Classical conditioning is what Pavlov did to his research dogs so that they salivated at the sound of a bell. In my case, I'm using software of my own design to manipulate my base psychology. To be fair, pen and paper might also produce the effect I'm talking about.

Establish the association and then exploit it

My system works very simply: when I make a choice, I record that choice using my software. I don't record the reason for the choice or the effect of that choice: I only record that I made the choice. My brain already knows the reason and the effect so it fills in the gaps automatically.

After I've recorded my various choices for a few weeks, my brain establishes a paired association between the act of recording the choice and the effect of that choice.

For example, I consume caffeine infrequently. Perhaps once or twice a month on average, but I record each time I do. I don't drink coffee, soda, or energy drinks, and rarely have tea. When I need a boost, I take either a half or a whole 200 mg caffeine tablet, which is extremely cost effective and really gets me going!

But once I've established the association between the act of recording and the effect of caffeine, it seems like I can take the caffeine tablet less often than I normally do. Now can merely record that I took it. Whether I take the tablet or fake it, I'm flying along a couple of minutes later. I'm not claiming that the effect is the same when I fake the tablet but it seems enough to push me into a more energetic mindset. That's all I really want anyway.

Recently, I was feeling mentally spent at only 1:30 PM, having had four hours of broken sleep. So I recorded that I took a caffeine tablet with no intention of actually taking it. Within minutes, I was flying along and even got a little overexcited and wrote the first draft of this article in record time.

It was only a couple of days before that simple experiment that I noticed how real the conditioned-response effect of my simple system was. In the prior situation, I fully intended to take the caffeine tablet but recorded my intention before the fact when I usually recorded after the fact. But because I felt the effects almost immediately, I ended up skipping the caffeine altogether. It was an inadvertent fake that still gave me what I wanted. The next time, only days later, I faked it knowingly and got the same effect.

What else? What next?

Now, I'm not at all surprised that I've built a conditioning system; that was my intention all along. I've designed my software to support other types of conditioning and persuasive techniques as well, to form a general self-persuasion system. Mostly, I'm pleased to experience it working so well despite its simplicity and now I'm wondering how broad its effects might be.

Could I record that I had a beer or glass of wine and get the feeling of relaxation even if I occasionally skip the drink itself? If I smoked tobacco or marijuana, could I cut back slightly while still getting the effect or at least deferring the craving? What about when I have a hankering for sweet, fatty, or salty foods? Too many of those choices tends to pack on the pounds.

It seems as though the conditioning effect, acting much like a placebo, would sometimes be strong enough that I wouldn't need to actually consume that stuff. It strikes me as a systematic and nearly painless way to gradually change my dietary habits. On occasion, I suspect that the conditioned effect will fail to materialize. In those cases, I may still get what I want if I wait long enough for my conditioned response that the original trigger loses its effect. My mind could then focus on something that is hopefully better for me.

We each make plenty of decisions that aren't especially good for us but are driven by emotions, habit, or outside influence. In many cases, we have been conditioned through advertising and social pressure to make these harmful or risky choices too frequently for our own good. What if we each had a self-persuasion system, including this kind of classical conditioning, that gradually shifted the balance of our choices in our favor? What then?