You Vs. You

I want to start today by telling the story of Zelda Gamson. Zelda might seem like your typical 80 year old grandma, living an idyllic life down in Martha’s Vineyard. However, Zelda’s had a pretty radical life. She served as a civil rights activist and was really involved with the Congress on Racial Equality in the 1960’s. For a while, she even went undercover to combat housing discrimination. I am sharing this with you because; starting in the 1960’s Zelda developed a pretty bad smoking habit. Her story is an awesome example of how we can get motivated to achieve our wellness goals.

Image (A random photo of a grandma)

In the heyday of her addiction, Zelda smoked upwards to two packs of cigarettes a day.  She smoked everywhere: in the car, in the house, and around her kids. Zelda felt really bad about her smoking habit and decided that she would quit.

We know how this story goes…. Zelda would toss the cigs, go cold turkey a few days, but no matter how hard she tried, she would ultimately relent. Zelda knew how bad smoking was. However, the urge to smoke always won out. Zelda would start out with resolve, and end with failure.

This is an age old story that we all confront. We have a long term interest that is subverted by a short term urge. Zelda understood that she was of two minds. There was one part of her that was rational and understood the destructive nature of her ways. However, there was another part that was driven by urges and was completely addicted to cigarettes. This short term self always won out in the battle to quit smoking. She was embroiled in an epic internal battle!


Zelda was so frustrated with how things were going that she came up with a diabolical scheme to get herself to quit. Zelda made a pledge to never smoke again. If she did, would donate $5,000 to the KKK, an organization that she abhorred.

After making the pledge things were different. Every time that Zelda got the urge to smoke, visions of the KKK and their dastardly deeds would appear in her mind. A single cigarette would mean that the KKK would get her money. Zelda had found a thought that was hotter, than the urge to smoke. She never smoked again!

In this situation, the rational part of the mind was able to beat out the part of the brain that was governed by urges. This story reaffirms scientific research. Neuroscientists have found that we make poor economic decisions if something is offered now, vs. later. The now parts of the brain almost always beat out the “later” parts of the brain.

Image The tug of war of the mind!

Zelda’s pledge to donate to the KKK was able to level the playing field. Whenever Zelda had the urge to smoke, she would have the immediate feeling of disgust because of the KKK.

I like this story because it captures what we are trying to do at Betchyu. I know from personal experience that when a friends says “I bet you’re not going to do that,” I’m going to do all in my power to prove them wrong. If I have a friend betting against me on a personal goal, my immediate desire to succumb to my urges will be counteracted by my emotional drive to not be proven wrong.

BTW: I got Zelda’s story from a radiolab podcast from a while back. You can check it out at


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