Understanding more about our mind and psychology

I still remember the first day I went to buy a cigarette during my final year of engineering. As a 22-year-old, I was curious to know what makes people smoke and how does it lead them to smoke multiple times a day. I started with mouth fagging and therefore got accepted by my ‘smoker’ friends as a cool guy who keeps up with the trend of the group. I only used to smoke when I was with my friends. This went on for a year but the tobacco addiction had already taken up my mind.

I started to associate smoking with all the fun moments I used to have, from having a glass of beer to enjoying beautiful sunsets. My mind always associated these with cigarettes and the release of dopamine exponentially increased its dominance over my mind through a self-fulfilling loop. Within 5 years and having multiple unsuccessful quitting attempts, I started smoking close to half a pack a day. My brain used to ignore the harmful effects owing to the dominance of the dopamine which was fulling my ‘needs’.

In early 2019, I started getting interesting in reading blogs on psychology which led me to read multiple books on psychology and the science behind irrational behaviors. It was helping me know better about my mind and psychology although I kept smoking half a pack a day. As humans, we feel that the most important thing for us to grow is inculcating good habits and cutting out bad habits from our life. But, before this, do we ask ourselves whether our mind is has objective opinions in the first place? Have we ever introspected our biases and behaviors? I was reading a book called ‘Perfectly Irrational’ by an ‘MIT scientist in behavioral economics’ who mentioned that our mind always tries to rationalize our irrational behavior. Have you ever thought about why we procrastinate? Whenever we think about doing something we end up moving it to the next day by feeding ourselves with irrational thoughts like ‘we have this another thing to do right now’, ‘tomorrow its a better day to start’ and all sorts of things which don’t even exist. The human brain is attracted to immediate rewards but research shows successful people know how to delay rewards. Therefore it’s better to dig into roots of our thinking and understand what is it in your brain that thinks. I started with understanding my irrational behavior, thoughts, and biases.

As a data science student, I love reading how our mind works. All the deep learning and reinforcement learning stuff and applications we see today are based on the working of our minds. I will just give an amazing theory from the book ‘How to create a mind’ that I am reading now. Our mind has billions of neurons that have been learning through experience since we are born. the things which occur multiple times in our lives become ingrained and therefore the links for those things become stronger. Whenever you see something, all the sensory nerves ( eg. optical ) reach our mind and our mind tries to understand it with autocorrelation which works in a bottom-up hierarchical fashion.

Imagine, you go to a restaurant that you loved the last time you visited. You remember every detail because of the association that you liked the food. Next time when you go to the same restaurant, you remember that you had a friend and you had a good conversation with him. This auto association is the reason for inculcating good as well as bad habits in us. Whenever you see or experience something that reminds you of smoking, you think its time to smoke. This, when continued for a long period, leads us to correlate everything to smoking.

Once we understand our thoughts, everything is a piece of cake. This is the most exclusive thing about the human brain that we can learn about our own minds. I started to replace the things that correlated with my smoking with other things. In some of the smoking breaks, I would just listen to my favorite songs as part of the break or will have cookies while taking a walk. It becomes easy when you understand the root of the problem.

Smoking is not such an addiction because of the nicotine it has but more because of the media which markets it as an addictive habit. Our habit of starting with one will always lead us to a box a day due to the exponential nature of our mind’s reward system.

It has been just more than a month since I stopped smoking but as James Clear, author of Atomic Habits mentioned in his book, ‘When you stop smoking, you are not trying to stop but you already know you are not a smoker’.

I am not a smoker.

Thank you.

Data Science/Analytics at Asurion, Love reading about Data Science, Psychology and behavioural economics; Linkedin — https://www.linkedin.com/in/saket-garodia/