“I hope this year’s going to be better than last year!”
I see that wish scattered around social media, and I remember that feeling well. I used to feel the same—until a few years ago.
Here’s what I discovered—based on neuroscience—that empowered me to switch from hoping the next year will be better to making it better:
The Key to Gaining Control Over Cognitive Thinking and Emotions
There are connections between emotions and the part of the brain responsible for productive, creative thinking that most of us are completely unaware of.
>> All negative emotions (from sadness and worry to anger and feeling betrayed) are levels of the fight-freeze-flight state.
>> The stress chemicals, including adrenaline and cortisol, produced during that emergency state, cause blood to drain from the prefrontal cortex of the brain (where we do our cognitive thinking)—causing a reduction in our ability to strategize, solve problems, notice (and take advantage of) opportunities, process and comprehend information, and communicate effectively. With that part of the brain “offline,” our judgment and ability to assess risk is also affected, along with our perception and all other higher forms of thinking.
>> When we start to focus on things, people, or animals we love, the levels of stress chemicals in our system reduce, and we produce “feel-good” chemicals.
>> As the chemical balance shifts from adrenaline and cortisol to endorphins, serotonin, and oxytocin, blood starts to return to the prefrontal cortex—bringing our cognitive thinking back online.
This means that feeling good is about more than just feeling good. It’s about maintaining access to our cognitive, creative, productive thinking.
Trying to use our cognitive thinking while in a negative emotional state is like trying to drive with the handbrake on. Doing whatever it takes to feel good before we come back to using that part of our brain is like releasing the handbrake before hitting the gas pedal.
How to “Release the Handbrake”
Changing the chemical state of our brain and body from stress chemicals to “feel-good” chemicals is as simple (although not always as easy) as switching focus to something that feels good.
>> Imagine hugging a person or animal you love.
>> Think of five things to be grateful for.
>> Imagine doing an activity you love.
>> Do some physical exercise.
>> Watch funny videos on YouTube.
>> Listen to uplifting music you love.
>> Watch uplifting TED Talks.
>> Listen to uplifting podcasts.
>> Take a walk, listening to an uplifting audio book.
>> Play with your kids or pet.
>> Walk your dog.
These are a few ways to switch focus. If one doesn’t work, try another. Keep going until you feel good.
It only takes 60 to 90 seconds for feel-good chemicals to replace stress chemicals in our system. That’s it. Sixty to ninety seconds to feel good again—as long as we maintain our focus on what feels good and keep it off any thought that doesn’t feel good.
In other words, we need to keep our focus on whatever feels good, consistently, without allowing our mind to wander off to anything that doesn’t feel good—for 60 to 90 seconds—to change emotional state and bring the prefrontal cortex back online.
Try it now:
- Take a moment to think of a person or animal you love (we call this your “Subject”). Make sure you have only positive feelings regarding your Subject—in other words, no missing, longing, regret, guilt, or worry. Just love and appreciation. If you can’t think of a person or animal, think of a place or activity you love, instead.
- Now, imagine holding that person, animal, place, or activity in your arms, in a hug.
- Notice where in your body you feel that love and appreciation.
- Next, imagine that feeling as a ball of light or energy, and imagine it spreading down to your toes, up to the top of your head, and out to your fingertips.
- Hold that feeling for as long as you can.
You just changed the chemical state of your brain and body and brought your prefrontal cortex back online.
What could we create, learn, produce, earn, experience, and achieve in 2020 with full access to our creativity, productivity, problem-solving ability, and the rest of our higher thinking skills?
The bottom line is: feeling good = cognitive thinking online = success in all areas of life.
Happy New Year!
Here’s to our best one yet.