7 Ways to Rewire Your Reward System
Today we live in an instant gratification driven culture. We want everything to happen at the snap of our fingers. Our low tolerance for patience is clear in the way we shop. That’s why we have one-day delivery options on Amazon. Not only that, we even have a “Buy Now” that lets you buy anything with one click.
It’s definitely convenient to get whatever you want at the click of a button. Even when you don’t have the money for it. Did you know that the average American spends more than 1% of their yearly income? Easy credit has made it possible for anyone to buy things they don’t have the money for.
Credit cards are great if you have control over your spending. Uncontrolled, this great purchasing tool becomes dangerous. But going into debt isn’t the worst part of instant gratification.
Every time you gratify yourself, you’re rewiring your brain to form unhealthy habits. For example, when you buy on impulse whenever you’re stressed. You’re conditioning your mind to deal with your problem through escapism. Instead, you should take on the challenge of the problem first, then reward yourself only after you solve it.
But here’s the catch. When you’re busy solving problems, you won’t seek out temporary relief from pain. And when you solve the problem, you’ll finally have that sense of relief you’ve been searching for.
Instant gratification and procrastination are close cousins. We engage in activities that meet our short-term needs. We do this to delay pain. After all, why would you want pain when you can please yourself at the click of a button?
This is where people get stuck in their problems. They’re wanting a breakthrough without breaking a sweat. They wait until the problem gets too big and painful for them to bear any longer. Most people change when the pain to remain the same becomes greater than the pain to change. As the saying goes, “no pain, no gain.”
When we have pain, we’re twice as motivated to get rid of that pain as we would be without it. But what’s also true is that we don’t always have to wait until we experience pain to motivate ourselves. We do this first by having dreams for our lives. And turning those dreams into achievable goals.
Here are 7 Ways to Rewire Your Brain’s Reward System:
1. Set Goals for Your Life
“Without a vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18)
King Solomon wrote this verse in the Book of Proverbs over 3,000 years ago. And it’s still relevant today. Without a vision for your life, you will coast through life. And soon enough, you’ll find yourself stuck in a rut. But when you have a vision for your life, you will live each day with purpose.
Most people avoid making plans for their lives because they don’t like disappointments. But let me ask you a question. Will the disappointments stop if you don’t have plans for your life? No matter what you choose, the setbacks will come. So you might as well make plans and go for what you want in life.
Life never works out exactly the way you plan it. But having goals will get you moving in a direction that’s more fulfilling. And best of all, you’ll learn things you never would have learned if you never took on the challenge.
2. Reward Yourself After You Achieve Your Goals
Want those new shoes? Or go on that vacation? Before you run off to spend your money, pair up your rewards with your goals. It feels good to spoil yourself once in a while, but not if you’re doing it in an unhealthy way. Why not reward yourself after you achieve your goals? You’re probably thinking, why wait when I can have it now? Because by waiting, you create a win-win situation. You’ll complete your goal and still get to reward yourself.
So whenever you write down your goals, pair them up with a reward. Then make a promise to yourself that you won’t reward yourself until you finish your goals.
Meditation is a must when it comes to rewiring your brain. But before we dive into reprogramming your mind, let’s take a brief look at how our brain solves a problem. Why? Because rewiring your brain is a giant problem-solving activity.
When we’re faced with a problem, we first try to solve it by consciously thinking about it. We try our hardest to find the solution until we either solve the problem or give up out of frustration. And this picture of us working on a problem and walking away highlights the two modes of thinking.
The first is an active and conscious thinking process, called Focused Mode. And the second occurs in our subconscious mind, called Diffused Mode. Here are some simple definitions of the two modes:
- Focused Mode- a conscious and active mode of thinking. Like when you’re actively solving a math problem. In this mode, you direct all your attention to solving the problem.
- Diffuse Mode- uses the subconscious part of your brain. An example of diffuse mode thinking is when you’re taking a walk. Then suddenly a rush of ideas emerge from your mind. This type of thinking happens after you try to solve a problem and step away from it. As soon as you step away from the problem, your subconscious mind gets to work. After taking a long enough break from conscious effort, try solving the problem again. You will feel as if you have a fresh pair of eyes. And you’ll see solutions that you couldn’t see before. This is the result of diffuse mode thinking.
Meditation helps integrate new changes in your life by reprogramming your subconscious mind. In this case, we’re retraining our minds to be more patient and seek long-term goals. At first, it will seem awkward. But that’s completely normal. Why? Because you haven’t conditioned your mind to think that way. At least not yet. But with consistent effort and time, those new thoughts will begin to feel more natural.
Does meditation sound boring to you? If it does, then great! That’s exactly the point of meditating. It’s to raise your tolerance for boredom. The reason we can’t sit still is that we lost the patience to let ourselves stay bored. In our effort to escape boredom, we engage in mindless activities. Instead of trying to get rid of your boredom, learn how to stay in the moment through meditation.
4. Find a Hobby
Meditation is great, but it’s not an activity that you can do for long stretches of time. At least not right away. So instead of reverting back to your old habits, you will have to replace them with activities that bring you joy. And the healthiest way to manage your boredom is by finding a hobby.
For those of you who don’t know where to start, try something small and see where it takes you. We like to think that we’re born with our passions. While that may be true for some, most of us don’t know what we’re passionate about. Why? Because somewhere along in our lives, we became afraid to try new things. We avoid new experiences out of the fear of failure. We watch other amazingly talented people succeeding at their craft. And we often think to ourselves, I wish I had their talent and their passion.
We write ourselves off as if life dealt us a bad hand. But what if I told you that you can develop your passions? What if, instead of searching for something you can’t fail at, you found something you’d love to do even if you failed? I didn’t get into writing because I had amazing talent at an early age. In fact, in elementary school, my teacher said I was a bad writer. But did I let it stop myself from writing? Nope. I kept working on my craft, year after year. And who says you have to be the best in the world to have a hobby? Go out there and find something you love doing even if you suck at it. Life is too short to let the criticisms of other people control how you live.
5. Get Rid of Distractions
I always knew I loved to write ever since I was a student. But I let the world distract me from going after my passions. I feared boredom. So filled most of my time with distractions. I didn’t give myself the chance to develop my passions. I spent hours browsing the internet, playing games, or hanging out with my friends. I couldn’t stand boredom.
But my life changed when I started working for a company that didn’t allow phones inside its building. At first, it made me feel naked not having my phone around. But after a while, I started benefitting from not being glued to my phone all the time. I increased my productivity and got along better with my coworkers. Since I didn’t have a phone to distract myself, I devoted all of my attention to two things:
- My Work
- My Coworkers
I enjoyed work a lot more and I started to realize the benefit of having a focused mind. Eventually, I came to this conclusion. A focused mind is a peaceful mind. By focusing my mind like a laser, I put my energy to good use. Having the satisfaction of knowing that I gave my best brought me peace.
6. Exercise Regularly
We are creatures of habit. When the right habits are in place, our minds and bodies will act right. When you exercise regularly, you will crave healthier foods. You’ll have more energy throughout the day, and your mid-day craving for sugar will decrease. In the long-term, you’ll develop much patience for yourself and for others. Why? Because you’ll have built up your tolerance for pain and delaying gratification.
Many of my friends come to me for fitness advice. One of the first questions they ask me is, how long will it take until I see results? And when I tell them it will take at least six weeks, they react with groaning and complaining. I too had the same reaction when I started lifting weights. But after weight training for the past seven years, six weeks of training seems like a blur to me. And this success principle applies to anything else in life. Anything worth building takes time, patience, and consistent effort.
I use my morning workouts as a gentle reminder that consistent hard work pays off if I give it enough time. Whenever I start to think that something is taking too long, I remind myself of this lesson. This reminder has helped me push forward during my toughest days.
7. Practice Minimalism
Learning to live with less will free up your mind for more meaningful thoughts. Uncontrolled desires lead to a shallow life. Consumerism tricks shoppers into thinking that they’re always lacking something. When we watch advertisements, the ad reminds us of what we don’t have. And they display powerful images of how much better our lives could be with their product. If materialism brought fulfillment in our lives, we wouldn’t have to keep shopping online. When we get sucked into the consumerism trap, what we have is never enough. We buy and buy but we’re never satisfied.
We get suckered into “if and then” thinking. If I just had this then I would be happy. Or if this happened, then I can finally be at peace. Until we learn contentment with what we have now, nothing will ever be enough.
In fact, having all of your desires met will only bring you more disappointment. Why? Because you’re trying to fill a void in your heart that you can never fill by owning more things. When you have genuine gratitude for what you have now, you will no longer be a slave to uncontrolled desires. Instead of chasing after the next thing, you’ll get to enjoy the journey you’re on right now.
Now that you know how to rewire your reward system, what changes will you make in your life? Wherever your journey takes you, I hope that you live with peace and freedom. Virginia Woolf said it best.
You cannot find peace by avoiding life.