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Cucumbers & Pickles

Your Brain on Addiction


Adam Alter wrote a great book called Irresistible in which he walks us through how we become addicted to technology and tells us about the businesses built on hacking our brains to capture our attention and create those addictions. It’s a powerful read and goes nicely with the must-see 60 Minutes special on Brain Hacking.

One of my favorite ideas from the book was about cucumbers and pickles.

Specifically, it was a line from an addiction recovery therapist. She told her patients: “Remember, once your brain has been pickled, it can never go back to being a cucumber.”

That’s a REALLY powerful line.

Once you’ve become addicted to something (and we ALL have our own little and big addictions), your brain has fundamentally changed.

It’s as if our brain went from being a cucumber in that domain to being PICKLED. And, you know what? You can’t UNPICKLE a pickle. Once your cucumber brain is pickled, it’s pickled.

What’s that mean practically speaking?

Well, take a moment to think of one of your addictions. (And, as you do, remember our three-part lesson on The Science of Self-Compassion, starting with common humanity. Again, nothing’s wrong with you. We ALL have issues. Welcome to humanity. 😃 )

So… Got it? Good.

Now get this: You may THINK that you can completely move past your addiction in that area, but, confronting fact: You can’t.

Your brain has been pickled. And, you (and I and everyone) need to have a deep respect for that fact. It’s a slippery slope right back into that toxic addiction pond. (100% commitments are super helpful here…)

And, another big idea from the book? Adam tells us that the most dangerous time for someone recovering from addiction is the moment they feel that they’ve beaten it.

Then? They forget the pickle and dip their toe back into their addictive behavior and… BAM. Oops. Slipped into the toxic pond.

So… Know where your pickle jars are. And don’t open them up.