A couple weeks ago, I published this post about the power we have to change ourselves into positive people. Today, I want to share with you my 4 top brain hacks for becoming a happier person. You, too, can hack into your brain and flip the switch. Your life, your business, your family will thank you (and you’ll feel a little more powerful as well).
Most of these were mentioned in that post about positivity, but I didn’t go into detail as I will here today.
Breathing. We do it without thinking. That’s the problem. Living a more intentional life means doing things intentionally. In just a few days, you can change your breathing habits to hack your brain and feel more calm and happy. This is how it works: you have a nerve running from the base of your brain down your body. It’s called the Vagus nerve. And what happens in vagus doesn’t stay in vagus. This nerve touches all of your major organs and sends messages back to your brain about the state of your body. Sitting up straight (to get full lung capacity) and breathing deeply and slowly (3 seconds in, 6 seconds out) sends the message to your brain that everything is a-ok. This is important in a world where we’re living with far more stimuli, stress and anxiety than we were built to handle. You’ve likely heard the old breathe-slowly-while-counting trick for times of stress or anger. But if you make a habit out of breathing more intentionally in your every day life, you may find things less stressful in the first place.
How can you turn this into a habit? For me, I just set a task to do it for a few days and now I find myself breathing deeply most of the time. For others, it may take a few days of pop-up reminders on your phone or choosing an every day event as your trigger (getting in the car, receiving a text, going to the bathroom) to remind you to breathe deep.
Did you know that smiling can literally hack your brain and trick it into feeling happier? Fake it till you make it is key here. You won’t have to fake it for long. When you feel happier, you make better choices and in turn actually become happier. We fake it all the time. We wear Bridget Jones undies, makeup, we draw in our eyebrows, drive cars that say we have more money than we have. A fake smile ain’t gonna kill you but it might actually make you happier. However, a real one is even better. This post suggests that you need to smile big enough for it to spread to your eye sockets. I’ll explain why this works in hack #3.
3. Body Language
In this life changing TED talk, Amy Cuddy explains how body language shapes who you are. We’ve known for a long time that our brain can change the way our bodies feel. This is why depression can make a body achy and tired. But it also works the other way. Our bodies, our posture, the posture of our facial features (smile!) can change our brains. In hack #2 I talked about smiling. Amy Cuddy taught me about how smiling, even if it’s just forced by biting a pencil in your teeth, changes the chemistry of your brain.
This also works with body language. 2 minutes in a power stance (demonstrated in the video) will drive down your stress hormones (cortisol) and boost your dominance, powerful hormones (testosterone). This is particularly useful before a business meeting, a negotiation, public speaking or (hello!) an in person sales session for photographers.
Ok this one is a little more -like- woo woo weird. But I swear it works if you do it right. Tapping is a method to hack your brain into feeling better about a given situation. Tapping makes use of certain points on your body. In acupuncture, these are called meridian points. In Hindu metaphysical traditions, they’re called chakras. But scientifically, it’s very simple. These points are related to the amygdala which is the emotional center of your brain. We use the amygdala to process events which can be unhelpful because it causes us to process using our emotional center rather than logic.
There’s lots of information out there about tapping, but here’s my plain English explanation: when you talk through an issue and tap on these points, you are literally distracting the emotional center of your brain. Like “here, focus on this while I sort out my problem.” This means that you can exercise other parts of your brain in the process rather than filtering everything through your emotional center. Now, I’m absolutely sure it’s more complex than that, but that’s how I think of it. This video has good basic information and this is a more clinical description of tapping.