There’s no doubt about it…
Our brains are powerful, efficient learning machines. Unfortunately, our ability to learn things at breakneck speeds can also be a curse.
The most recent edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  explains why this is true.
More importantly, it explains how habits and addictions can sometimes be nearly impossible to break free of, once we’ve been conditioned to enjoy them.
It’s All About Pleasure
You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to know that we’re hard-wired to seek out and pay attention to things that are rewarding (or pleasurable).
It’s why things like food, alcohol, smoking, and gambling can become highly addictive.
Every time we partake, we get an instant reward.
But what happens when those things, that once represented a “reward,” are no longer a reward to us?
Are those things still powerful enough to get our attention – even when we’re busy paying attention to other things?
These are the questions neuroscientists at John Hopkins University set out to answer.
Subjects sat in front of a computer screen and were told to search for red or green circles. The circles themselves were scattered among numerous circles of different colors.
Each of the green or red circles was followed by a reward. For example, finding a red circle would be followed by a 10-cent reward. Finding a green circle was followed by a smaller 1-cent reward.
The participants did this task for over an hour… long enough to “wire” the brain to equate green and red with monetary rewards.
After completing this task, they were given a new assignment, which was to search for certain shapes among an array of other differing shapes. For instance, they had to find a circle among shapes like triangles, squares and stars.
In this second task, color was no longer the concern. More importantly, there was no monetary reward involved this time around.
From time to time, one of the items on the display was green or red.
When green or red items were displayed, the participants’ responses slowed down.
In fact, an overwhelming number of people in the study got distracted by the red or green objects.
This is despite the fact that they were told to completely ignore those colors… and when those red or green items were displayed, they were inconspicuous and had no relevance whatsoever to the task.
“It was clear to us that those red or green items had become valuable to the study subjects, because they were linked in their minds with a reward,” said Steve Yantis, the study’s lead author.
It Seems Rewarding Objects Can’t Be Ignored
Based on the results of this study, this holds true even when we’re consciously trying to ignore them.
It seems that once your brain has been “rewired” with the stimulus-response effect of the reward, it becomes VERY hard to suppress the desire to experience the reward again.
At least, through conscious will power.
Is it any wonder why so many people have a hell of a time trying to kick bad habits like overeating, smoking and drinking?
Consider this: did you know that certain combinations of salt, sugar and fat in food can activate the same area of the brain that cocaine does?
It affects the area of the brain that releases dopamine – the chemical messenger that makes you feel good.
With this kind of brain “rewiring” losing weight and keeping it off becomes an almost impossible task… especially if you’re trying to do it through will power and external quick fixes.
That’s why hypnosis is so powerful. It unravels your previous wiring and creates new reward associations – i.e. loving veggies, fruits and exercise. So the end result then becomes what the researchers found in this study. Instead of your mind getting distracted by something that was a “bad” reward… you’ll now find it almost impossible to ignore the “good” rewards that will get you where you want to be. .
You’re pulled to do the good things… the good habits that get you where you want to be. Best of all, you’ll have a hard time ignoring them!
Have you ever been distracted by, or found it too hard to ignore a “reward”?
I’d love to hear your stories and comments.