Hacking My Brain

I am sorry for the length of this post in advance. Also, I am no doctor and I only know who I am. I cannot and will not promise you anything. What works for me may not work for you and, as with most things, changing your perspective is up to you. I can’t do it for you. I’m not selling unicorns, people. Nope. Not me. Dragons, man-eating werewolves, and a little pixie dust, sure. But no unicorns. And that means I don’t shovel rainbow colored poop.

I’m going to be brutally honest with you. Your happiness or the lack of it is on you. Don’t glare at me like that. It’s true. I know our society is amazing at teaching us how much of our happiness depends on outside forces, but, well, they are trying to sell you something that is rainbow colored and produced by the ton. Pretty colors be damned, it stinks. Your happiness is dependent wholly on you. You contain within you, right this second, regardless of everything, the possibility of unwavering happiness.

I’m not here to ‘fix’ you. I don’t have a course to sell you or a gimmick to offer. No programs, diet plans, or empty promises. Just the truth. You don’t need fixing. The only thing you need is a slight alteration of your thinking and it is something you can start doing right now, this second, no batteries required. Don’t get super excited just yet, though. It takes time and effort to retrain your brain for happiness. Also, and this is important, bad things happen. They are not going to stop happening, no matter what path you are on or how much you smile (or grumble, for that matter). Here is where you need the wisdom of Captain Jack Sparrow. The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem and before you jump me for laying the blame for your unhappiness on you, remember that, if you are to blame for it, then you can fix it. Also, if you are truly chemically imbalanced, have just suffered a massive trauma, or are going through massive upheavals, this is not your post. This is for your everyday, generic unhappy thinking and behaviors.

I recently read that people want be unhappy. With all due respect to the author and the people I know who think this way, I beg to differ. We want to be happy. We just don’t know how to do that without changing ourselves into Beyonce and we’re still screwed because she doesn’t look that happy to me, sometimes.

An army of well trained psychological experts, aka advertisers, begin to hammer this into us as children. You need the newest, coolest toy to be popular. You need new clothes, hair, shoes, face to even have a chance at happy. So, you know, if you can just lose weight (and somehow get Angelina Jolie’s looks) you will, at long last, reach the top of the mountain. Don’t forget your Prada handbag. If you can just get rich enough to buy everything they are telling you that you need, happiness will magically appear and all your troubles will vanish.

Bullshit. Oh. My bad. Unicorn shit. Things do not create happiness and while I don’t normally put anyone down for their choices, there is a little bit of hell set aside for those who make it their business to use our desperation to sell spandex, in my opinion.

I’m buddhist. I say this because it took becoming a buddhist (to deal with my anger issues) to understand that there are two kinds of happiness in the world. The one created by dopamine, which is released by the brain when you fulfill some sort of basic desire (buying stuff you want, in my case, books) and the sort that you’re born with and have only to remember how to unlock. This process can be long or short, that is up to you, and it can be painful. It isn’t the starting that’s hard. It’s the maintaining; not only will you sometimes want to fall back into old patterns, you will find others are always willing to drag you into their world view. It looks and sounds deceptively easy to apply. It isn’t (or I would have been living this way years ago), but that’s okay. It’s easier than affording an Audi.

The first thing you have to do is accept that you do not need anything you are being told to buy. You may want it, and that’s fine. I love my books and I would love to live on the beach. But do not pin your happiness on it because it will get you nowhere except disappointed. I would like to say that advertisers don’t really mean to make you unhappy, but they do and they do it because their business profits hinge on you never really attaining happiness. So they tell you all the reasons you are failing at life and show you some shiny new toy that will, certainly, bring you the peace and joy you are searching for. And, when you realize you will never get to the heights they offer, they sell you promises of peace and beauty divine. Forgive me, but it is about time we kicked down the curtain and took a good look at the industry behind it. Their motivation isn’t to help you or me. It’s to make money. Lots of it.

The second and, arguably, more important thing you have to do is accept yourself. This is a tough one; the world is full of people telling you what’s wrong with you, putting you down, shoving you in boxes and trying to convince you that you’re wrong because they are right. Reality, my dears, is untrustworthy. Just ask yourself. Was the dress blue or was it black? Also, in the name of being humble, we are taught self hate is almost commendable. It isn’t. Stop doing that. Right now, this second, give yourself an inner hug (yeah, yeah, we’re taking the peace, love, and fairies bus, get over it and jump on, don’t worry, I’ve got plenty of thunder and lightning for everyone).

Forgive yourself for everything. Yes. Everything. You can apologize to everyone else later. Right now, I want you to do for yourself what you always do for everyone else. Forgive your own flaws. This does not mean you get to be selfish and cruel and self righteous. It just means we need to learn to be kind to ourselves. We teach our children how to be kind to others, but we never teach them to be kind to themselves. Just remember that kind is not nice. Kind is honest. Kind is sometimes a little painful because truth isn’t always gentle. Be kind to yourself. But don’t paint everything with happy rainbows and refuse responsibility. That has a way of biting you in the butt as you’re walking away.

Now, I know. There are probably a thousand things you’d like to change about yourself and maybe some of them actually need changing. Leave that alone for a minute. Because all you are going to do right now is discover the things that make you who you are. And then turn them to your advantage.

I’m going to tell you a few weird and painful facts about me. I hate doing anything that doesn’t give me joy. And you’re laughing at me; who does? That’s the point. See, everyone else can take this ‘that’s life’ attitude and get on with it. Me? I’m over here, screaming ‘not right, not right, not right!’ and trying to figure out why on earth I can’t just shut up and color. I have this personality trait. Some might call it a flaw. If I want something badly enough, I am as unstoppable and undeterable as a freight train. We are talking take over the world level determination and obsession. Nothing stands in my way and it is scary. If I’m uninterested, though? You’d have a better chance motivating a rock to grow wings and fly. I am painfully aware of how short our time is and it makes me fight against everything I don’t like doing. It has caused me no end of suffering. For most of my life, this all or nothing trait has been driving me nuts and I have been trying to find a way around it. At no point during this lifetime of self war have I ever considered there was a way to make it work for me. My mantra has always been ‘fight, fight, fight, change, change, change!’ Because, you know, plenty of people told me how wrong being me was. Bet a few of you can say the same thing.

This trait has earned me the titles of lazy and childish and selfish, none of which are actually true because, when I’m into it, I am an overachiever, responsibility has always been easy for me to shoulder, even the unpleasant sort, and, when people need someone to listen, I’m always waiting with coffee. I don’t just shoot for the goal, I shoot for the damn moon and, more often than not, hit it. Yet, because I wanted badly to fit into some category of normal and respectable, I have been trying for years and years to rewire my brain into just accepting the unlikable things as unavoidable and so I can do them despite hating them. And I’ve been failing which, for me, is maddening. I don’t ever fail when I want something like this. Not. Ever.

I’ve spent years poking around, trying to figure out why, hating myself and getting nowhere because, big surprise, I have never managed to maintain a drastic change in my behavior. And I was never once presented with the real information. That I’m failing because you can’t just change who you are. I am me. I’m failing at other people’s life because I’m me, not them. It’s how I’m made. If an action doesn’t mean something to me, then I automatically list it in the ‘screw that’ category. Feed the dogs? A list, number one important. Work at a lousy job that doesn’t even pay me enough to allow me to afford their food, never mind vet care and leaving me with enough time to walk them? Screw that. And, yes, I’m aware that is a flawed thought process. I wouldn’t be writing this if it wasn’t. That is what I’m explaining. Changing who you are isn’t impossible, just painful and, unfortunately, too often, not maintainable. Using who you are and what you believe in to hack your own behaviors? So much easier. When I try to change, I always snap back into my original shape, which requires some reward higher than money on the table. Working just to satisfy some societal requirement without gaining anything useful from it is not and never will be what I’m made for and, if I can’t even buy dog food doing it, I have zero reason to continue. I need something bigger. And we aren’t talking material possessions here.

I’ve found the answer. Finally. It was quite by accident. And I’m going to give it to you because it really does work for almost everyone, if they let it. The key words here are ‘let it’. This is all up to you. It works because it hinges on you. Not a gimmick, not a list of things to change, not twisting your whole self out of whack in the name of getting happy or, at least, not being so miserable. The only thing you need to do is identify your world view and be willing to play a little game of ‘what if’. In some cases, this might be the singular thing you need. In others, it may only set you on a path to ultimate happiness (and you should read that as peace because real happiness is more like being constantly calm and in control of your emotions rather than the dopamine high). But a step down the right path is worth thousands down the wrong one.

K, so, this is where I insert the ‘in three short weeks, you can be rich, thin, and look like your favorite celebrity. Just three easy payments….’ nah. I don’t need three weeks to start helping you and I’m not charging for this. Maybe someday I’ll go look into becoming a life coach and whatnot or I’ll type up the book I’ve already written. Right now? I just want to help someone else because that is my singular biggest drive in life besides caring for my animals. All I need is for you to understand a few things. One, most companies selling happiness depend on repeat customers. So it is in their best interest if you get happy for a little bit, then fall back into the pit. Same thing with dieting programs, please remember that. Go research nutrition and base your weight loss goal on reality, not fancy lies. Next, get this through your head. Your create your own happiness and your own misery. You do it through the pattern of your thinking, which tends to breed unhappiness because you’ve been taught since birth to think wrong. You’ve been taught to look for happiness everywhere but within yourself. You can change that right now by flipping a few switches.

Example Time! Yay!!!

I hated to clean. It isn’t that I didn’t like clean spaces. It’s just that I didn’t see a reason to clean. I don’t have guests (I’m not the ‘guest’ type) and, if I don’t care, why waste precious energy? I do love order, but that has always been more of a minor trait than a major. I’m also a gamer, the sort that will sit somewhere (*cough* Timeless Isle *cough*) for two weeks – or a year – to get something I want. Before you jump on the lazy gamer train, understand that we are removing negative connotations and labels in order to find positive traits. My ability to stubbornly remain in place for something I want is best seen in my gaming because it is simple and easy to relate to. However, it is visible in the outside world as well and, once I’m fixated on something, I am scary determined. I also believe the law of attraction, used properly, is very effective (no, you can’t materialize stacks of cash out of nothing). Don’t worry, you don’t have to have a single one of these traits or belief. In fact, that is the whole point, that’s why it hinges on you and works for you as well as me or some guy on a mountain top. The end result is something we all want. Lasting peace. But our ways of getting there are going to be different, therefore, I can detail all the things you would have to change to be me or I can just share the general, simple process, leaving plenty of places for you to plug in as yourself with all your fabulous differences.

So, here I sat, slob on parade, happily (I thought) ignoring my real world mess, knowing I should clean, but hard at work on the next book and not willing to pull my precious energy away from edits. I knew I’d get there eventually, when I shamed myself enough and my guilt reached critical mass. Then I argued with someone and, in the process of smoothing my feathers back down – in other words, blogging about it – I tripped over a brick that had dropped on my head two years ago and has been sitting in the floor ever since. Well, where else would a slob leave it?

To understand, I have to tell you that I make my bed five days, at least, out of seven and I’ve been doing this for two years. Yes. Admitted slob has been making her bed almost every day for two years. Not to be neat. Or to impress anyone. Because making it allows me to put something in order, which gives me a flash of happiness and contentment. It is small and fleeting, but it is also free and easy. My need to control something led to this. This is one of my most debilitating traits; I want to control everything, then get upset when it doesn’t go to plan. Therefore, allowing this demon something as simple as making the bed to keep it shut up and happy is a fair trade. I’m working on rolling with life as it comes and this is my concession to that tendency. I can’t control the world, but I can control my bed.

Then, during my phase of being angry at the person I argued with and trying to get over it because, law of attraction, being upset just attracts more misery in my view (I’ve got enough train wreck going on without opening the door to more upsets), I read an article about how inside space (self) links to environment and the affect it has on drawing positive things into our lives. At which point, my inner bed making control demon went ‘hey! I enjoy putting the bed in order, it makes me feel peaceful, wonder if that will work when cleaning other things????’ And – this is a little weird, but, in the world of me, pretty normal – it did. I cleaned. Not only did it not exhaust me, I had fun. Fun. Because, instead of thinking about it in terms of a chore, I pictured every piece which found its proper place as corresponding to something inside of me. My cluttered brain slowly became more ordered and I began to relax enough to get a handle on other problems I’ve been facing. See that there? The problem didn’t vanish. But my attitude about it shifted sideways about two feet.

It’s okay if you don’t see yourself doing this. It wasn’t about you. Again, that is the point. I took a task I dreaded. I applied a different thought process already at work in my life. Boom. Clean space. Not only that, maintained clean. Because, like the bed, straightening my belongings and maintaining the dust and dog hair clean up, allows me to bring order. As it turns out, I actually did care about the mess. I just didn’t care enough to change it until I changed the way I related to the idea of cleaning. Attitude. Problem. Turns out the only real problem was how I was blocking myself with a viewpoint, not the actual cleaning the mess up.

Do you see the magic trick? Yes? No? I’ll explain. I have a world view. So do you. Everyone does. You may not know what yours is, but it is there. Mine is that life is too short to spend on things that make you miserable and time trying to help others is way better than time spent trying to earn too little money to pay the bills. That doesn’t make me irresponsible, exactly, but it is a view that sometimes has negative consequences. It means I attach my happiness to things that are necessary and simple (good) but find it difficult to motivate myself in the name of too little reward (bad). Certainly, all negative and unpleasant things can’t be avoided, but, when they can be, I am a ninja at getting out of the way. My favorite things are many and most lead back to my defining traits such as the ability to stick like glue to what I want, my ability to fall in love with the journey instead of the reward, my patience, my ability to self entertain, and my belief that good things come when you know how to call them. I didn’t change anything about myself to go from slob to neat. I’m still me. I still don’t care what you think of my home. I simply employed a belief I already had and slid a trait into play, shifting how I saw one thing to seeing it from an angle I normally reserve for things like playing video games, reading, writing, and helping people. Thus the dreaded task became something I enjoy doing. Poof. Lasting behavior change.

Did it take a moment of rearranging when I tried to consciously apply it to something else? Of course. If you want something for nothing, you are on the wrong planet. But, once you change how you see something, you can change how you feel about doing it. Or not doing it. I’ve done this before and it made it possible for me to quit smoking, so, you know. Six years for a penny to drop. That isn’t too long, right? Once you get the hang of it, of course, it is nothing more than playing the, let’s look for a different angle game. Which, for someone like me, is fun.

What do you like to do? What are your dominating traits? Yes, you have to find the answer to these questions. See, you have to know these things if you want to be happy. Forget about what you should be good at or what your parents wish you were good at. You need to be really honest with yourself. Toss negative/positive labels out the window for now; something that creates negativity on one level becomes a positive trait on another. Example? My tenacity. Applied to relationships, it could get scary (has gotten scary before I realized I cannot let it be part of my relationships). Can anyone else say ‘borderline stalker’? But, apply it to getting something I want that is difficult to attain and guess what? I’m a champion. All a matter of perspective.

Let’s say, like me, you’re into role playing video games and you’re a mount hunter (shameless WoW reference). You probably possess a few traits if you’re successful at it. You’re stubborn, understand that, no matter how low the chance, eventually, you land on jackpot if you spin the wheel enough, and you’re self entertaining – two weeks, three, a year later, and you are still showing up. To non-gamers, you’re a bum sitting around playing games. To insiders, you are a source of awe and inspiration. Now. Just imagine using those traits at work. In the gym. In your hobbies. Formidable is the word you want here. You just need to learn to shift your feelings and behaviors in the game to the outside world. This is way easier than you think. Although, one caveat, if you hate your job, you have to do one of two things, figure out how to like it or find one you can like. This is imperative. We dread what we hate and we rarely do well when forcing ourselves into painful positions. However, this is not a guide on how to be jobless. This is a guide to loving your life as is, minimal changes required. And this doesn’t need to be the end all, be all job. It just needs to be a step along the path to where you want to go and provide you with something you need. Like rent. Only, that isn’t all you can take away from it. What is there to love about your job? Center on that. Embrace it. Yeah, negative crap is still there. Get used to it, even millionaires have issues.

About joy. Well, that’s all you, again. For me, putting things in order gives me pleasure. Especially when I imagine this order creating a new inner order as well. It is a weird tic I’ve always had, but never managed to apply to cleaning. I have what I lovingly call a collector personality, usually confined to games and books. I also love to run. I don’t do it because of what I might gain from it or the weight I might lose. I just enjoy the rhythm. I enjoy the sounds of it. And I enjoy the way my brain shuts off all but the most basic of consciousness; breath, cars, heartbeat, and obstacles are acknowledged, but I stop obsessing about everything else. Loving running means I don’t have to talk myself into it. I don’t have to guilt trip or self hate. Just like cleaning, it is something I do just for the feeling it gives me. That’s the brain hack. Find the small things to love about whatever it is you are doing. Embrace them as you embrace yourself. Because, if you can learn to love the journey, you won’t care about the result or fall into despair when you don’t get it as fast as you expected.

Find enough little things to love and master flipping your views on one thing or another and peace will come to you. No, it isn’t easy because we are really, super good at lying to ourselves to make everything look the way we want. Plus, somewhere along the way, most of us seem to have learned that being bitter, angry, and unhappy is a guard against losing what we love. It isn’t. The bad things will happen. You haven’t got control of that. But you do have control of your attitude toward life. If you really want to find a lasting happiness without spending thousands on the newest gimmick, book, or life plan, then listen to me. Those things can only fail because they are busy telling you all the things you have to change to become someone else. I’m saying you don’t have to change who you are. You just have to learn how you operate and make it work to your advantage.

Thanks for reading!

5 Comments on “Hacking My Brain

  1. It’s like therapy. People have to want to work to change in order for it to actually help. Unfortunately, most people either don’t see themselves as having a problem because it works for them or they are unwilling to put in the effort. In my experience, people enjoy the negative feelings because it fuels something (for a friend, it actually fueled her writing!), so they’re afraid of losing it. And they can’t see that something else, like choosing happiness, might actually make them be a better version of themselves. I think people just see change as a lot of hard work, and it is, but it can be so beneficial! In psychology we have something called learned helplessness where people, over time, have learned there’s something they can’t control, so, later on, they just don’t even try. Change of any kind is work and, when it doesn’t happen right away, people are more likely to just think they can never be happy. It’s truly sad because I have so much hope in humanity and believe we can be better as a species if we just tried a little harder and got rid of all our preconceived notions about ourselves. I hope more people choose to be happy and to think of themselves in different ways. It might make us be better people. Thank you for this post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I enjoyed writing it. I think I’ve been told for so long that I’m weird or lazy it never occurred to me that they just didn’t know how to teach me to be me. My sister has this thing about life having to be hard and painful, so, if you aren’t miserable, you’re doing it wrong. So I’m just over here like ‘where does that leave me?’ Figuring out how to manage this weirdness of mine is a victory, though 😁😁😁

      Liked by 2 people

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