Earned Signals Vs. Cheated Signals

Our bodies and minds use signaling systems constantly. We’ve learned to cheat the system. But it is better to earn than cheat in the long term.

Signals For Body And Mind

Your body and mind operate by chemical signaling. Any muscle movement you make; any emotions you’re feeling; they’re all the result of chemical signals within the body.

Our biochemistry uses these chemicals to do things like move information along nerve pathways, get you up off your chair, or get you prepared to speak in public. The same chemicals reward you for positive action, make you feel bad for doing something unethical, and give you the highs of achievement and fulfillment.

Cheating The Signaling System

We’ve learned, as a species, to cheat the signaling system. Key signals like dopamine are rewards from the body for doing things like exercising; others like oxytocin are used to enable group bonding and love for one’s children.

Because we understand the chemistry, we’ve found shortcuts. Drugs can give you a dopamine lift. Bingeing on sugar can boost your mood in the short term. Caffeine provides artificial stimulation.

No Free Lunches: Why Cheaters Don’t Prosper

When interfering with the signaling system, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Every artificial signal – every cheat – comes with some sort of downside.

Drugs cause hangovers and chemical imbalances in the brain.

A diet full of indulgences leads to obesity and health problems.

A cheated win eventually feels hollow.

Bringing in outside signals messes with your natural calibration. The body adjusts its natural production of hormones and signals downwards, when it is receiving them externally. Just as people on hormone replacement therapy lose their ability to produce those hormones naturally, you become ever more dependent on the external signals.

Drug users tend to continue using. Unhealthy eaters tend to keep getting fatter. Those hooked on cheap entertainment tend to keep going back for another fix.

Reliance on external signals quickly becomes a long-term source of damage.

The Solution: Earn Your Signals

Cheap signaling is worthless memetically, cheap body signals are worthless internally. If you’re not earning your highs, you’re not progressing.

Let’s take a look at some dopamine sources. You can cheat:

  • High-sugar, high-fat, fried foods
  • Alcohol and cocaine
  • Growing your video game character to level 99

Or you can earn:

  • A clean diet focused on long-term health
  • Exercise, with weightlifting and the “runner’s high”
  • Growing your finances, or a business, to the next level

One path is quick and cheap; the other, longer and more difficult. But extend the trend out, and see where a person following path 1 ends up, versus someone following path 2.

Long-term thinking is highly correlated with success. Focus on earning your signals, rather than cheating your system, and you’ll go far. It’s more rewarding, too – it just takes a little longer than you’re used to, if you’re used to cheating.


Posting every day is one way I earn my signals. Subscribe for email updates and follow me on Twitter, where I also post daily.

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