Millions of years ago, when eating and trying not to get eaten were our full-time jobs, our minds developed a very important survival tool. it basically it goes like this: We see some food that looks good, our brain says calories, survival! And we eat the food. It tastes good and as a reward, our brain tells us we actually feel good. Because it feels good our brain says remember what you ate and exactly where you found it. This plays over and over in our minds: We get hungry (Trigger), we seek out food (Behavior) and we feel good (Reward). Simple right?
This also works for avoiding danger. Trigger: see saber toothed tiger, behavior: run away, reward: survive! And remember to tell our buddies to avoid that part of the cave.
Fast forward a few million years to now when food is not hard to find but there are a ton of things that make us feel bad – anything from our job, to our relationships to our social status. New problems but the same brain trying to use the same program. What happens? Caveman brain says, next time you feel bad, why don’t you try eating something good, so you’ll feel better! We thank our brains for that great idea, try this and quickly learn that if we eat chocolate or ice cream when we’re mad or sad we feel better. Same learning process, just a different trigger: Instead of a hunger signal coming from our stomach, this emotional signal -feeling sad triggers that urge to eat.
Later, feeling stressed out triggers that urge to eat something sweet. Now with the same brain mechanisms, we’ve gone from learning to survive to literally killing ourselves with these habits.
And it turns out that our brains don’t stop at eating. They use this same reward-based learning process for all sorts of things, from smoking cigarettes, using opioids and other drugs, and even getting anxious.
The good news is that you can get your old brain to work in today’s world. At MindSciences, we’ve found a way to hack the reward-based learning system to help you step out of unhealthy habits, and into healthier ways of being. And how well does this work? Some of our clinical studies have found 5x the quit rates for smoking, a 40% reduction in craving-related eating, and close to a 50% drop in anxiety.