Face your life, its pain, its pleasure, leave no path untaken. – Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book
I came across at TED talk on the pleasure trap by Douglas Lisle and got hooked instantly.
Lisle is funny and he uses drawings to illustrate complex ideas – so what’s there not to like.
The core concept that you should take away from the talk is that we’re driven by feelings.
That is, when we do things they result in feelings – and those feelings often make us decide what to do next.
They’re like signals that tell us how we’re doing – and they’re often wrong.
They give us bad information – you can’t trust them.
Let’s say you have a pretty healthy diet right now – the right balance of food groups. and not much salt, sugar or fat.
The kind of thing your parents give you while keeping the treats for themselves, or the kind of food you might eat if you lived somewhere the processed food industry hadn’t found yet.
At that point you eat when you’re hungry, the food is tasty and life is pretty good.
And then you get let out and experience what sugar and fat really taste like.
Your pleasure sensors register levels that go sky high.
I remember this feeling when I first went to a developed country and discovered Coca Cola – this amazing drink that tasted so good.
40 pounds later…
The thing with junk food is that it’s great when you first get it – so much better than fruit or salads.
But after a while you get used to it – the junk food gives you about the same amount of pleasure as the healthy food gave you earlier – you revert to a baseline.
Now, if you go from a diet of takeaways and junk back to a healthy diet – everything tastes dull and boring.
Your pleasure sensors register levels way down low.
Even though you’re moving from a bad situation to a good one, your body is telling you that you hate what’s going on – which makes it very hard to stick it out and not go back to the bad food.
But if you do stick it out, then healthy food starts tasting good again.
And you’re back where you were when you started.
What’s interesting is that when you went from good to bad, the feelings you had were good.
And when you went from bad to good, you registered the opposite – your feelings were bad – of deprivation and loss.
In fact, you would have to overcome your feelings to avoid going for the junk in the first place – and overcome them again if you were trying to get off your addiction.
And this is just food we’re talking about.
When it comes to addictions like smoking and drugs – your feelings are so high and so low that making a change is one of the hardest things you can do.
It would be so much better for you if you never started at all…
Because there is no good news here – it’s going to be hard and painful to get through that trough of whatever is the opposite of pleasure.
You will need help and support and friends and a plan for what you’ll do when you slip back.
When, not if.
Now, if you look at this chart what you’ll see is that normal doesn’t change.
You go back to the baseline – to where you started – whatever you’re doing.
This is the voice of your system.
Willpower is not enough – if you really want to make a change you have to change the system that’s resulting in that graph.
The one thing to remember is that if you’re trying to change something – don’t focus on the people.
People and their willpower abilities are not a good or reliable way to engineer change – they’re swayed by their environment and their feelings far too much.
You have to change the things around them first.
With food, you have to change what you have and how you buy.
You can’t eat junk if it’s not in the house.
With work, you have to change where you are and what’s around you.
If you go to the same place to work every day at the same time – it gets easier to get started.
Change the environment and the physical conditions that you operate in and your feelings will find it harder to drag you back to bad action.
And that way you have a fighting chance to end up somewhere different.
Somewhere you want to be.