Hacking the cycle of our lives

Our lives follow a cycle. This cycle is as true for you as it is for me as it is for everyone on this planet. Bill Gates and a convict share this same cycle. It starts with our thoughts. The National Science Foundation estimates that we have somewhere between 12,000 to 50,000 thoughts per day, every day. Most of these thoughts go beneath our attention. Do you really notice the thought that you have chewed this bite enough and it is time to swallow? Our minds are constantly noticing, categorizing, evaluating and rationalizing. Mostly without our conscious control. Thoughts lead to emotion. It isn’t the other way around. In any situation, it is your thoughts that evaluate and project how this affects you or might affect you in the future that trigger your emotion. As with swallowing, many of these thoughts are too quick or subtile for us to notice consciously but they are there. Once we decide how we feel about a situation, we take action. That is action follows our emotions. Actions affect the situation. They affect the outcome of that situation. Again our thoughts come into play. They parse the outcome, evaluate it and determine how we feel about the outcome. These feeling will then become evidence for our thoughts when the next similar situation arrives. Let’s go over an example. Joe has been overweight his entire life. He’s tried to lose weight dozens of times. In fact, he has lost weight many times. He’s lost the same twenty pounds at least ten times but he never reaches his goal and he never maintains the weight loss he has achieved. January first comes around again. He makes a resolution to lose 50 pounds, again. After a great party on the 31st, he wakes up ready to take on his challenge . . . . . . maybe a little later in the day. Joe’s thoughts keep bringing up evidence from past failed diets. “I am fat,” his thoughts say. “This never works,” other thoughts say. “I am going to always be fat.” So now the day begins. He starts well with the little healthy breakfast bar and a walk. He keeps it up for a healthy snack and lunch but then his thoughts really gnaw at him. He sneaks in a little leftover Christmas chocolate. Now his thoughts have new evidence and really shout between his ears. Already, by 3 PM he’s thinking and, therefore, feeling like he can’t do this. As the days slip by, Joe goes off of his plan a little here and there. Then he goes off of it a little more and finally he gives up. He’s fat. He knows it. He’ll will try to lose weight again next year. Whether it is weight, starting a business, writing a book or whatever, this cycle of thought to feelings to outcomes to thought perpetuates itself between our ears and in our lives. It is automatic. It’s automatic, so we are doomed to it, right? No. Our brain is wired to be efficient. There is a lot of calorie burning going on up there. Our brain saves energy and saves ability to focus on other things, say that oncoming sabertooth, by creating these routines. It is good and healthy (and more importantly efficient) for the brain to create these cycles. So what do we do? How do we use these cycles to our benefit. There are several ways we can hack into this cycle and make it work for positive change in our lives. First, create a positive emotional base – Our emotions are chemically powered. Dopamine generates pleasure. Adrenaline generates risk taking. Serotonin generates needs for sleep, appetite and sex. There are more. A lot more. Not only am I NOT suggesting using chemicals to change your moods, I’m offering a better way. These chemicals don’t necessarily all get reabsorbed immediately. There is an inertia to our emotions. While thoughts do trigger emotions, your current emotional set will affect that trigger. The same thought will trigger different emotions when you are happy than when you are sad. Here’s the hack. Change your thoughts by creating a positive chemical base in your head. Add positive feeling activities to your routine, especially right before a challenging or negative situation. Joe, from above, could have listened to positive music or comedians before meals or while exercising. Positive affirmations can also leave you feeling positive. Another way to create a positive chemical cocktail in your head is through body language. It has been clinically proven that standing in the superman or wonder woman pose for 2 minutes will increase your testosterone level significantly. Smiling is proven to actually cause happiness. Make it a habit to strike a pose!!! Second, address your root thoughts. Pay close attention to what thoughts are leading your negative emotions. Are these thoughts realistic? Do they belong to you any more – that is – were they appropriate to a prior you but not appropriate anymore? Are they really your parents thoughts? Etc. Third, create positive habits that lead toward your goal regardless of your thoughts and emotions. For example, Joe switching to smaller plates and drinking lots of water is something he can do regardless of his motivation.

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