Use Addiction to Improve your Life

Key takeaways:

  • Addiction is a biological function of human brain;
  • Addiction can be harmful but can also be powerful to help you;
  • The key is to leverage addiction to improve your performance and life.

I came across a statistic. In the US, the average number of times people (who have gym memberships) go to gym is about 4.5 times per month. I’m not a gym person but I found this statistic quite interesting and helpful.

First, it turns out that if you buy individual passes to visit a gym and you are an ‘average gym goer’ as said by the statistic, then you will end up paying less for the visits compared with a monthly gym membership. Also, you feel less guilty by not going while still paying (I think you know what I mean!).

Second, most people are not as gritty as they think they are! All the New-Year resolutions fade away quickly by March and the time gyms have the most subscriptions in the whole year is actually December and January. Now you know why. Most people want to do something, take the actions to do them but how many are gritty enough to achieve the goals?

Ironman races is highly additive because your brain loves it!

If the goal is to get fit by going to a gym, then there are two simple solutions to achieve the goal: (1) hire a personal trainer and (2) make it fun to go to a gym. The true effect of hiring a personal trainer is not entirely on the outcome of gym exercise but to have a coach to push you and manage your goals and progress. With a personal trainer, it’s a lot easier to achieve the fitness goal. In fact, you are the person who achieve the goal; it’s not that your personal trainer is great. However, without the trainer, you would be more likely to skip gym sessions with a million excuses such as bad weather and you deserve a break because of work stress. Did that happen to you before?

The second solution is harder to implement: how to make it fun to go to a gym? The answer is that you can “hack” your brain to achieve this goal and improve your performance.

Dopamine is a hormone that our brain produces to ‘reward’ our behaviour, so this hormone is the reason why you feel unconformable if you miss a regular activity, like missing one morning run that you do every morning. The other hormone that could be your best friend is Endorphins. This hormone makes you feel ‘high’ although you are actually doing something your physical body doesn’t like such as running a marathon. Runners and endurance athletes know that they need to go beyond the stage when your brain keeps telling you no. Once Endorphins kicks in, then you can flow and finish a marathon.

Brisbane to Sydney is a 1,000km ride on a bike. To finish this journey over a few weeks, one will need a lot Dopamine and Endorphins to help.

Addition, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse is the result of our reward circuit in the brain being flooded with too much Dopamine. Because our brain enjoys Dopamine so it reinforces us to seek more by doing something. Drug users would then seek more drugs in order to make their brain happy. This is not meant to be how human brain and both hormones are designed for (so don’t take drugs!). We could actually “hack” our brain and take advantage of this fact to help our lives.

The secret is to make yourself ‘addicted’ to do something good such as going to a gym, do some exercises, eat healthy foods and spending time with family and friends. The best way to reinforce the ‘addiction’ of these good things, for example going to a gym, is to reward yourself every time you go to a gym by always having something ‘nice’ together with going to a gym and not having the same reward when you don’t go.

For example, if you always feel guilty to have that nice piece of brownie with your coffee, then reward yourself a coffee with a nice piece of brownie every time after you finish a good gym session and never have a brownie on the day you don’t go to a gym. With the good physical rewards, your brain will release enough Dopamine to make you rewarded biologically and together with the happiness you get from Endorphins during and after exercise, you will fell great and biologically feel the ‘urge’ to return to the gym soon. Then, you’ve just “hacked” your brain for a good purpose.

Reward yourself and hack your brain.

My client was not comfortable with the gym and brownie idea because he thought that the brownie would defeat the purpose of going to a gym to burn calories. Trust me, it doesn’t. The small brownie (make sure it’s small, please!) is the ‘carrot on the stick’ that lure you to achieve your goal. Your goal is way bigger than the calories the brownie can bring, so don’t worry. Once you build the habit because of this ‘addiction’, then you won’t need that piece of brownie any more. Trust me, you will feel so uncomfortable when you miss a regular gym session by then! It’s not because you miss the brownie so uncomfortable. It’s because your brain craves for Dopamine and Endorphins and you will go to the gym even without brownies.

The same principle applies to other goals you may want to achieve. Why not share your ‘hack’ by leaving some comments here? ^_<

Dr. C. Richard Wu @

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