Google Pay it and Life happens!

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“Bhai, Google Pay me the total remaining amount”, I said. Abhishek did so without wasting a moment as we sat down with our Lays Packets to discuss career, love, and everything in between.

Google Pay has become an integral part of our lives. While UPI is a hassle-free way of doing transactions, Google Pay has successfully become an organic term in our everyday lingo. Especially now in COVID-19 times, contactless payments assume greater importance. Google Pay is the market leader in UPI with 541 million transactions in May, from a total of 1.2 billion recorded in the whole month.

While I was proffering my two cents on why it might not be a good idea to munch another packet of Lays, I casually glanced at my Google Pay app to see the blue of the scratch card I had earned. Excited, I went on to find if my fate had the hidden treasure. “Better luck next time”, the AMOLED of my OnePlus read. I wondered ‘Why Google Pay offers a scratch card instead of an assured cashback?’ That would at least keep me happy every single time rather than the status quo of variable rewards.

Right? Wrong.

The idea behind having a variable rewards system in place has worked wonders for Google Pay. What is the idea? Why is Google Pay so addictive?

Every time we receive a reward (a cashback, so to speak) our brain releases a good dose of the happy hormone — dopamine. In small moderate doses, it helps regulate our wellbeing. In large doses, it can contribute to addiction. Long story short, our brains crave dopamine. So apps that help trigger the neurotransmitter get all our attention.

Back in the 1950s, BF Skinner a famed psychologist ran an experiment where he offered lab rats food pellets if they pressed a lever. Lever A would bring down pellets of the same size every time. Lever B would offer pellets of different sizes i.e. sometimes you’d get a smaller pellet, sometimes a larger one and sometimes none at all. And the rats kept going crazy for the randomized lever. They wanted to gamble as well. This experiment provided the scientific basis for using — ‘Variable Rewards” to condition human behavior.

It’s simple really. Our brain releases more dopamine in the anticipation of rewards than the reward itself. When the rewards are fixed and we know what to anticipate, our dopamine levels stay in check. But when the rewards are variable, our brain relentlessly seeks the thrill of unlocking large payouts-in turn hooking us to the damn thing.

It is in fact akin to playing the good old lottery game! BF Skinner with his operant conditioning chamber experiments established the simple truth that we are driven more by the anticipation of pleasure than pleasure itself, more by the pursuit of happiness than the actual moment of happiness. (I recommend you watch this fabulous YouTube video by Robert Sapolsky, the renowned professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University. He talks about the science of pleasure.)

Now we know what a variable rewards system does to us. Now let’s extrapolate it to the realms of life and beyond! In life, we are constantly seeking an opportunity to indulge in activities that excite us. Think of fancy adventure trips, pursuing a start-up, starting a YouTube channel. There’s one common element in all of these- ‘uncertainty in outcomes’ aka ‘variable rewards system’. This is the motor of excitement in life. In internet parlance, excitement equals being alive, and so here we are, chasing our passion!

Imagine a life where a particular path leads to a fixed output! 60% of x and 40% of Y always gave Z or 8 hours a day is the optimum working capacity or putting in efforts always equaled a definitive result! Wouldn’t that be a boring life?

After looking up a bit on the internet on how to introduce the concept of variable rewards system into everyday life, I found this. How do we, like technology companies leverage this concept?

Which brings me to ‘Habit Judo’, a crafty self-improvement scheme devised by a Michigan law student named Allen Reece, who was finding it hard to get new habits to stick. “That’s the problem Habit Judo solves,” he told me. “It provides enough additional incentive to get you over the motivation gap until the new habit becomes ingrained.” His system involves rewarding yourself with a computer-generated random score between one and 10 every time you perform the desired behavior. Your score gradually accumulates, and at certain thresholds you “qualify” for a real reward, such as a favorite food or “move up a level”: Reece marks the levels by wearing wristbands in the colors of judo belts, hence the name. (In technology circles, the term for such ideas is “gamification”, because video games often deploy similar reward mechanisms – but then, so did Skinner, years before video games.)

Honestly speaking, I have no experience of trying this out on a sustained basis. But what I can tell you from my experience is this- We are always trying to seek excitement. We are made that way. So why not use it to our advantage? Sometimes, it’s refreshing to indulge in expeditions we don’t know the specific end results of. Like, I deep-dived into this blog without ever really knowing I would be starting this series- Let’s Learn Together!


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2 Replies to “Google Pay it and Life happens!

  1. I got more informed after reading this article. I like the reading time mentioned at the start which helps us in way that it will end soon. But I would like to ask how can we keep ourselves motivated constantly if we are not sure of the results?..

    1. Right. That’s a valid question which we all face when undertaking something exciting, but unconventional/uncertain.

      In my view:
      As we are motivated more by the anticipation of result than the result itself, we tend to anticipate the outcome in our favor. For instance, when one pursues the path of entrepreneurship, he’s anticipating that he’s going to succeed. Which gives him the motivation, even though realistically speaking, he can’t be sure of the results.

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