Don’t you wish there was an easy process for rewiring your brain?
To get rid of all those anxieties, fears and perceived imperfections. To navigate life’s undulations serenely.
If only you had a formula for the good life…
Allowing you to maximise your true potential; so you could write that novel, start a business or meet the perfect partner.
If you wish there was a simple process to help improve your daily existence on this little space ball we call Earth, then you might be in luck.
The Digital Revolution
We’re living in the information gold rush. Want to know how to clean your teeth with homemade fish oil? There’s probably a seven-step guide for it.
And while cyberscape is packed full of wisdom nuggets, sometimes all the tools, tricks and resources get overwhelming.
Often, it’s not the information that’s the problem. Rather, retaining and processing the salient points is the difficult part.
Like any overloaded operating system, our brains can’t always access our labyrinthine memory to uncover pertinent information.
And digital filing systems like Evernote sometimes aren’t enough. However profound and impactful life philosophy during initial consumption, if you can’t access it when needed, it becomes redundant.
Take those moments of weakness, for example…
Reaching for the chocolate cookie, binging on one more Netflix episode, or sitting in your pants playing computer games.
That’s when practical life philosophy is vital. Simple techniques that, when practised consistently, result in superior mind control and brain rewiring.
How to Rewire Your Brain
From the Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece to contemporary psychologists, the issue of control is widely recognised as vital for human flourishing.
It’s so important in fact, that it can even mean the difference between life and death.
Living a happy, successful life generally involves recognising what’s in your control and how to influence it, then managing the rest with skilful psychological trickery.
Researchers call this your locus of control.
External Locus of Control
Take, for example, someone behaving badly towards you. Although it may be in response to something you’ve done, their behaviour isn’t within your control.
So you have two options:
- Become incredibly upset or angry
- Look for more skilful methods of controlling your reaction
Modern cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) teaches you to focus on what you can control; in other words, your reaction to an event, rather than the event itself.
Such mental manoeuvring can bypass knee-jerk reactions which potentially escalate a situation and lead to fisticuffs.
After all, external events or situations are in the past, instantly removing them from your locus of control. Rather than affecting what’s happened, you can only direct your present response to influence a preferable outcome.
A Changing World
The sad fact is, we live in a constantly changing, uncertain world that, for the most part, is completely outside of our control. What is certain is that we will endure setbacks, hardships, old age and eventually death.
Although they present as macabre realities that many of us would rather ignore, it’s much to our detriment when such situations do actually occur.
So what’s the solution when our emotional equilibrium is affected by external events?
Well, one effective solution is another useful CBT technique…
Which involves training your mind to reframe the situation.
Had a messy breakup and feel like you’ll be alone, watching Friends re-runs for eternity?
Think you’ve made a spectacularly witty remark at a party that actually offends your new chums?
You could focus on what’s passed, beating yourself up for your behaviour and wallowing in guilt, frustration and shame…
Or you can take a more positive approach and retrain yourself to extract the positives from the situation.
Maybe she wasn’t the special one you thought she was. Perhaps breaking up will allow you to progress with other areas of your life, trying different hobbies and meeting new friends.
So rather than endure the emotional rollercoaster that’s caused by a situation outside of your control, how can you reframe the event to identify the positive?
Seeing the good in any subjective situation will help you bounce back from any perceived setback more quickly.
How to Reframe a Situation
By presenting alternative evidence for the outcome of your current predicament, you can begin to change your perspective and see your position in a new light.
While this may seem difficult, you have to remember that you’re probably changing a lifetime of reactionary impulses to external stimuli.
We’re rarely taught the benefits of practical, stoic philosophy in our formative years when we really need it. That means we often have to dispense with an accumulation of bad psychological habits.
Think of it like a mental colonoscopy; flushing out our reactionary habits sounds easy, but unlike its messier counterpart, it takes practice to locate our psychological release valve.
But what about when you can control the situation? Like when you’re making an important life decision, such as what to eat for breakfast or where to go for your Friday night beverage…
Internal Locus of Control
It may seem like this would be the easy part. I mean, if you can control a situation, you can shape it in your best interest to create the desired outcome.
Unfortunately, it’s rarely that simple.
We all know what’s good for us…
That we should eat healthier, drink less, exercise harder and call our mothers more.
So why’s it so hard?
Because our minds are locked in a perpetual battle of competing emotions. In other words, we’re our own worst enemies.
On the one hand, we have our lizard brain, a primitive part of our cognitive makeup that’s primarily satisfied with our survival and meeting basic human needs.
When those conditions are satisfied, our lizard brain’s content. No more need to struggle.
On the other hand, a more recent addition to our mind apparatus is our pre-frontal cortex, responsible for planning and awareness.
And this is where problems emerge; between two parts of our mind with competing agendas.
Our lizard brain, content with short-term thinking and immediate gratification, is balanced by our pre-frontal cortex, which implores us to consider our future selves before scoffing another Mars Bar.
And this is where so many of us struggle. We over-identify with our lizard brain and never consider the future cost we trade for short-term gratification.
At the back of our minds, we know that eating boxes of doughnuts have consequences, but when they’re right in front of us they’re just too sweet and juicy to resist.
So how do we tip the scales in our favour?
The 3-Step Process for Rewiring Your Brain
The following three-step process will help you once again reframe the situation, rewire your brain and live like a legend.
1. Short-Term Suffering = Long-Term Happiness
This may seem counterintuitive, but generally, not wanting to perform an activity and experiencing initial feelings or resistance or suffering are sure signs that it’s beneficial for our future development.
Most of the activities that lead to long-term happiness, such as exercising in the morning, working on your side-business when you’re tired, or cooking a nutritious meal after work are easy to think about, but hard to action.
They often require significant activation energy to start and will undoubtedly provoke our lizard brain to whisper sweet nothings in our ear, telling us we’ve worked hard enough already and should reward ourselves with a pizza, glass of wine and box set.
But when you reverse the formula, the logic becomes apparent…
While it may be tempting to eat big bags of Doritos day after day, we know it’s not in our future best interest. As pleasurable as short-term gratification can be, it often leads to long-term problems.
Suffering also begets growth. Like straining to break our muscles in the gym, just to have them grow stronger, so to emotionally, we can utilise daily existence as a mental gymnasium.
And like training for a marathon by putting in the miles, practising this mental process daily will serve as good preparation when future suffering inevitably does strike.
As humans we’re wired to grow and develop our potential, leading to lasting fulfilment and happiness.
In this way, what doesn’t kill us really does make us stronger.
2. You Don’t Have To; You Get To
This may seem like a semantic exercise, but in reality, it’s another powerful tool in the process.
It’s easy to fall into victim mode when you’re suffering and feel things aren’t as they ‘should’ be.
Need to work at a job you don’t like to pay the bills? Don’t get as much free time to exercise because of the kids?
Creating blame and excuses for your current situation is often a default reaction…
Perhaps you’re annoyed that your parents can’t afford to fund your further education or that your spouse is too busy to watch the children when you want to exercise.
However, slipping ‘have to’ into your daily vocabulary is not only untrue but completely disempowering.
Firstly, you don’t have to do anything. There’s always a choice.
Don’t like your job? Look for another one. Desperate to work out? Speak to your partner about the situation and consider solutions like asking loved ones for help or employing a local babysitter.
There’s always positive action you can take.
Secondly, by using ‘have to’ you automatically cast a negative light on the activity. As humans, we thrive on autonomy. When a person, event or activity removes our perception of free choice, psychological resistance results.
Like a child throwing a tantrum, we kick and scream through the process, making it thoroughly unenjoyable.
What’s the alternative?
Reminding yourself that you don’t ‘have to’ endure your self-imposed suffering, but that you ‘get to’, for your future benefit.
Don’t like your job? Remind yourself that by ‘getting to’ do it, you’re learning mental discipline and important transferable skills. Also, you’re earning money to increase your independence and perhaps save towards a future career change.
Annoyed you can’t go to the gym? Remind yourself that you ‘get to’ spend more quality time with your family, investing in your children to create a happy home life.
3. Practise Presence
Mindfulness has seen a surge of popularity in recent times, and rightly so. There are numerous scientific studies extolling its benefits.
Whenever we’re suffering, it’s easy to get swept away by a river of thoughts and consumed by emotion. You might question why a particular event had happen to you, or complain about your present circumstances.
Over-identifying with such thoughts, however, wastes significant emotional energy and is often counterproductive to taking meaningful action.
The third step in the process, therefore, is to increase your awareness of your mental fluctuations, by bringing your attention back to whatever you’re doing at this moment.
An easy way to do this is to become aware of your breathing, observing any thoughts and feelings which arise, but bringing your attention back to your breath each time you get carried away by your thoughts.
Additionally, focussing your attention on your senses is powerful.
Whatever actions you’re performing in the present moment, inhabiting your sense of touch, movement, taste, smell, hearing and sight can allow you to observe any negative thought patterns impartially, reducing your emotional reactivity and strengthening the mind-body connection.
Retraining Your Brain
This formula really depends on a process called neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to form and reorganise synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury.
In simpler terms, what we’re exposed to repeatedly becomes our reality.
If we can create positive pathways in our mind, over time, accessing these mental states will become a default mechanism. Our neurons that fire together, wire together.
As with any new habit, it takes work to cement this approach and embody its values.
Even if you adopt the process and practice doggedly, you won’t be levitating like a Shaolin monk next week. Unfortunately, nothing that good ever came easy.
These techniques may seem like common sense. And in many ways they are.
This process to rewire your brain is simple, but in times of weakness, such as when the alarm goes off at 5.30am, it’s far from easy to embrace the suffering of going for a run on a cold winter’s morning.
But, you know what? That choice is in your control, and how you respond for your future self is up to you.