Health and happiness may require you to make major changes in your life. Understanding the science of reward will help you to succeed, happily.
How many times have you tried to lose weight, get fit, stop procrastinating, or stop drinking? How many times have you tried to master a new task, like snowboarding, rock-climbing, painting, playing the guitar, or cooking? Think back to the many times through your life that you tried to make a big change. Did it work?
I bet that as you sit reading this, you will reflect with great sadness on many unsuccessful attempts to do something that you really wanted to do. I’m sure that you can feel the bitter aftertaste of failure, even as you retrieve these memories from the dark recesses of your mind.
And what happened when you failed? When you tried to lose weight, but piled into the cookie jar on the 9th day of your diet. What happened then? You felt totally miserable, right? And then you ate some more to try to heal the pain of failure. And before you knew it, you had spiraled out of control, and you had a million excuses for why you’d try again next Monday, or next month, or maybe even next year. But none of these excuses made you feel any better. You just felt downright miserable!
Our best efforts are often sabotaged by a mindset that sets us up for failure, especially if you’re a high achiever. And it’s counter-intuitive, because you probably regard this mindset as one of your greatest assets. I’m sure that you deliberately teach your children to embrace this mindset, because we live in a culture where winning is cherished.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in victory. I love the idea of success, and encourage my clients to set goals, and to visualize success, and then I spend a lot of time and effort inspiring and supporting them to achieve these goals. I believe in winning.
But here’s the problem.
The opposite of winning is losing – at least, that’s the conventional wisdom.
Winning and losing are more than numbers on a scoreboard or a bathroom scale. They trigger deep biological responses within our brains that make us either happy or sad. Understanding this biology is key to attaining long term health and happiness.
In the next article in this series, we explore the neuroscience of reward and punishment.