It has been a mindless day, on your part or others’ or both, and you are feeling lousy. Or you are about to enter an important meeting or a social gathering, and you are feeling anxious. Or you are just plain guilty over the past, hassled in the present, and worried about the future. What to do? Hack your brain.
By hacking the brain I mean doing certain behaviors, including thinking, that improves your sense of well-being and even changing the way others see you. Let us start with some simple ones.
When you feel sad or down, simply smile. And make it a smile even bigger than your face. Smile that beatific smile to the angels that babies, even those born premature, have. Try it now: smile and see if you can feel bad at the same time. Smiling is your original face and it brings back your original state and you automatically feel good. So now that you know this hack, next time you see someone beaming with a smile ask them, “So what is really bothering you?”
Now combine that smile with an active posture with your head and chest lifted and your shoulders slightly back, down, and relaxed. You will immediately feel a sense of lightness of the body and clarity of the mind, not only because you can breathe better but because the spinal extensors and flexors are working with gravity and in synergy with little effort. The simple act of correcting your posture can trigger multiple physical and emotional benefits: higher self-esteem, more arousal, better mood, lower fear, and stronger pulses. Slouching even affects the way you speak: experiments show that slouchers use more negative emotion and sadness words and fewer positive emotion words.
And then there is the “power posture” which has a host of confidence-boosting effects from simply opening up your body and taking more space in a room. Power moves include standing tall with feet astride and hands on the hips, grasping your hands behind your head, and putting your feet up on the desk. Spending time in a power pose increases testosterone (even in women), risk taking, pain tolerance and belief in one’s own leadership abilities.
Conversely, when we feel powerless we do the opposite. We make our selves smaller by slouching, closing and rounding the shoulders, wrapping our arms and/or legs, etc. Which brings me to the “as if” brain hack which states that by simply behaving as if you are powerful, you are more likely to actually feel powerful. Pretending to be happy and confident will make you feel happy and confident.
These hacks fall under the rubric of “body language” and are important in that they not only affect how you feel but how others perceive you. People will treat you differently when they perceive you as being happy and confident. And the really neat thing is that you actually help spread those positive feelings to others; they too begin to feel better!
That brings me to the brain hack of “social mimicry:” one tends to mimic, without realizing it, the posture and physical gestures of who you interact with. Even animals do this which is why we say, “monkey see, monkey do.” This is also known as the “chameleon effect” and may be why spouses begin to look or act like each other after many years together.
What practical applications does this have? If you are in a party or other social situation and you think someone is watching or staring at you, yawn; and if they yawn too then you were right! If you want to get a positive response from someone, nod while you talk. If you want people, especially children, to speak quietly, talk to them in a whisper.
Brought to an extreme, this hack helps explain the development of the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ wherein hostage victims begin to develop positive feelings towards their captors. Except maybe if they know they will soon be beheaded as they will have no brain to mimic others with. The Golden Rule, on the other hand, is mimicry at its best: Treating others in the same manner when others treated you well.
This article would not be complete without a love hack. Do you want someone to fall in love with you? Do you feel that you are losing that special connection with someone? Well, if you stare into someone’s eyes for 4 whole minutes you will automatically fall in love, even if that someone is a complete stranger! This is laboratory-proven and it works even better if you get to ask each other personal and meaningful questions while peering at each other. Questions like, “If we were in a movie, what would it be about? Describe the love scene.”
“Priming the brain” is another way to hack it. If you recite and repeat a given set of words then it will alter your mindset and affect your attitudes and behaviors. Repeating positive words makes you more positive. Validating words validate you. Prayers and mantras improve your wellbeing and sense of closeness with God. If you have someone “find” a $5 bill or if you “surprise” them with a gift, then they are more likely to help others in an appropriate situation. With priming, even cognitive performance improves with more ready access to positive material in memory and more rapid screening and efficient decision making.
Speak in “action verbs.” If you want to be directional and goal-oriented then speak to yourself using active, rather than passive, verbs. Keep the mind moving with ‘verb-al’ language. Start it when you wake up in the morning. Tell yourself what you will do that day. If you don’t have a purpose or direction in your mind, you will feel ‘lost.’ Even telling yourself to stay still is a direction, an action, rather than just sitting down doing nothing.
This brings me to the greatest brain hack of all: meditation. By developing the skill of being continuously aware of what your body and mind is doing and feeling, you will automatically know when your posture is not right, when your breathing is shallow, when you are depressed, stressed or anxious, and which will allow you to make those necessary self-corrections as you go through life day to day and from moment to moment. You will be able now to cease acting “as if” and instead live from a position of “I am.” You will be happy and comfortable in your skin and in this world, and this positive feeling state will spread out to others. And this world will be a better place for you and me…!