Translator: Alena Romanenko
Reviewer: Diba Szamosi Self control. So, you must be thinking “What do you have to do
with problems of self control?” Let’s take a little survey: How many people here in the last week have procrastinated more
than you wish you would? How many people have
exercised in the last week less than you wish you would? Have eaten more than you wish you would? Have had more unprotected sex
than you wish you would? (Laughter) So, I want to talk a little bit about self-control and self control is basically the problems that we have all this desire from ourselves for the long-term, but then in the short-term we do very different things. And to get us thinking about this, I want to tell you about one of my biggest challenge with self-control. So, I was in a hospital for a long time and one of those things I got in hospital was a particular version of hepatitis. I got a bad blood transfusion and I got a liver disease as a consequence. And from time to time the liver disease would flur up and I would get even sicker than I was anyway and this was very unpleasant. And about 7 years after I was
already out of the hospital, after my injury, I had
another one of those episodes I checked myself into a hospital
and they told me I had hepatitis C. And the good news was that
the FDA was running a clinical trial to figure out whether interfere on and medication that was originally approved for hairy cell leukemia was going to be
successful for treating hepatitis C. So I said, “What would happen
if I don’t join this trial?” They said, “Well, you have a good chance
of dying of a liver cirrhosis and it’s not a good thing.” So, I took the medication. And these injections were kind of
the essence of self-control. I had to get myself three injections
a week for a year and a half. And if I did it for a year and a half,
there was a chance that I might not have liver cirrhosis
thirty years down the road. But if I took the medication, for sure I will be sick for about the next 16 hours, think something like headache,
vomiting, shaking, stuff like that. Not really terrible compared to liver cirrhosis, but unpleasant and immediate. And the fact is that when we are
facing those decisions between something that is
immediate and unpleasant versus something that is good, really good but in the long-term future,
we often over-focus on the present and sacrifice the future. So, anyway, this is, of course, not a new problem. We all face this. This is the problem of Adam and Eve. You can say, “Who in the right mind will ever give an apple for eternity
in the garden of Eden?” What a crazy trade-off.
But there’s a modern version of this you can say, “Who in the right mind will ever do this?” (Laughter) How many people here ever texted while driving? I mean, it’s an incredible thing, right? And you say it’s not the case
that you said to yourself, “How much do I enjoy living?” “How much do I not want to kill other people?” (Laughter) “How important is this text message right now?” And you said, “Yes, let me do this.” No, instead what happened is that the impulse to answer this vibrating
phone or to answer the ring overtakes us and we do lots
of bad things as a consequence. So think about it the following way. Imagine I gave you a choice between
half a box of chocolate right now or a full box of chocolate in a week. And I took this fantastic
Lindt chocolate and I passed it around and
you could see it and smell it and you could choose between
a half box of chocolate now or a full box of chocolate in a week. How many people in those conditions
would delay the choice, say, I’ll wait another week for another
half a box of chocolate? Wave a few hands and I’m willing to bet that if we actually had the chocolate passing around (Laughter) there would be few of those. But most people say,
“Give me the chocolate now, I’ll take less chocolate now than more later.” Imagine I pushed the choice to the future and I said, “What would you rather have:
a half of box of chocolate in a year or a full box of chocolate in a year and a week?” Now realize it’s the same choice. It’s asking, whether you’d be willing to wait a week for a half of box of chocolate, but in this case, when both choices are in the future. How many people would wait
another week for a full box of chocolate? Everybody, right? Because in the future
we are wonderful people! (Laughter) We will be patient,
we will not procrastinate, we’ll take our medication on time,
we will exercise, we will eat. The problem is that we never
get to live in that future. We always live in the present and in the present we’re not
exactly that wonderful people. So that’s a problem with how
we treat present and future. So going back to my case,
I took this medication, the trial was here when
I was a student at Duke. When I finished –
they told me the good news: I got rid of my liver disease,
that was fantastic news. The second news was
that I was the only person in this FDA protocol who always
took their medication on time. The question is: How? Do I have more patience and self-control? Do I care more about my future?
And the answer is no. But the answer is that I developed
a little trick for myself. And my trick is that I love movies. If I had time, I would watch lots and lots of movies. But I don’t have much time and
I don’t watch that many movies. But on Monday, Wednesday and Friday
– which were the injection days – on the way to school I would stop in the video store, I would rent a few videos I wanted to watch, I would carry them in my backpack the whole day anticipating watching them, I would get home, I would inject myself
and I would put a movie in, I would get the bucket and
the blanket for the side effects, but I took the injection immediately, I didn’t wait for the side-effects to start I connected something good with something bad and this together with a fact that I don’t
have a particularly good memory – so I could watch the same movies
over and over (Laughter) sustained me through this long time. Now let’s think about this. If we just thought of what is important in life, we would say that livers are really important. (Laughter) Nobody could question that.
We would also say that side-effects of the medication are not
that important, relatively speaking. And this difference in importance
should have motivated me and every other patient in the protocol
to take our medication on time. But the problem is that this is not how we view life. There’s also a time domain. And the liver is not affecting us right now, it will be long term in the future. And because of that, it is vastly discounted. And the injections are now,
which becomes much more focal, and central, and take more control over our lives. Now, what was my trick?
Did my trick get me to start caring about my liver? No, in fact, I substituted it with videos. It’s kind of crazy because videos are even less important than side-effects. We call this reward-substitution. And the idea is that there are many things in life, particularly, delayed rewards that
we’re not designed to care about. So can we get people to get excited about them? Very unlikely. Think about something like global warming. Can we ever get people to wake up in the morning and feel really excited about
solving global warming today? Very unlikely aside from a few [unclear]. I mean it’s just not going to happen. Actually it’s worse than that. Because if you thought the other way, and you said, let me create a problem that people would not care about, that would maximize human apathy, you would come up with global warming. (Laughter) Think about all the reasons: long term in the future, will happen to other people first, we don’t see it progressing,
we don’t see anybody suffering, anything we can do is a drop in a bucket. Can we really care? No. So what can we do? Can we do something like reward substitution? Can we get people to care or to behave as if they care because they care about something else? This thing is actually part of the solution, right? If you think about what makes
the Toyota Prius so successful, my non-scientific observation is that when you watch people who drive Toyota Priuses, they smile more than other people. (Laughter) And I think for a good reason: they drive and they say to themselves: “Look at me, I’m a wonderful human being!” ([Laughter) “And not only that. Other people can see me and they recognize what a wonderful human being I am.” Can we do the same thing with our heating systems or can we do the same thing with
how much insulation we have in our attic or what kind of temperature we keep
our houses on in winter and in summer? I think that one solution to self-control problem in general is reward substitution. It’s taking the environment and changing it and getting people
to behave in the right way because of the wrong reason. The second solution I want to talk to you about is called “self-control contract”. This goes back to the story of Ulysses and the Sirens. So if you remember the story, Ulysses knew that when the sirens come he will be temped, so he tied himself to the mast, asked his men to tie themselves to the mast and to put beeswax in their ears, so that they wouldn’t be tempted, either. Now what’s this situation?
It’s not exactly reward substitution. It’s a situation in which we know we will be tempted. And we’re doing something to make
[ourselves] not able to be temped. That’s another version of dealing with self-control. Now before we talk about people, let’s think about rats and pigeons for a few minutes. So imagine you’re a rat or a pigeon
and I teach you for a while that the green button means
one pellet of food immediately and the purple button means
you have to wait 10 seconds and then you then get 10 pellets of food. I teach you this for a long time: green – 1, purple – 10; you learn this
and then I give you both and I say, “What would you
rather have: green or purple?” Now, realize that for a rat 10 seconds
is like a week for us. (Laughter) Really long time. So what do you think they choose?
They choose the green. Not so good. It actually gets a little worse. You start the trial, the purple button appears they press on it. A couple of seconds pass,
the green button appears. If they can only hold off and not press on anything, they’ll get 10 pellet of food, but they can’t. They press on the green and they get
1 pennant instead of 10. But there’s one interesting version: the trial starts, the purple button appears, they press on it, a second passes a red button appears. And the red button does nothing good. There’s no food connected to it, and rats and pigeons don’t enjoy pressing buttons particularly. (Laughter) But what this red button does
is to turn off the green button. It’s the Ulysses contract, it means that the rat and pigeon can do
something that they don’t like to make sure that they’re not tempted
in the future to do something bad. What do you think? Will they have enough insight, enough foresight, enough self-control ability to do that? It doesn’t seem like it, but they do. Not all the time, but they often do. And the thing is very optimistic on two grounds. First of all, if they can do it, maybe we can do it, too. (Laughter) And the second thing is it’s all about design the red buttons. If we’re face with temptation with no tools to overcome it we’re going to fail much like rats and pigeons. But if we create something that allows us to bypass temptation – like Ulysses contract – maybe we have some hope,
maybe we can overcome temptation. So let me show you a couple of mechanisms for this. A ‘Clocky’ was a a clock invented by one of the students in the Media lab, and it’s a clock that has 2 big wheels that start running at slightly different speeds. And what happens? When you go to sleep at night, in your mind you’re the kind of person
who wakes up at 6 o’clock in the morning and go for a run, go to the gym. When the alarm set goes off
at 6 o’clock in the morning you are no longer that person. (Laughter) You’re the kind of person that sleeps until 8 and drag yourself to a class at the last few moments or maybe a little later. If you get this clock, what happens? At 6 o’clock in the morning when the alarm sets off, the “Clocky” also starts running in the room. And because it has asynchronous wheels you never know where you have to find it. You have to get up, you have to
crawl under things, search for it. (Laughter) There is no way not to get up if you have this thing. So what you’re doing is you’re basically
forcing your future self, you’re forcing the 6 a.m. person to do something that you want him to do. This is an even more extreme version of this. It’s an alarm clock that is connected to your bank account. (Laughter) You see the potential, right? So it’s connected to your bank account and to the charity you hate. (Laughter) Now, think about this. Alarm clock goes off and you really want to snooze but every second you snooze, money goes to the charity you hate. (Laughter) Now if it’s the charity you like you can snooze and feel you’re doing something good for the world. But if you set it up correctly,
it would annoy you so much that you turn it off very quickly and you will get up. StickK is an interesting website
designed by two chubby economists that wanted to lose weight. And they created a bet against
themselves for a lot of money. And this website actually helps
people create contracts against each other. This is a curious website. If you install this software on your laptop or your computer, it would alert people when you watch pornography. (Laughter) It would also alert them if you uninstall the software. So what is the point? The point is that we have lots of
Adam and Eve temptations. Lots of things around us, lots of fast food and Facebook. Lots of things are aiming for our attention, time and money and food consumption. Everything right now. And because of that the amount
of temptation around it-s just incredible. There’s an analysis that about 70 years ago about 10% of the human deaths were caused by bad decision-making. How could you die in the past? You could make some mistakes.
Industrial accidents and so on. Now it’s about 50%. Smoking, obesity, car accidents. We’re just creating lots of ways for us to fail, lots of temptation, lots of ways for us to fail. Now with all those temptation and all of this problems, it would really be nice if we could all come up with our own Ulysses contract, if we could
all come with a red button, with our solutions of how to overcome these problems. It’s very hard to come up with all those things ourselves. The good news is there’s technology around, there’s hardware, there’s software,
there’s all kinds of ways to think if people have as the fundamental problem, the problem of self-control, what can we do to help? What kind of hardware can we built to help, what kind of software we can build. I think it’s a big key to success and to moving forward. I do want to leave you with one story that kind of explains how complex this is. There was a program in Denver
called “the Denver Drug Program”. And the ideas was that if you’re a heroin addict you could come to this organization,
and they would ask you to write a self-incriminating letter about your drug habit. And they would ask you to address it to the person you fear most would find about your drug addicion. So I would write to my mother and I would say, “Dear mom, I’m really sorry to tell you. I have a heroin habit. Love, Dan” And this organization would take the letter, they would fold it, put it into an envelope, would address it to my mother,
they would put a stamp on it and they would hold it in trust. And they would come from time to time and check my blood level. And if I ever had residue of heroin, they would mail the letter away. Now this is the idea that we can do something that is so big and so frightening, the moment that we want to overcome our temptation that we could implement something that would later control our behaviour. By the way, what do you think happened
when people started craving drugs? They came to this organization and said, “I want out!” And what did this organization say? “You can be out in 3 weeks, but for the next 3 weeks we know you’re craving, we will check
your blood level every day.” And 3 weeks were enough time for most people to get clean. Now eventually they had to cancel this organization because of human rights violation. (Laughter) Because if you think about
the Ulysses problem, the only way this mechanisms work is that we force people in, and let them go in without letting them get out, right? Because if you can get out, it doesn’t work any more, it creates a big challenge on what
do we think about human freedom. So the two thoughts I want to leave with you is: How do we design a world to help us overcome our temptation and how do we do it without obstructing too much with our human freedom and rights. And thanks. (Applause)

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89 thoughts on “Self control: Dan Ariely at TEDxDuke

  1. his slight hints, based on his knowledge of human behavior, are slightly authoritarian leaning. How do "we" design for red button for "our" lives. Who is we? who's doing the designing?
    In certain aspects authoritarianisms are needed. texting while driving. or, wait can we really do that to all people with phones and cars? another example is his question itself at the end of the talk, where he asks: 'how do we do without obstructing "too much" of our freedom and rights'? too much? how about none at all.
    ultimately, the point is, laws need to be made. but not arbitrarily by governments without open public debate. that is the most crucial aspect.

  2. Yes, it was a very informative segment. Now, time to time to test it on myself and the people around me! Nyahahahaha!

  3. Great talk until he started talking about global warming; more Al Gore propaganda.  Though I admit the example is a good one for his purposes . . . if GW were even real.  Guess the new secular religion has a hold on these people that have to put such faith in something this speaker admits you cannot see.  Hmm, and the Leftists accuse Christians of being mentally deficient because we believe in God we have not seen.  Amazing!
    And the charity he hates is the GOP?  Wow!  -VP of an Environmental company

  4. "the fact is that when we are facing those decisions between something that is immediate and unpleasant vs something that is good in the long term. we tend to over focus on the present."

  5. Here we have the key to success, the key to happiness!!!
    I want to delve into this speech. I have to raise my children to be able to achieve their long-term goals.

  6. ARIELY     U R       A-mazing  R-eally  I-nspiring   E-xciting     L-ovely       Y-elled

  7. I'm an undercover operative for the CIA so my test messages are more important than whom I may kill while driving.

  8. Really enjoyed this Tedx. Recently gave up tobacco, porn, junk food, and hot showers to become more disciplined and now my long term goals seem more attainable than ever. I feel like a good person in the present, not just the future. Thanks for the talk.

  9. anyone came from kitchen safe? I am about to order it now. XL one, for my ipad and iphone and computer power. It is really needed sometime but very tempting so often.

  10. Good talk, but the Ulysses method is absolutely ineffective. In my humble opinion, positive reinforcement is way better than brute forcing your way out of bad habits. And when it comes to addiction… forget it! Nevertheless, his first anecdote reflected a good approach. Connecting unpleasant experiences with good sensations is much more adequate from the neurological point of view. "Fire together, wire together"… remember?

  11. Most people believe they are in control, and the exact opposite is the truth. People are aware of the fact that they are not in control of the inner workings of their bodies, but most people are not aware of the fact that they do not control what is going on outside of them either. Find out how life really works, learn the truth. Google Truthcontest click on the earth icon and read the Present, it explains the big picture of life in every facet.

  12. Commitment Device programs shouldn't be a human rights violation, especially if you get to set up the punishment yourself. Half the time they just use something embarrassing or mildly irritating, it's not like sex where no means no, it's a punishment system you WILLINGLY sign up KNOWING what it entails that's a COMMITMENT that you CAN'T back out of. It's literally in the NAME. Like, in the legal system, we have contracts you can't back out of, why can't this be the same? They aren't fucking torturing you, they're gonna send a message to your folks telling the god-honest truth about your addiction that they would have found out on their own anyways.

    Then again, I'd probably have a MUCH different view of "Commitment Devices" if I was under one myself currently. XD

  13. 9:50 "and we are doing something so that we are not able to be tempted". Actually, Ulysses is still tempted by the sirens. For he still has the carnal desire that still lusts after them. What he actually did was something so that he was not physically able to give in to their temptation. Self control contracts do not work. I've tried them and failed. Nor do any "will power"(= forced self effort) schemes work.

    And believe it or not, even temptation itself is not the real root of the problem. An overweight sugarholic who does not like chocolate will not eat chocolate, regardless of temptation.

    Any real solution to the problem of self control would require the removal of the carnal desire (something your body wants to do by vice of ingrained force of bad habit over time) that makes you want to do what the "real inner you" does not want to do. This is why I receive all messages of "you just need to discipline your self", etc., as messages of hopelessness.

  14. Hope this article helps

  15. My pal and I used the US election to discipline ourselves: the person who breaks the self-imposed rule will loose $ that will be matched and donated to the candidate she hates by the other. As that even started to loose power, we changed it to yard sign of the candidate she hates on her lawn – no more violation! To bad that the election was over, in this regard, for nothing else works as well.

  16. Great tips! One rule I've made for myself is that if I'm going to browse the web I better also be hula hoopin!

  17. Although a "red button" is a good solution for many people, I think it's more about state of mind and motivation than short-term incentives. Discipline is not easy, but it is definitely rewarding. From a purely rational perspective, we might even argue that time inconsistent behaviour may indicate that the subject doesn't truly care about the long term, and they only say they do to make themselves feel better.

  18. 昔、こんな事があった。






     平成29年7月7日(金曜日)晴れ 27℃ 午後09:29 世田谷区より。

  19. I remember a childhood saying that a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. We that in my mind I would rather have a chocolate now than waiting. Really hard to get over bad habits without strong willpower

  20. Wow. For me, this has been the best TED talk I've heard so far. I am very inspired to try his ideas and would love to hear him speak again.

  21. 時間の座標軸は個人の体感時間ではないか?

  22. So in short if u want to strike out the vices and add a few virtues to ur life then each time u r tempted to break ur oaths then do something which u hate, loathe or disgust the most. That will keep u in track. AWESOME IDEA by the way.

  23. 用正向的动机*(奖励机制)去引导自制,用代替方案来取代行动

  24. I develop tricks for myself too 😂😂😭😭😭
    to achieve goals important enough to me.

    I thought it my secret until hearing this 😂

  25. He is wrong about global warming. Conserving the environment accords with people's values, which is motivating. Why is it children who are most motivated. This is contrary to his hypothesis. While he is talking about self control, he is forgetting that motivation also needs to be accounted for.

  26. This is GENIUS. Thank you Sir. And can I say to anyone reading this comment that this is one of the most productive ways I have spent any 15 minutes of my 50 year old life.

  27. Wow this is so much more practical then anything else ive seen on ted 🙂 it inspires me a lot 🙂 🙂 thank you 🙂

  28. The Garden of Eden is a metaphor for the womb, childhood – a time when we didn't have a care in the world, protected, sheltered, cared for, fed – basically lived in a bubble
    So why are we so eager to grow up? Leave this Eden?
    Becuase as good as life is in the womb or in childhood it is not much of a life – a life as a total dependent, totally controlled by others, told what to do, decisons made for us – same as the life of a dog
    Who would trade the life of a human for the life of a dog?

  29. Very insightful look at how the human mind actually works. I also just realized that Dr. Ariely basically described the reason religions exist.

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