love and respect know that you are looking at porn.

In the past, that led to secrecy and isolation, now it can lead toward reaching your goal of getting rid of the habit. Now the only way to stop your Mom from knowing you are looking at porn, is stop looking at porn.

This action in the present helps your future self choose to do what you really want to do.

How about exercise?

(Figure out what is sane, so you don’t kill yourself trying to get healthy. You may need to start small and not try to run a marathon every day.)

But, what do you love and wish you had more of now, in the present? Give that to yourself when you exercise.

Do you wish that you could listen to more music? Plug in the headphones only while you run.

Do you wish you heard more compliments? Start recording every compliment you hear for the next five years. Write them down and keep them in a compliment book. Immediately after you exercise, go read your compliment book.

Do you wish you had more money to spend on yourself? Pay yourself to exercise. Whatever you can afford, but make it worth your while. And, don’t buy anything fun for yourself except with that money.

Be creative. What will motivate you to do what you want to do? If you find a loophole, change it up and find a new reward. Don’t give up!

Knowing that something is good for us, is important, is healthy…is not enough. We need to find out what will motivate us to accomplish our goals and use that to help our future selves accomplish what we desire.
Here’sthe TED Talk by Dan Ariely about Self-control that talks about the rats.

Here is my next blog in the series:

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