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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?
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?"
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?"
"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!
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.
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?
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.
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!"
"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.
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.
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.
You see the potential, right? So it's connected to
your bank account and to the charity you hate.
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 ***.
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
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 *** 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 *** 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 ***, 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.