The key to happiness that nobody tells you
What if I told you the key to happiness lies in mastering the use of just one tool. This tool is the most complex, powerful tool known to man and unbelievably it’s free, and every single person has access to one. It’s often taken for granted, overlooked, and under utilized as people search outside themselves for materials, resources and experiences to make them happy. So what is this tool? It’s the human brain! Sorry, was that a bit of a letdown? Let me explain.
I want to talk to you guys about training your brain because it’s something I’ve been deeply working on and I’ve experienced really amazing results. I don’t mean training it to get smarter with games like lumosity, which is great if you want to do that too, but I’m talking about the kind of training to get your brain to work for you, do what you want it to do and think how you want it to think. Because I promise you, right now, it doesn’t. And training your brain so that you can manage your thoughts is where you’ll find the key to happiness.
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An untrained brain is destructive
Your brain is an extremely efficient machine that runs on autopilot most of the time. And for good reason – imagine if we had to tell our brains how to run our bodies. “Ok, now take a breath in, and breathe out,” “Now, release enzymes to digest this food and push it through my intestines.” We’d be reduced to breathing, maybe breathing and eating creatures. But because the brain runs on autopilot, we do all these bodily functions without thinking. This is fan-frickin-tastic except for the fact that it’s not just bodily functions that run on autopilot. Our thoughts do too. Our brains are so efficient that they filter and habituate our thinking too.
That doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that you’ve unconsciously and automatically been thinking thoughts that are absolutely detrimental to your happiness like “I’m not good enough, or “Life is hard” or “People are assholes.” First of all, how do you think these thoughts make you feel, good or bad? BAD, right? And secondly, what happens when you think the same thought over and over again? It becomes a belief, a statement that you hold to be true in your mind.
So if you’re thinking all of these negative thoughts all the time without even realizing it, then it’s only natural that over time you’ll start to believe all of them as true, cold-hard facts, even when they’re not. Thoughts, whether they’ve become beliefs or not in your mind, are what create our feelings and feelings are what run our lives!! THIS is why self awareness is SO important. Until you become aware of the thoughts you’re thinking, you can’t deliberately choose which thoughts serve you and make you happy and which ones hurt you that you need to stop thinking.
Our brains are programmed to look for things that are wrong to alert us, and for some reason it seems to like to focus on negative things over positive ones. Think about it – you always remember the mean comment someone made 20 years ago but can’t seem to recall the compliments you’ve received over the years. THIS is why it’s important to train our brains. If you want to live a happier life, you can’t have your brain running on autopilot anymore, at least not with your thoughts. Check out some of the signs that you’re not self-aware in my post about self-awareness if you’re curious about how destructive an untrained mind can be! Managing our thoughts is the key to happiness. Time to take back control of our minds, guys!
Related Post: What’s blocking your happiness: self-awareness
So how exactly do you “train” your brain?
The first step, as I mentioned is self-awareness- becoming aware of your thoughts and the way your brain thinks. For this I recommend meditation, journaling and spending time alone.
Meditation is one tool that has helped me become much more aware of my thoughts over time. In fact, just this week I realized how aware I’d become of what I’m thinking, as soon as I think it. I’ve been meditating now for over a year so it does take time to develop the muscle. Be patient with yourself though because it’s worth it. I started to notice a change in my mentality and calmness in about 6 months but everyone will be different! Over time you start to become the thinker of your own thoughts, or an observer of them. You’re consciously aware of them as you think them and can immediately spot a negative thought when it pops up.
I’ve also found journaling to be quite helpful for becoming more self-aware. Often the act of just writing down our thoughts reveals thoughts we didn’t even know we were having. I usually choose to just free-write and do thought downloads, or brain dumps as some people less eloquently put it, where I just write down whatever comes to mind for about 10 minutes. It can be hard to start writing at first so you just write what you can even if it’s “I can’t think of anything to write, this feels weird. I have nothing to say, la la la.” It’s a start. The more you sit with it the more the thoughts will start to flow. Be patient and have fun with it.
Lastly, I’m a huge advocate of spending more time alone to just think and be alone with your thoughts. Aim to spend 20 minutes to an hour every day alone, by yourself, without technology, books, or people. Just simply be and allow yourself the freedom to listen to whatever thoughts pop into your head. Most people don’t give themselves time to do this and as a result they never know what’s going on inside their own minds! How can they with all the distractions and external influences telling them what to think and how to act and who to be like all the time? Give yourself time away from those influences and see how much it changes your life.
Related Post: What happens when you spend time alone
Managing your thoughts is the key to happiness
Once you become aware of your thoughts the rest is sort of easy. You essentially get to start picking and choosing which thoughts you want to have, which ones serve you, and which ones don’t that you should just toss out like yesterday’s paper. I don’t want to make it sound any more complicated because it really isn’t.
Once you become aware of your thoughts, you start to hear them as soon as you think them and as soon as a negative one or critical one pops up you can choose to stop thinking it and/or replace it. You can repeat this process until that thought you’ve been having has been fully replaced with the new one. Every time you catch yourself thinking that original thought, immediately think of the new thought you want to replace it with.
This is something I’ve been practicing lately to help me replace some of the negative thoughts I’ve been having about my illness with more positive, healing thoughts. It’s become almost a game for me and it’s fun every time I catch myself thinking a thought that doesn’t serve me. I’m like a policeman for my own thoughts now hah. A nicer way to think of it is like I’m my own best friend now – you know the friend that says something like “Stop thinking like that, you can do this!” when you’re saying something like “I can’t do this.”
I’ll give you an example from my own life recently. As many of you know I’ve been dealing with an often debilitating skin issue for the past year and a half and I recently came to the realization that I may even be causing some of my own flare ups just with my own thoughts. I became aware that I was thinking (and telling people) “I get flare ups about every 2 weeks” so often that it had become a belief I held about my illness. I just came to accept that as a fact – when in reality it isn’t! So I asked myself, is this something I want to continue to believe? No, it wasn’t. So as soon as I became aware that I was thinking it, I had the power to choose if I wanted to keep that thought or replace it with a new one. I replaced it with the thought “I rarely get flare ups.” It’s been 3 weeks now since I had a flare up. Coincidence? … I think not :P.
Where you might get stuck
The one key to replacing your negative thoughts with more positive or self-serving thoughts is that you must replace the negative thought with another thought that you believe to be true. This is something I learned from Brooke Castillo in her podcast on thought creation. It won’t “stick” if you try replacing a thought like “I hate my body” with “I love my body” because those are such extreme opposites, it’s hard to replace something that you currently believe with something that you don’t really believe yet. It just feels more negative and self-destructive to try. So instead, try a tiered approach. Try replacing a thought like “I hate my body” with one like “I have a body” and then once that one is fully engrained and has replaced the other one, try a new one like “Someday I will love my body” and so on and so forth, building your way up to a more positive way of thinking.
If replacing the thought is too tough right now, Brooke recommends trying to use simple modifiers to change them – like adding “and that’s ok.” It’s a good first step and releases a lot of the negativity and resistance around the thought/belief. It shifts it from being negative to at least being neutral and gives us more authority. She also recommends trying to add to the beginning of the thought or belief using the modifier “I am just thinking the thought XXX” that way you can see the negative belief or thought as simply that, just a thought. It gives you control over it again. It’s a great podcast and pretty short, but packed with valuable insights. I highly recommend it!
What’s the point of all this work?
The point of all of this, training your brain, is to manage your thoughts because, ultimately, our thoughts control everything. Our thoughts control our feelings and emotions which control our actions which control the results and direction of our lives! Our thoughts are the one thing in this life that we can control. We can’t control other people, we can’t control the weather, we can’t control events and situations and how they turn out. But we can control our thoughts and therefore we can control how we feel, which is really everything in this world, isn’t it? If we can control our thoughts, we can learn to think thoughts that make us feel happy, regardless of our circumstances. Our thoughts are the key to our happiness. And that is some powerful knowledge, friends.
So what thoughts are you thinking right now? Are they positive or negative? Do they serve you or do you want to replace them? Let me know how this post might change the way you think in the comments! And don’t forget to check out my free workbook, just click below!