Inside: Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right! Henry Ford understood the powerful truth that it’s all in your head. This post contains referral links.
If you’ve lived with anxiety, experienced fear at night after watching a scary movie, or spun stories about what someone might be thinking about you, then you likely understand that sometimes it’s all in your head.
Neuroscience tells us that our logical, rational brain plays only a minor role in our decision making. Much of our decision making is actually done via unconscious mental processing. This is communicated to our conscious mind via an emotion or emotional response.
This morning I enjoyed listening to Seth Godin chat about placebo effects (the mind-body connection is amazing) and how we can apply this to our lives. I also recently finished Start With WHY by Simon Sinek. Both reinforce this truth that as messy humans we operate far less on logic than we’d like to believe and more often on an unconscious emotional or gut response.
We buy our cars and choose our therapists this way, we are attracted to certain people and repelled by others, we feel triggered by different experiences or circumstances. Sometimes things look smart on paper but we get an intuitive sense that something is off and this protects us from a bad decision. Sometimes we sell everything and move across the country on a hunch.
We are highly emotional creatures and base our decisions more often on feeling than fact. Often, it’s all in your head. And while we want to be careful not be dominated by our emotions and throw practicality and objectivity to the wind, I think this is actually pretty cool!
This is how I decided to marry my husband after two weeks and how I’ve selected our homes. I gathered information but then made an intuitive decision. Listening to my gut has served me well.
Simply noticing how we show up in life is super helpful.
Alas, being an emotional human being can be messy.
Cloudy dark skies can make me feel a sense of impending doom (I take steps to protect my health in the darker season) and I get a little panicky in underground parking. Logically I know I am safe but my emotional brain likes to lie to my body. I had panic attacks after my mom died.
I will spend more to shop in a tidy, uncluttered store in order to avoid noise, crowds, and disorder.
Music or fiction can evoke intense emotion- make us feel spooked, energetic, or deeply nostalgic, give us chills or bring us to tears. Sometimes a phrase in a book cuts deep into my soul and changes me forever.
The first time I saw one of my best friends I had this feeling that she was going to be my friend. I knew nothing about her apart from what I could observe in that 3 minutes. 8.5 years later she remains one of my favorite people.
Think about your own habits around decision making or how you notice the mind-body connection playing out in your life.
We can consciously use this information – awareness of how much our emotional brain acts on our behalf – to stop living on auto-pilot and build a happier life.
Rather than focusing solely on what we want to have or accomplish, we can get clear on how we want to feel and let that guide our decision making.
1. Decide how you want to FEEL
Business experts know that if you want to compel someone to buy (or buy-in) you should provide them with an emotional experience or appeal to their emotional brain. Advertisers may have used the power of story to help you visualize yourself with that state-of-the-art mountain bike sitting in your garage. Some companies communicate their WHY so clearly and compellingly that their ideal customers buy in wholeheartedly and become diehard fans. You might bond with other people in a sense of community built around a particular philosophy or lifestyle, get hooked-in emotionally, and eagerly “buy” whatever this group is selling.
People are looking for meaning, belonging, a hit of dopamine… they want to feel a certain way.
How do you want to feel?
Focusing on feelings gets a bad rap as though it is less noble than focusing on building, creating, working hard, or jumping through hoops. But it is not wrong to enjoy positive feelings such as pleasure, joy, calm, belonging, or purpose. In addition, identifying how we want to feel and why can help us live like every day is our favorite.
As an example, in my home, I am clear on how I want my family to feel (I’m not responsible for everyone’s feelings but I know I help set the tone). This drives my behavior. It is actually a powerful motivator. There was a time I was focused more on outcomes – clean rooms, math lessons completed, floors mopped, and sometimes trampled on people’s feelings in my efforts to get stuff done.
These days, when I work with a new client I ask her to identify a few words that describe how she wants to feel and why. This becomes a filter of sorts for her decision making. The people she spends time with, the books she reads or how she moves her body, what she eats and how she spends money, all of her behavior helps her move closer to or further from her vision of how she wants to feel.
I rehearse my mind-body-spirit intentions (the words that describe how I want to feel) before getting in front of people to speak or before engaging in a challenging conversation. There’s no fairy dust in these words – but they remind me that I get to choose how I show up and this, in turn, trickles down to my racing heart rate and shaking hands.
I aim for a simple, joyful life that I don’t need a vacation from.
2. Build regular happy things into your ordinary life
There are small simple pleasures that tremendously boost my happiness quotient and I may as well take advantage of them. (If you think something works, it tends to work.)
I actually love travel but the idea of “building a life I don’t need a vacation from” speaks to me of an ordinary life filled with gratitude, simple pleasures, connection, and meaningful work. Nothing fancy but a life where I don’t defer happiness.
Drinking out of my favorite slightly crooked, pottery mug makes my morning French Press ritual even better. I don’t want anyone else using that mug. If I moved overseas and could only take one box of belongings, I’d take that mug.
Spending money on an organic dark chocolate bar and enjoying a small piece at a time feels good. I don’t even love chocolate but choosing quality and knowing I have a small stash feels nourishing.
Owning fewer clothes but buying those in fabrics I like, and supporting small businesses definitely increases my happiness. I’d rather wear the same 5 things over and over but feel like me in them.
I love podcasts and books to feed my hunger for knowledge and ideas. A library card (and occasional Amazon delivery) means more to me than a fancy car.
Eating plenty of fresh produce has known health benefits but it’s interesting to consider that there could also be a placebo component. Because I believe these colorful foods support my health, therefore, I feel better/happier consuming them.
(If you aren’t sure what makes you happy or the habits/behaviors that drive your happiness & health, create a happy-stress list and, over the next couple weeks, pay attention to the things (big and small) that make you happy or trigger you. Self-awareness is foundational to a joyful life.)
Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right. Henry Ford understood that it’s all in your head.
2. Choose Your Thoughts
Our culture expends tremendous energy and money on trying to change our bodies and environment. But the most powerful shift I have made in my life was to change my thinking.
Although I feed my body well, get decent sleep, walk regularly, and take synthetic thyroid hormone because I have autoimmune thyroid disease, and all of these matter greatly to my mind-body health, none of these alone has the power to change my life experience the way that learning to shift my thoughts has.
Changing my thinking changes me, not my circumstances, yet increases my happiness quotient exponentially.
No amount of money, vacations, friends, stuff, medicine, or good food will make me happy if I’m stuck circling in unhealthy thinking. But adopting a healthy mindset and acknowledging the power of my mind to affect my behavior and my physical health… now that will make the simplest life happier.
Happiness research says that a large part of your happiness resides in your head – not in external circumstances or what others are up to or where you might go on vacation next year. More specifically, a significant portion of your happiness is tied to what you think and then how you behave. Your thoughts help determine your behavior; wield them wisely.
I’ll end with this question from Seth Godin’s podcast about placebos:
If you could swallow a pill – a blue pill maybe or a red one – and that pill would make you healthier, stronger, faster, smarter, happier, would you take it? What if I told you there were no side-effects and that it was close to free?
We are emotional creatures but we don’t have to be ruled by emotion. Decide how you want to feel and practice mindfully making decisions that help you move closer to that vision. Infuse your every day with small, happy things to experience a sense of pleasure and contentment in your life. Choose your thoughts: learn to become the boss of your thoughts and to see how your thoughts are at the root of your behavior.
Happiness lives largely in your head. This is potentially the most powerful pill you will ever swallow.