Graeme Newell

Implicit Conditioning

Want to change a stubborn habit? Then you’ve got to treat your misbehaving brain like it’s a puppy. Most of us formulate a behavioral change strategy by mustering all the power of our RATIONAL brain. The conversation goes something like this:

“My doctor says if I’m more active, I’ll feel better in the future, so I’m gonna commit to a daily workout.” But usually, we just can’t quite muster the motivation. We fail miserably. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Now imagine that your vet says your dog needs to be more active. It would be ludicrous to make the same rational case to your pooch. “Fido, if you’re more active now, you’ll feel better in the future.” The way to change Fido’s behavior is to use CLASSICAL CONDITIONING:

Action + immediate reward = behavioral change.

Fetch the ball and get a tasty treat NOW. We don’t promise a treat sometime in the future.

Well, you are no different than your dog. You must make that FUTURE reward, an IMMEDIATE reward. So here’s how we could up our chances of success on our exercise plan:

-Workout while enjoying a conversation with a good friend.
-Indulge in a fancy coffee after each workout.
-Me, I indulge in favorite audio books, but only allow myself to do so when I am working out.

Your best shot at success is to build this same IMMEDIATE Pavlovian reward into every behavior change goal. Purely rational commitments have abysmal success rates because our subconscious brain DOESN’T CARE what our rational brain wants. Our misbehaving subconscious wants IMMEDIATE reward.

Inventory all the pleasurable activities in your daily routine, then strategically pair those rewards with a behavior change goal. Don’t waste a single daily reward. Include pleasures like zoning out on your device, caffeine, food, and indulgent hot showers.

Purposefully construct a system of IMMEDIATE, and CONSISTENT REWARD for every behavior change goal.