Beating Yourself Up Makes You Fail

We all know the drill. Conventional Wisdom’s rules for how to stop a bad habit have been around forever: 

Motivation. Willpower. Morality. 

You have to be motivated. You have to have a big enough “Why.” You have to manage your willpower “muscle” carefully. And try to be “good,” as in you must try to be moral.

But what if there’s a completely different way to stop a bad habit?

One that’s easy, effortless, and fun. One that gives you more control over your “Feels Bad” Cortisol and “Feels Good” Dopamine brain chemicals–just by the way you think?

What’s Cortisol and Dopamine?  

When your brain feels threatened (whether real or imagined) it releases the feel-bad brain chemical Cortisol so you “Fight or Flight or Freeze or Forget,” to get away from that threat.

When your brain needs the motivation to go for a reward (like searching for food and water 10,000 years ago) it releases the feel-good brain chemical Dopamine so you keep doing the hard work to get to that reward.

In fact, research shows that when we are about 70% to any goal, our brain releases Dopamine to give us an extra, “feel good” push to spur us on to reach it. And isn’t that what we all need today? A new way to stop a bad habit without beating ourselves up about it. One that even (gasp!) feels good?

Here’s a secret:  Beating yourself up makes you fail.

Conventional Wisdom experts always say, “Don’t beat yourself up,” but they don’t show you easy ways how not to do it.

Knowing how your brain works is the first step.

No, you don’t have to have a degree in neuroscience. I don’t. But I’ve found understanding a few easy layman’s things about how the brain works make it so much easier for me to stop bad habits.

*Here’s a tip: You can plan your day so you’re often at about 70% to various goals. It works best if you have a lot of easy to achieve goals all day long–“Giggle Step” goals.  Doing that gives you an all-day “Dopamine Drip” of feel-good brain chemicals.  

And this is key: Your logical, rational brain works exponentially better when it’s running on feel-good Dopamine than feel-bad Cortisol.

Betsy Burroughs

Betsy Burroughs is a Consultants Collective member consultant and a member of JEM's board of advisors. Betsy is a marketing and brand executive turned neuroscience researcher. She has executive experience in marketing, advertising, sales, and publishing. Betsy has held executive roles at InfoWorld and Satmetrix and senior account management roles at several leading advertising agencies, including Foote, Cone & Belding; D’Arcy-McManus Benton & Bowles and TFB/BBDO and senior sales management positions at International Data Group (IDG) and CMP. Betsy's clients have included Google, Dwell Magazine, Gensler, The Discovery Channel, Rovi, Blurb, CNET, The Millennium Project, and The Tech Museum of Innovation. She has served on the advisory boards of technology startups and nonprofit organizations. She is a member of the World Future Society and the Silicon Valley Node of the Millennium Project—a United Nations-affiliated think tank that produces the annual international State of the Future Report. Betsy is the author of FOCUS. The Catalyst for Innovation. Based on the Neuroscience of Insight.

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