Being a human is hard. We know the sorts of choices we ought to make, and we earnestly intend to make them, but when the time comes, we don’t. We want to lose weight, but we eat a sundae. We want to get in shape, but we sit on the couch. We want to save money, but we buy a plane ticket to Italy.
Funnily enough, scientists can’t agree why this is.
The dominant idea in psychology and popular culture alike is that we have a part of our brain that is rational and knows what’s good for us, and another part that’s impulsive and wants bad things. They struggle on and on and eventually the rational part gets tired and gives in. Game over. It’s a depressing picture.
What you might not have heard, though, is that in recent years a competing model has emerged from the field of addiction studies. In this conception, the human brain doesn’t have two warring parts, but one unitary system that prioritizes immediately rewarding options over those that pay off later.
The struggle, then, isn’t really between good and bad, but between the future and the present. And what’s exciting about this way of looking at things is that not only does this explain why some people can, and do, win the battle against temptation, but it also gives the rest of us a strategy for how we can do the same.
TO BE CONTINUED ON