Games Your Brain PlaysYour brain has natural tendencies, of which you probably aren’t even aware, to help it feel safe.  While these innate inclinations were built-in to help our species survive, today they color your perceptions, can cause all kinds of problems, and tilt your brain towards unease and unhappiness.

Your brain is wired to ensure your physical survival, which keeps it feeling secure and happy but doesn’t help you find and stay in a happy place.

Two things are necessary to counteract this natural negative slant of your brain: awareness and action.

In What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite, David DiSalvo writes:

Awareness of why we are doing what we are doing is a crucial step toward action because it initiates a change in thinking – we have to pause to examine what’s going on. And this is why science-help is more useful than typical self-help.”

He explains ways, drawn from research, in which our brains move us away from peace and happiness and offers  suggestions to help you elevate your awareness and take action:

Slow down

Although it’s not always possible, slowing down and behaving with conscious intent, or acting mindfully, can avoid and diffuse many problems. Although your brain is wired to react, there is usually enough time to pause and consider options, intentions, motivations, and possible consequences and choose to respond.  The goal is to learn to pause and choose your actions.

Become aware of the influence your pre-existing beliefs have on current thinking

Everyone’s thoughts are biased by subconscious beliefs from their past influenced by parents, education, religion, and society.  These perceptions greatly influence how a person sees the world, determines happiness, impacts relationships, and are stubbornly resistant to change.  However, if you become aware of your patterns, challenge them, and consciously choose different thoughts, these incremental changes can, with persistence and time, add up to big differences.  (See: The Law Of Little Things)

In this way, happiness is a daily choice.

Check your availability bias

Your brain tends to make judgments with the most accessible and available information which, as we know, is not always the most accurate.  DiSalvo cites the example that people typically judge the crime rate being much higher than it actually is because that is all the news shows.

The same phenomenon occurs when someone becomes strongly affiliated with a political party or religion.  The group’s viewpoint becomes the most readily available to a person and becomes the “right” one.  A person’s reality is subjective because it’s formed through the filter of their beliefs. The way to counter this bias is to become aware of its influence, challenge your thinking, and try on different perspectives.

Act on short-term rewards that yield long-term benefits

Your brain has a natural tendency to focus on the short-term.  Knowing this, you can work with your brain by setting short-term, tangible goals that will lead to accomplishing your long-term, overall goals. Whether quitting smoking, losing weight, or sticking to an exercise routine, your brain will keep more motivated and you’ll have more success by breaking the goal into smaller steps.  Don’t forget to celebrate and internalize your accomplishments along the way to keep the dopamine and motivation flowing and stay motivated.

The hunt is more exciting than the capture

Have you ever focused on a reward and then when you received it, felt a sense of loss? Blame your brain.

It’s all too easy to get caught up in a cycle of wanting, getting, and regretting, like bidding on eBay for example, and before you know it, an addiction has been formed. Becoming aware of this tendency of your brain and interrupting the cycle is key.  A person has to realize that what they are doing is no longer in their best interest and walk away.  Easier said than done, but it can be done.

Feeling right is not the same as being right

To your brain, uncertainty is a threat that sets off the alarms.  Your brain wants to feel “right” to return to a sense of calm.  Because of this, it’s all too easy to confuse being right with the feeling of being right.  Knowing that this is your brain’s tendency, learn to consider all available information and perspectives and to be comfortable with uncertainty to counteract this slant.

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