7 Brain Hacks for Bypassing Your Own Worst Enemy

Jun 11, 2024

Our brain is an amazing organ that is in charge of running the complex systems that make up our human body.  Like all great operating systems, it is only as good as the programming and sometimes there are unintentional errors that interrupt our efficiency.  

Brain programming errors are particularly common when we have experienced trauma, had poor teaching of how to navigate social norms, or have neglected self-care.  How those errors get stuck in the system is a conversation for another time or you might check out Bessel van der Kolk’s Body Keeps the Score or a book on trauma and the nervous system.

These inaccurate messages that get stuck in the nervous system can cause all kinds of problems in our daily life and the more habitual they become the more difficult they are to change.  Sometimes our brain errors are pointed out by others such as when we react to an emotion too quickly and make a situation worse.  Or we know our brain is off the rails when we can’t stop the persistent negative thoughts that invade our day to day lives.   Hours are spent in therapy offices re-wiring the pathways in our brain so that we don’t get caught in these traps and can better choose our responses.  Here are a few tricks to hack some of the more common habitual patterns you might be repeating.  For more in depth exploration on how to unlearn habits check out James Clear’s book Atomic Habits.  

  1. Ride the 90 Second Wave

Studies show that intense emotion such as being reminded of trauma or feeling a wave of grief only lasts about 90 seconds before it will naturally begin to subside.  This means that if you can ride it out for that long you have made it through the worst and are on the way to relief.  Ride the Wave! 

  1. 5 Second Rule

When struggling with anxiety, worry, fear or other mildly upsetting emotions, count slowly backwards from 5 to 1. This process engages the thinking part of your brain, the frontal lobe, and will help you get out of whatever uncomfortable emotions or thoughts are wanting to hijack the moment.

  1. Progress Principle

Teresa Amabile, a Professor at Harvard Business School identified the Progress Principle as one of the ways that we ignite joy in our lives by focusing on the small wins.  The Principle suggests that we do one meaningful thing a day and by sticking to this we will gradually build up the joy in our lives. The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Teresa Amabile.

  1. Pencil bite

When we smile we engage neurons that create positive feelings. When you don’t feel like smiling, but want to bring on a little positive feeling, put a pencil across your mouth and bite down with your back teeth, similar to how a horse bites a bit.  This position mimics a smile and will release dopamine that can improve your mood.

  1. Face Plunge

Need a quick reset for your mood? Drive the grumpy or self-defeating feelings away with a face plunge into a cold bowl of ice water. The sudden cold forces the brain to focus on other sensations and can reset the moment by stimulating nerves in new ways.

  1. Hum a little tune

Humming creates a barrier from your thoughts.  It doesn’t matter what tune you choose, but a little shielding from those pesky negative thoughts can lighten the load and help you get through the day.

  1. Avoid the Snooze

Sleep is vital to our emotional well-being and can also be one of the most challenging habits to adjust.  The snooze button may allow a few more minutes of avoiding the day, but it can set you up for a harder transition by sending the brain back into a sleep cycle.  Instead try moving the alarm across the room or beginning with some light stretching in bed to help you get moving without the snooze.

Befriend your brain by showing it some new tricks to get through life.  It is the little things that help us navigate and restructure the areas that cause us trouble.  For more tips and tricks check out the books noted in this blog or consult a therapist to continue re-programming those old pathways for greater success and satisfaction in life.

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