Nearly all of your instincts are wrong. This is lame but it's the nature of reality. So we might as well lean into it.
I put down in front of you two foods. On the left a full package of girl scout thin mint cookies. On the right a pile of spinach. Which one do you instinctually reach for? If you are anything like me the spinach might be eaten through sheer force of will but it'll probably take quite a bit of willpower. The cookies will probably be all eaten before the spinach is even considered.
I put down in front of you two pieces of equipment. On the left a super plush ultra-comfy recliner arm chair. On the right a treadmill. Which one do you instinctually go for? If you are anything like me the treadmill might be something I play with for a few minutes and then I'll go lay in the recliner for several hours.
I put down in front of you two sources of information. On the left a magic box of blinking lights knows as a television. 24/7 it broadcasts the most shocking and horrifying and exciting stories of the last few minutes. On the right you have whatever it was that you were supposed to be doing instead - your homework or whatever. Which one will you look at? If you are anything like me, the fast cuts and talking heads of the news will probably glue my attention to the TV until it leaves my field of vision.
So, why is life so hard?
It seems like it would make sense to have our instincts be what would naturally be good for us, not what is bad for us. But it's a struggle to do so many things that those who know say are "good for you." Eating well, exercising, etc.
The key to understanding the human experience is that our instincts actually are for what is best for us, but not in our current environment.
All of our instincts make complete and perfect sense in a hunter/gatherer environment. But only a few humans left on earth still live in this way. Consider:
You are in the jungle.
I put down in front of you two foods. A big ol' pile of honeycomb. The contents of this honeycomb contains enough calories to give you energy for days in a single delicious wad. Next to it is a pile of low calorie leaves. You haven't eaten much today and food supplies are running low. You'd better believe I'm going to eat that honey, and eat it pretty soon too since it might be stolen. Unlike the food abundant situation we have today. Your instinct to eat anything tasty quickly and to completion served you well back then.
A courier comes into the settlement. He says he has news of important events. Do you brush them off or listen intently? You listen intently because news is scarce and could carry vital information that is of life and death importance in the near future. Unlike the nightly news of modern times. That instinct to consume as much information as possible served you well back then.
Some modern running shoes magically appear in front of you. Do you put them on and go for a nice morning jog for several miles? Heck no, you expend as little energy as possible because your next meal is not guaranteed, and you might need to suddenly run away from danger. Unlike the more or less complete safety from tigers we enjoy in modern life. That instinct to not move served you well back then.
So, what do we do about this?
My conclusion after wrasseling with my own instincts for my whole life that behavior change is much easier when we lean into these instincts compared to when we try to overcome them by sheer force of will. In the next letter I'll talk more about some techniques I've found to be helpful in crafting a lifestyle that involves less guilt and more harmony with a brain that wants nothing more than to sit idly all day eating donuts and watching TV.