Friday, August 24, 2012

Chocolate and the Suggestible Mind


My newest buddy whom I’ve never met, Charles Duhigg, journalist and author of The Power of Habit:  Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, has the best idea I’ve heard in a while that could go wildly awry:  He says to form a good habit, we need only deceive our brains with chocolate. 

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m squarely behind a belief in the brain’s gullibility and the deceptive powers of chocolate.  In fact, I’m a pioneer in the field.  I’ve completed concentrated semi-scientific studies in my own private laboratory.  I’ve applied the concepts and replicated my experiments.  And now that we have a new champion, in the interest of fairness and forward thinking, I’ll don the lab coat again. 

Oh yes.  I’m down with the hypothesis that forming good habits requires chocolate and tricking your brain.  My brain is already so tricked.  And I don’t mean like a teenager’s ride. 

I haven’t told my brain the truth since Spanx.  Or “skinny jeans.”  Or fat free fruit loops.  Having been off the truth train for many miles of track, my brain might not even be able to distinguish fact from pie-in-the-sky fantasy.  Pie?  Where?  I don’t see any pie! 

See what I mean?  

Given my brain’s current state, I don’t think trying to slip chocolate past the gray matter is going to be all that challenging.  I majored in rationalization at the school of Really, Who Knew?  Therefore, my hopes are high for the prospect of deluding myself into a new life-altering routine starring my favorite downfall from See’s.   

Let’s explore. 

Duhigg (Don’t you just want to pinch his cheek and call him Doohickey?) says the formula for creating a “good” new habit to replace the lifelong familiar self-defeating habit you’ve theoretically extinguished through application of undisclosed self torture is this:  Cue - Routine - Reward.   

In the dark days of bad habits, the formula played out something like this:  Cue – Oh my goodness!  It’s 10am.  Time for my bonbon!   

Routine – locate said confection and consume delicately.  Repeat until shame, guilt or good sense sets in.   

Reward – yumminess. 

When I set about becoming perfect evermore by making resolutions and gritting my teeth, I find that I’m skilled at Step 1, cues.  They’re not that difficult, after all – look at the clock.  Set the alarm.  Gracious me!  It’s already midmorning!  Time for my rejuvenating, healthful workout.  

I’ve even managed Step 2 with reasonable ease and established an exercise routine:  I go to the gym and workout madly for the prescribed 55 minutes.  I get red-faced and sweat.  I stand around after the U-Jam class in my stretchy pants; mop my brow; walk with an athletic swagger and relish the intrinsic value of the workout.  Oh yeah.  I’m good. 

So why does my doofus brain dread the routine and invent every lame excuse to avoid it? 

According to Thingamabob it’s in Step 3, the reward.  I wander afield in cementing the new, more desirable, life-affirming habit because I’ve essentially skipped the reward!  Or, more accurately, I’ve tried to bully my brain into believing that baked banana chips and tofu are rewarding.  No wonder my enthusiasm fizzles!  No yumminess. 

Even the most naive brain can see that eight glasses of water and a celery stalk do not constitute a reward.  All the gold stars and atta boys in the weight room cannot compete with chocolate.  What was I thinking? 

Whatchamacallit says that we need to give ourselves a real reward.  One our brains will recognize as desirable.  Something we already love, like chocolate. 

Instead of a salad, he says, after a workout reward yourself with a small piece (of course small, you nut!)  of chocolate.  That is, if you like chocolate.  If not, then maybe a thimbleful of beer.  Even a Hershey’s Kiss should be enough to make your workout something your brain hopes for. 

According to Dofunny, even though we know the exercise doesn’t cause the chocolate Kiss to appear, like a lab that fetches forever in happy anticipation of his chewy treat - our childlike minds form the association nevertheless.   

After as few as 10 days of repeating the Cue, Routine, and Chocolate Reward, voila!  You’re hard wired for a new life. 

What could possibly go wrong?