You are not who you think you are. Your personality and identity is significantly more malleable than you realise. With a few simple tricks, you can exploit your brain’s innate functionality to change just about anything about yourself. Here’s how.
You Are Not Necessarily the Person You Think You Are
That’s not to say you aren’t born with some inherent abilities, but most of what you consider part of your identity is a product of influence. While we don’t know the exact ratio of nature to nurture, there is undoubtedly a combination of both that makes us who we are. We have a tendency to think that change is difficult, but it’s really just a matter of changing your influence. You’re probably familiar with Stockholm syndrome-the term used to describe how hostage victims tend to develop positive feelings towards their captors. Stockholm syndrome isn’t a kind of brainwashing by the captor; instead, the victim adapts to the poor situation he or she is in. If most people can adapt to something as awful as being kidnapped, most people can adapt to smaller positive changes in their own lives. You can even make enormous changes if you’re willing to put in the work and you provide yourself with the proper influences. We’re going to look at how to do that on high and low levels, from priming your brain to manipulating your own emotions, and also look at how your environment and the people you know shape your life.
Most of these methods won’t make you feel comfortable, and, at times, they may sound a bit crazy, but it is possible to “hack” your own brain. Here are just a few ways to do it.
Priming Your Brain
Priming is a ridiculously simple technique because all it involves is talking to yourself. On the dull end of the spectrum, it’s similar to self-affirmation. On the crazier end of the spectrum, it bears some similarities with neuro-linguistic programming. Priming your brain involves reciting a given set of words that are designed to alter your mindset. It is not brainwashing and it cannot make you do anything you don’t want to do. What it can accomplish, however, is putting you into a state of mind that will be more useful to you with a given situation or task.
While you’re not going to remember everything you say, that doesn’t mean what you say is gone forever. While everything stored in your recent memory may not be immediately accessible, all you really need to bring something up is a trigger word. This is conceptually similar to using acronyms as a memory tool (e.g. Roy G. Biv) but isn’t designed to help you actually remember anything. Instead, the goal is to place common words that, when apart, have no real specific value, but when together, have an associative value that make you think of happy things, sad things, specific people or ambition. If any of those common words come up again later in the day, you’ll immediately associate that word with the associative value of the group. Here’s an example:
This is a list of words synonymous with or related to ambition. It’s designed to be read aloud to put you in a more ambitious mindset, focusing your thoughts and priming your brain to react ambitiously when these words, or portions of these words, come up later in your day.
Another exercise involves taking a shorter list of priming words and making a sentence with it. Here’s an example:
These words can form the sentence “the girl looked and smiled”, which should bring to mind pleasant associations for most people. Constructing sentences out of word lists (which you can create yourself) can help put you in the right mindset.
These two methods can be used to prime your brain. They are not magic tricks that will instantly make you feel happy, ambitious, or whatever, but they can help to provide you with the mindset you need to better accomplish your daily tasks.
For more reading on priming, and a look at some really interesting studies, don’t forget to check out the references for this article.
Using Your Emotions
If you’ve ever found yourself making out-of-character decisions based on your emotional state — such as binging on ice cream after a breakup — you know how easily your feelings can overtake you actions. Rather than letting your emotions lead you towards poor judgment and irrational behaviour, however, you can learn to compensate for different emotional states and to fabricate emotions to alter your mood. In order to do that you need to, simply put, get in touch with your feelings. The idea isn’t so much to cry into a pillow about your wasted childhood, but understand what you’re feeling when you’re feeling it, what the root cause is, and what you can do about it. We’re going to take a look at how you can dissect your emotional state to use it to your advantage, and also look at how you can fabricate emotion to change how you’re feeling.
Take an Acting Class
Make Yourself Uncomfortable
Keep Track of How You Feel
Emote in Front of the Mirror
The easiest way to learn to fake expressions is to practice them in the mirror. You can try them out to see what you look like and you’ll immediately know if they’re passable or not. You’ll also note that it feels physically different to create an authentic-looking emotion than it does to create a fake-looking emotion. For example, an authentic smile shows more in the eyes than it does in your mouth. When someone smiles a true smile, their eyes wrinkle (creating “crows feet”) because a new musicle — the orbicularis oculi muscle — is used. You’ll come to remember this feeling and be able to replicate it away from the mirror after a little practice.
It’s not necessarily easy to emote in front of the mirror, but that’s not as hard as you think. If your goal is simply to learn to smile better, you’ll get there if you just stare at yourself for awhile. Eventually it will get so ridiculous that you’ll have to laugh. If you’re less patient, you can try to make yourself laugh by making strange faces or just being ridiculous. If you’re comfortable, have a friend over to help. For other emotions, you simply need to find a source of that emotion and bring it into play in front of the mirror. If you’ve employed any of the previously discussed techniques, you may already have a reserve. Alternatively, watch a movie that makes you laugh or cry and do it by the mirror. (Yes, this is absolutely a strange thing to do, but it’ll work.) If you’re interested in anger, you should have no problem getting there by just complaining to yourself or to a friend on the phone.
Emoting in front of the mirror is going to be strange and awkward at first, but after a few tries you’ll get the hang of it and be able to create authentic expressions on demand. These expressions do surface from genuine emotion, so repeating them can actually make you feel happier/sadder/angrier/etc. through repetition. If you need to change your mood and your mindset, the ability to fake it ‘til you make it is very, very useful.
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