Many of us excel in one or a few particular areas in life. As such, we know exactly what we need to do to perform the best each time. If you are in to nutrition, you know that the types of foods, vitamins, and supplements you put into your body, largely determine how you are going to feel that day. If you are a surfer, you understand that the shape of your rocker, foam volume, blank, and foil are all going to determine how well you hang ten.

Just like these examples- life is what you put into it. Our happiness is not just some genetic poker hand we were dealt at birth. Yes, some can argue that each of us are equipped with a happiness set point, and some scientists theorize that one can only deviate within a statistical range of their genetic set point. However, there are many things we can “tweak” to raise our own set point, or “life tank,” as I call it- throughout the day.

Anyone who has taken a Psychology 101 course knows that the human psyche is thought to be composed of 3 elements- thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. All three of these components are thought to have a multi-directional relationship. That is- behaviors influence thoughts (exercising is a great example of this), feelings influence behaviors (laughing), and behaviors influence feelings (research shows that by smiling, we actually increase the amount of seratonin in the brain).

By tapping into each one of these elements daily, we can slowly start to control how we feel. Behaviors seem to be a pretty obvious component. You don’t have to have a PhD to understand that if you go out for a run, or participate in a spin class- you’re going to feel a lot better afterwards. Thoughts and feelings, however, are where things get tricky.

Identifying and then changing our thoughts is a large part of what a cognitive behavioral therapist does. We help the patient to identify key patterns of thoughts that a patient has, and then offer counter-evidence to dispute these “irrational” belief systems. For instance, if a patient says “just my luck, I will be the only one who doesn’t get a ticket,” the key point of intervention would be to ask “what do you mean its just your luck? what other evidence do you have to support the belief that you always have bad luck?”

By engaging in this exercise every day, we as individuals can have a profound impact on how we feel. If you only got four hours of sleep last night, you might have had the thought “I am going to be tired now all day.” However, by changing your thought, you can change your behaviors. The mind is a very powerful tool if we understand how to use it, instead of passively letting it use us.

The last element- feelings, is one of the least utilized points of intervention for most people. Many individuals just believe that our feelings are just some random psychic lottery, where some of us get lucky and naturally feel love and happiness- where others are at the mercy of their own suffering and pessimism.

In the field, we refer to the act of purposefully feeling a way that is counter to our default feeling as “acting as if,” or “opposite action.” For instance, say you were to be really anxious about your money situation this month. To the untrained mind, there is a part of us that tells us we must continue to ruminate on this anxiety over and over until the problem is solved. However, if you look at the situation objectively- most worry is unproductive and doesn’t actually ever result in a solution. The quote “worry is like a rocking chair- it gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere” comes to mind.

Now if we were to engage in “opposite action,” and actually act calm- we start to gain a tremendous amount of control. By taking opposite action, or acting “as if,” we are tapping into the left part of the brain, responsible for mastering novelty, and conveniently associated with- what?? that’s right, you guessed it- happiness. This is part of the A in my BALANCE model, known as awareness and is part of emotional intelligence.

Thich Nhat Hanh spoke about this and uses the term “acts of loving kindness.” By focusing on our heart space, and projecting love out towards others, we are actually fueling our bodies and minds with that similar love and kindness. On the other hand, if we carry bad thoughts about others, gossip, and engage in behavioral tactics used to manipulate or hurt someone else- we are actually poisoning ourselves.

Today, begin to look at every thought, every behavior, every feeling as fuel for your mind, or “life tank.” Were you running on 87 unleaded when you could be running on premium? What changes can you make today to give you a smoother ride?

Dr. Colleen Long is the author of “Happiness in B.A.L.A.N.C.E,” and practices in the Los Angeles area under the supervision of Dr. Richard Oelberger (PSY22186) . Dr. Long works mainly from a positive psychology framework as it applies to addiction, depression, relationships,  body image and weight loss. Her website can be found at www.DrColleenLong.com. All public speaking/media event requests handled through FreudTV (info@FreudTV.com).

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