Behind the Lines
Word count: 850
Time to Read 4 minutes
Imagine the scenario. Vietnam Front lines. Bullets whistling by your head. Growing men’s screams penetrating your skull.
The cocktail of napalm and blood engulfing the nostrils..
Paranoia of an enemy ambush. Compatriots losing limbs. Death at every moment.
Back at the camp, The dread of war weighs down like the chains of Marley from a Christmas Carol.
Everynight the body would replay events. Limbs twitching, Heart pounding, sweat perfusing.
To to do it all over again tomorrow.
There is but one way to escape this. Escape the intense screams and pounding heart.
Vietnam’s other War
A dirty little secret marines carried with them every night in Vietnam.
Secret might not be the best word It was estimated that as many as 20% of the soldiers became addicted to the drug.
So much concern that the American government feared a major crisis upon the soldiers homecoming.
It was no surprise in hindsight why Vietnam offered a powerful path to developing a heroin habit.
The research is in on habit development. There are three parts to every habit..
First, a cue/trigger that can be from the environment, second, the action or habit itself and finally the reward for carrying out the habit.
When triggered by a thought or something in the environment. This loop sends the brain into an automatic loop.
Just imagine the environment soldiers were in every day.
Peer pressure from friends. Constant pain and stress. The nihilism of wondering will there ever be an end to the war. Death everywhere.
The casual attitude towards the drug. Soldiers regularly going to towns and bars. A blind eye turned to its practice
No repercussions. A highly stressed environment, peer pressure mixed with a highly addictive substance.
The perfect recipe for a habit to develop.
A new War?
So in the Spring of 1975, Boeing after boeing of potential heroin addicts left Hanoi. Landing on all corners of the country, JFK to LAX.
The government were scrambling. Already fighting the war on drugs at home. The next battle was about to touch down on home soil.
No Country for Bad Habits
Despite the widespread use of the drug during the war, back stateside, everything was different.
Their environments were completely changed. The cues and triggers for heroin no longer present.
The acute stress removed. Going to sleep in a bed instead of a jungle.
The peer pressure was also removed. Friends and family didn’t exactly have heroin on the top of their minds.
Bars didn’t push their opiates. Going back to work colleagues stressed over metaphorical deadlines not the literal kind.
The soldiers removed themselves from the heroin firing line.
The environment never offered the correct conditions to trigger the soldiers. The heroin epidemic never materialized.
Weight loss lessons from Hanoi
The mind and body are constantly reacting to the stimulus in the environment.
Before thinking about white knuckling your way to weight loss, forcing yourself never to eat bread ever again.
First look to your environment.
Your environment can literally make a drug addict out of you.
Think of all the environmental cues for the soldiers in Vietnam.
Constant stress, the acceptance and peer pressure from other soldiers, the easy access in the bars, the constant supply from soldiers in the camp.
These all providing the trigger for the brain to gravitate towards the drug.
Pull the trigger on your environment
Now look at your own environment. There could be many things in the environment pulling the strings on your behaviour.
Ever notice yourself having 10 coffees per day since you started working next to that free barista?
Or do you constantly dip into your wine rack after a stressful day in work?
Or do you notice yourself constantly eating the takeaway next door to you?.
Change the triggers
Did you know less than 50 % of people fully take their prescribed medication everyday.
This can be medication that literally keeps someone alive. And yet only half take their medicine consistently.
No, instead well meaning people tend to put their medication nice and safely into their medicine cabinet.
The medication is no longer in the environment to trigger the healthy behaviour.
If the environment can sabotage willpower then it also has the capacity to build healthy habits.
Think of all the different ways that the environment can work in your favour.
You can put medication right next to the kettle, so every time you make your morning tea/coffee, you have a trigger to take your vitamins.
You could drive home right beside the gym, so you’re more likely to enter after a days work.
You could leave your shoes right at the door beside your gym bag, so every morning you don’t need to think before exercising.
You’re not in Vietnam having the lure of heroin upon you.
But the environment constantly shapes your behaviour.
The environment can literally force the brain into an automatic spiral.
The negative cues in Vietnam making heroin so widespread in the camps.
But you can also influence your own surroundings to help with weight loss..
So health or heroin, you decide.
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