The common view of human behavior is that thinking causes doing.
In recent years science has discovered this situation to be more of a bi-directional thing. For example, studies show that forcing a smile can lead to greater happiness. Most of you already knew that factoid. And obviously you understand that events in your environment and various sensations in your body can influence your mood and your thinking.
But I’ll bet most of you hold the view that for the most part your thoughts lead to actions and that’s 95% of the story of you. Lately I’ve come to the opposing view. I think our actions are the things that matter and our so-called minds are nothing but some executive control and a chemistry experiment.
I’ve been experimenting in the past year with the idea that I can control my thoughts by what I do with my body. Obviously my mind has to get the ball rolling to make me act in the first place. But instead of acting based on how I feel, I act based on how I WANT to feel. In other words, I use my body to control my future thoughts.
Yeah, yeah, you all do the same thing. I know. But it’s a matter of degree. And it’s a matter of how you THINK about your choices. A subtle shift in thinking can be a big deal.
For example, when feeling down, many people will curl up with some junk food and watch bad television shows until the feeling passes or some other duty calls. That’s an example of letting your mind control your actions.
What I do in that situation is ask myself what is likely to cause a chemical improvement in my brain. Then I do that thing.
An hour ago I was in a funk. These days I recognize that situation as being no more than my brain chemistry being temporarily out of whack. In my younger years I would have cursed the world for serving up so much crappy luck, even if my luck was perfectly normal. Today I went and hit some tennis balls for an hour. Now I feel just fine. My body fixed my brain.
There’s a tendency to think of the brain as the decision-making master of your person while the rest of your body is a slave. I see my body as an experience collector and my brain as the central depository of the experiences. When my brain chemistry is out of whack I use my body to collect the types of experiences that will correct the situation.
My observation of other people is that what I am describing (the moist robot view) is far from a universal approach. I think most people feel that their emotions and thoughts are somehow spontaneously generated, almost like magic, thanks to our souls and our free will and other things that aren’t real.
The problem with that view of your own mind is that when things go bad you don’t have a tool to fix things. Bad moods cause you to do self-destructive things which make your life worse which in turn keeps you in a bad mood. And repeat.
Now when I feel the world has conspired against me with a torrent of bad luck I keep in mind two thoughts that always help.
1. If this is truly a random cluster of bad luck, my luck will surely return to the mean in due time. In other words, the universe owes me big time. No one can be unlucky all the time. It’s not an option the universe typically offers.
2. I’m probably imagining the bad luck, or investing too much emotion in whatever is going wrong. I can reprogram my mind to happier thoughts by manipulating my body.
So the next time you’re not feeling the way you would like, ask yourself what you could do with your body to change your brain chemistry for the better. Then do it. You might be surprised how well it works.
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com
Author of the best graduation gift ever.