Trick your mind into a positive state

Here's how.

I read a Psychology Today article that talked about our brain’s ability to shut down the parts it didn’t need to conserve energy and how this said process was responsible for both our feelings and inability to get out of depression.

Throughout evolution, our brains became bigger and more complex, developing parts that were specialized for certain functions (pleasure, critical thinking, etc.).

But for the last few millions of years, resources were scarce and energy preservation was key. Considering that our brains consume a whopping 20% of the calories we consume, it is not surprising that it learnt to shut down the parts it does not need.

Depression is the loss of hope. It is having lost faith that tomorrow will be better than today…

Our brain’s biological response to this belief is what causes our brain to shut down all of our pleasure centers... leaving us feeling down and unable to fetch the energy we need to get out of it. Because after all, if things aren’t get any better… why bother with it all?

And it reminded me of how many times I’ve felt myself entering into that slippery slope… feeling like giving up would be easier than pushing through. Feeling like there’s just no hope… so why bother?

But looking back at my life, I realize how I learnt early to trick my mind into never giving hope on a better future… Of always looking at the bright side of things, of looking for that upside in every situation.

I am convinced that this has helped me turned more of my dreams into reality and live a more satisfied, virtuous and happy life.

I am hoping I can share the same optimism with you you so that you too – can feel like anything you want is within reach... a better health, better friendships, better relationships with your children and family, a more enjoyable work life... it's all within reach.

Why it happens.

Sometimes we stumble, and we get hurt. Sometimes life throws things at us that we didn’t expect and makes our plans falter.

We are left discouraged after sinking countless years in the pursuit of a goal and feeling we are worse off than we started.

We’ve all felt this way at the end of a long relationship… Or after a failed venture. It is in these moments that our brains start to doubt that our future can be any better.

After all… we tried, we really did… We did our best and here we are… nowhere.

And the dangerous energy-saving process of our brain starts… if we did our best and got nowhere why bother?

Our brain starts to shut down the parts of our brain that generate pleasure (dopamine). As such, we lose our appetite, our desire for sex, our experience of pleasure for the simple things…

And we stop doing any of these things entering a lethargic state… hence our inability to get out of bed when we need to the most!

It is shown that rats whose brains were altered to withhold dopamine did not bother to do any activity… not even going to their food bowls to eat… even at the risk of dying.

But the future can always (easily) be better…

One of the beautiful things about getting older is the perspective of time on your life and choices.

And one of the things I can tell you with certainty is that the future is always better than your painful present.

What does that mean?

That means that if you are experiencing pain in your life right now, it’s because something is not working… but you’d be wrong to think that this is the end of the line. It’s not because you failed at something that there are no better outcomes in the future for you…

And if you’re feeling really down now it means that whatever you were doing wasn’t working. The psychological pain you are feeling is your body’s way of telling you that it’s had enough.

Because in the absence of pleasure, the absence of pain starts to feel like good… and our motivation becomes the avoidance of pain… eventually pushing us to get out.

But don’t let pain become the motivator. Don’t slip down that dangerous slope. Don't let yourself go through months of pain what you can do in minutes of attitude switching.

If you’ve broken up from a long and unrewarding relationship(s), you may feel disappointed and too tired to try but you’d be wrong. You have to believe that each encounter and person you met taught you more about what you wanted and needed in life… about yourself… no matter how painful those lessons might seem at the time. These lessons are what teach you what type of man or woman you want in your life…

And while I could tell myself that it’s late to come at 50… I’m happy to know that I’m sure I’ll make a better decision in the future…

I know that my next relationship(s) will be chosen more wisely and I have also learnt when to fight for it and when to walk away… ensuring that my future will surely be happier than my present or past. I may make more mistakes but they will be shorter lived and felt less deeply and that’s all good…

No matter what aspect of your life you’re looking at – you have the luxury to see where you’re at as a step in the right direction. You may not be where you wanted to be right now… but it just means you’re not there yet!

But what if I keep failing?

I’ve failed many times in business too… but my belief that every failure was just a new data point to build into my model kept me going. The world is full of examples of people who have accomplished much greater things at much later stages of their lives.

It is never too late to start.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” - Winston Churchill

But one story I like to tell is from one of my very best friends.

One of his life goals was to be sufficiently wealthy to focus on what he loved best. For years, he saw his friends doing well in business and therefore went on to both work and start a series of businesses that all ended up in failure.

At the age of 40, he realized that no matter how many attempts, he wasn’t good at or enjoyed business… and decided to focus on his passion: sculpture. He figured he may never make much money from it but at least it would spare him the disappointments and hardships he was experiencing.

A mere 3 years later and he was selling his works through some of the best galleries in the world becoming a huge success and earning more than he had ever dreamt of.

And the lesson here is that you should be persistent but you should also recognize when you’re heading in the right or wrong direction…

It’s never too late to recognize it and it’s never to make a pivot in your life.

So my advice...

I am fascinated by the study of our brain and of how we think. The science coming out of labs all over the world is fascinating and we are closer to ever to understand the ways into how our minds work and the many pitfalls that our brains play against us.

When I read this article on the biology of depression, I couldn’t help but think back to the lessons I was trying to write in my blogs. Trying to decipher how I was able to trick my mind into pushing me into a productive path so that I could help point that path to others.

And one of the most important discoveries that I’ve made is that when we understand how our mind works (at a biological or psychological level) it helps us to take distance towards the problems we are facing.

We are suddenly able to see it for what it truly is… as a normal self-protective mechanism designed to prevent us from harm but ill-equipped to deal with today’s world and worries.

I write and will continue to write extensively on the many subjects below but I thought it’d be helpful to group them all in a concise manner.

So here are my tricks to do when you lose faith…

Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater…

Analyze which parts of your life work and which parts don’t. It will help you be grateful at the things you have and focus your energies on the ones that don’t.

Imagine a better future… visualize.

It’s more helpful to think about what you like in life rather than what you don’t have. Take the time you need to think about what a glorious future looks like to you (in all aspects of your life) and be detailed about how that looks like to you… kids, relationships, love, work, etc…

Look at the deltas in your life

Once you know what your glorious future looks like, look at where you have deltas... Meaning identifying the areas in life where you fall short so that you can be specific about which areas will require you to invest in.

Look for strategies that take you further

There are no more excuses for not knowing what to do. There is a wealth of resources, literature, role models, YouTube videos that teach us better ways of dealing with problems. Whenever you experience a problem, take the habit to look for effective solutions.

Take concrete and measured steps towards that future.

Once you are armed with new strategies, test them out! Take small and concrete steps at applying those strategies and measuring the progress… Just like working out, it’s small simple steps every day. When something does not work, try another strategy.

And most importantly, on the long road of life, I again like to quote Churchill who wisely said:

“For myself I am an optimist — it does not seem to be much use being anything else.”