Today I want to talk about the Lucifer Effect and how it relates to your health and well-being.
This dark and gloomy term “The Lucifer Effect” was coined by Dr. Phillip Zimbardo and boils down to how environments and situations can cause good people to do bad things.
I think it’s fascinating to role-play various situations… like when I’ve seen something shocking on the news and think I might never do it…
We humans tend to think we are free thinkers, moral and just. But research shows that when given the opportunity we don’t all act nice or fair.
In fact, research has shown that if you can control someone’s environment or situation… you can CONTROL THEM.
The Stanford Prison Study
The setting is Stanford 1971, 25 college kids are recruited to study how jails affect the human psychology.
More than 70 applicants answered our ad and were given diagnostic interviews and personality tests to eliminate candidates with psychological problems, medical disabilities, or a history of crime or drug abuse. Ultimately, we were left with a sample of 24 college students from the U.S. and Canada who happened to be in the Stanford area and wanted to earn $15/day by participating in a study. On all dimensions that we were able to test or observe, they reacted normally.
Our study of prison life began, then, with an average group of healthy, intelligent, middle-class males. These boys were arbitrarily divided into two groups by a flip of the coin. Half were randomly assigned to be guards, the other to be prisoners. It is important to remember that at the beginning of our experiment there were no differences between boys assigned to be a prisoner and boys assigned to be a guard.
The prisoners were given prison dress including ID numbers instead of names. The guards were given uniforms, sunglasses and batons. It was designed to look and feel as much like a prison as possible even though it took place in a wing of the school.
What happened next shocked Dr. Zimbardo.
The prisoners revolted. They tried to escape. Many started showing signs of heavy psychological stress and a few had breakdowns and were let go after just a few days.
The guards devised plans to break down the prisoner’s unity. They hazed them. They degraded them and treated them like garbage.
This was all Un-prompted and WITHOUT any direction from the research staff.
The study was supposed to last 14 days, it was STOPPED after 6!
Upon stopping the study, everyone was given exit interviews (most of it was videotaped too) and both the guards and prisoners explained what they did and why.
The guards reported a shift in identity and a need to keep authority and power.
Inmates reported a similar shift.
In less than 1 week, both the environment and situation changed normal college-aged boys into tyrants and broke down the others. It completely changed normal nice humans in a matter of hours.
Your Environment Can Control Your Success
So how does this pertain to your success? It’s simple really. Without knowing it, we can easily slip into environments or situations that are way beyond our control.
For example, imagine you’re feeling fatigued and read about how foods can affect your health, so you zoom over to the nearest health food store.
Inside, you bump into a raw vegan. A conversation begins and you leave with all kinds of new food, drinks and supplements. Your new friends are doing detoxes and attending fun classes so you join…
Soon, a $5,000 dollar detox retreat is the next step, but don’t worry it’s in sunny Florida.
Then, you start offending your old friends and lash out at family who keep eating those darned cooked foods. The whole time your new raw food websites, message boards and friends keep saying this is normal and what is needed to truly attain wellness.
And a few months later, you’re sick, broke and have alienated the people you love.
This is a great example of how situations and environments can completely hijack your life and cause problems.
In fact, this is actually a true story of what one of my private 1-on-1 consulting clients went through before she started working with me.
Here’s the deal… She DIDN’T go to the store that day to become a Raw Vegan!
She didn’t intend to spend $5,000 on an expensive retreat that only made her sicker… but the environment she chose created the context for all of this to happen.
And a few months later she’s angry about it and wondering how it happened.
What Environment Are You Creating?
I’ve talked about it before. Dan Pardi has told us about how we humans are wired to create habits and to respond to our environment. But the most amazing thing about all the animals on this planet, is we are the only animals who can create our environment.
We can create skyscrapers, electric cars, space shuttles and also bad things like war.
But the environment we typically never think about is the very place we live and where we eat…
The people we talk with…
The people we “love”…
The job we have.
All of these and more combine to create your wellness environment (or lack thereof).
It’s very common for someone who’s completely changing their diet and exercise habits to hit a sticking point with their environment. And if they don’t overcome these sticking points, it’s likely they’ll never reach their goals or worse… they will return to their state of ill health.
In my life for instance, I’m blessed to have lots of friends and the ability to partake in all kinds of social events. But part of that social lifestyle led to my sickness because of partying on a regular basis, not making time to cook, and choosing cheap restaurants on the go.
The friends and places I used to choose were comfortable and they loved the sick me.
And even now, they still want to party, eat out and not think about health. There was a time when I was changing my diet, supplements, exercise and bad habits, but I hit a sticking point with them. I loved spending time out with them, it was always a blast, but it didn’t fulfill me anymore. It robbed me of energy.
So, I’ve had to let some of these people out of my life. I’ve had to figure out what other things to do on Friday night. Don’t get me wrong, I still love a good party and I don’t judge anyone who lives that kind of life. But it wasn’t until I removed myself from this environment that I really broke through to another level of health.
And yes, that meant moving cities, quitting my consulting job and sending people to my voicemail. I was just too comfortable living the happy hour lifestyle and choosing activities that didn’t support my new health goals.
Choose the Most Supportive Environment for Your Wellness
So, if environment is so important for getting healthy, how can you create the most supportive environment? Let’s start with two truths.
1. You are choosing your present environment and everyone in it.
2. You always have the ability to choose something different.
Some of you reading this might get angry or instantly object, or begin thinking of excuses to try and brush away the two simple facts above.
But it’s true. Some of you are choosing to be sick, despite changing your diet, because you continue to work a job you hate and subject yourself to people who steal your energy. In other words, you’re still choosing environments that sacrifice your health goals.
Of course, most people cannot quit their job or move to a new city tomorrow. But you can begin taking small steps. It took me about 6 months to accomplish my big life changes.
So, let’s start with a few simple steps today to begin to create the most supportive environment for your goals. Ask yourself these five questions right now (the answers might not be readily available, but just keep asking):
1. Does the location where I live add to my health and well-being?
2. Does my job add to my health and allow me to create what I want?
3. Do the people in my life add to the fun and wellness I desire?
4. What environments in my life rob me of energy?
5. Which loved ones in my life steal my fun, energy and livelihood?
Remember, you always have a choice. Even if you tell me it’s your Mom. You have a choice about how often you speak to her, how far away from her you live, how you let her speak to you, and finally you always have the choice of how her words and actions affect you… or not.
I’m currently asking these questions in my life almost daily. And sometimes the answers I get are painful…. because they are revealing the truth. I’m talking about the truth that in order for me to reach the next level of health, it’s likely I’m going to be moving, destroying comfortable habits and changing social circles.
This can be difficult to tackle on your own and I want to let you know as a community we will support you if you share your answers below.
And if you’re wondering how to get more tips like this to create the proper habits and environment to follow an anti-inflammatory diet, our eBook contains one whole chapter on it.