Prevent Addiction by Being Boss in your Brain

It hurts to hear it, but you’re not always boss in your brain. Your limbic system is like an excitable puppy running after anyone who gives it a treat, making them boss for a while: fashion, peer pressure, your sex drive, your love of fast cars, ambition, greed, and more.

For you to be boss in your brain will mean developing skills as easy as ABCD:

 1. Accept Accountability

2. Build Boundaries

3. Connect pleasure and purpose, and

4. Delay gratification.

 1. ACCEPT ACCOUNTABILITY. We are all accountable somewhere: to a partner, parents, or the tax office. In pleasure-seeking, first become accountable by disclosing your activities to someone else, a friend. Eventually, take responsibility for yourself. 100%. Write out a plan and stick to it. Ask yourself

 s this what I really want now and long-term?

Accepting accountability makes you boss in your own brain. It fulfils your own wants and needs, not somebody else’s and not what’s trending. More pleasure, less pain.

 2. BUILD BOUNDARIES. To be boss in your own brain, build boundaries by saying NO. Say no to others’ pressure to have another drink, to try a certain drug, to have sex you don’t want, or to speed.

 All-time great Australian football coach Wayne Bennett apparently has a great boundary: his mouth. It was put to the test. With a family history of alcohol dependence, he was determined not to go that way. Not drinking is difficult in Australian football culture, but no alcohol has passed his lips. Legend has it that four men pinned down while another tried to pour beer down his gullet. He resisted, prevailed, and coached seven teams to victory rather than let alcohol ruin his life.

 Which would you choose? Consider:

What is ONE thing I need to say ‘no’ to?

What words will I use to say ‘no’?

Can I say things firmly but gently to still be accepted by people?

Through practice, you become skilled in saying no. This way, you become boss in your own brain. More real pleasure. Less pain.

 3. CONNECT PLEASURE AND PURPOSE. Get this one right to build lasting pleasure and protect against pain. It takes effort first.

The pleasure of tasty food comes after the effort of planting, growing, harvesting, processing, and cooking. Effort first, pleasure later.

The pleasure of sex come after the effort of grooming yourself, putting your best foot forward, going out, and finding a partner. Effort first, pleasure later.

The pleasure of love and friendship comes after effort to work on relationships. Effort first, pleasure later.

Connect pleasure and purpose. With this winning combination, pleasure encourages future effort and more pleasure. Connect all pleasure with purpose as a reward. For example:

I will play internet games only after getting the assignment done.

Connect pleasure & purpose, work & play, and reward & effort to stay boss.

4. DELAY GRATIFICATION. This is the time element of connecting pleasure and purpose. It means

Put off feeling good now for more pleasure in the future.

Work first, play later.

Get reward after effort.

Would you like to have one marshmallow now, or wait fifteen minutes and get two? This was the preschoolers’ dilemma in Mischel’s famous experiment.[1] Preschoolers who delayed gratification became healthier adults with less addictions.[2]   More pleasure and less pain. This skill can be learned and practiced.

First the effort, then the pleasure. Effort is practicing a sport, studying, working on a relationship, or climbing a mountain. Pleasure is being good, graduating, enjoying a good relationship, and reaching the top. It feels very good.

Practice. Here are some more ideas:

Earn, save, invest, and watch money grow

Exercise and enjoy increased fitness.

Set a goal, put in a plan, carry it out, and reap rewards.

Delay gratification to get the big pleasures: sharing love, being useful, and expressing yourself. Delay gratification, be in charge, be boss.

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[1] Mischel, Walter, Ebbe B. Ebbesen, and Antonette Raskoff Zeiss. "Cognitive and attentional mechanisms in delay of gratification." Journal of personality and social psychology 21.2 (1972): 204.


[2] See Mischel, Walter, et al. "‘Willpower over the life span: decomposing self-regulation." Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (2010): nsq081. And Schlam, Tanya R., et al. "Preschoolers' delay of gratification predicts their body mass 30 years later." The Journal of pediatrics 162.1 (2013): 90-93.


Christian Heim