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7 Tiny Changes That Can Drastically Improve Your Life

7 Tiny Changes That Can Drastically Improve Your Life

Change affects all. But change is complicated. Some people claim that extending an otherwise small habit and consuming it quickly produces the most effective change. They might have a point. After all, there are success stories of people who quit cold turkey. So it’s definitely true that change works differently for different people. But the kind of change that uplifts you is accessible without the choking that comes with drastic introductions. It’s called adding tiny changes. Add one tiny change each day, and they’ll accumulate over time, eventually resulting in a better you. So if you’re ready to improve life. Here are seven to try.

1. Change the self-talk you wake up with

The thoughts that enter into our just awoken minds are often the same ones that drift to sleep with us. Now, I know it might be a bummer when you wake up and don’t feel well or you glance at the window and it’s gloomy out. You obviously can’t control either of them. But rather than directing attention to uncontrollable things, seek out the inner thoughts that can deeply affect the rest of your day. Our inner self-talk is one legendary component. Sometimes I wake up, and pessimistic thoughts pummel me. One useful trick I use is to repeat a couple short mantras or affirmations before I get out bed. Think of how amazing it is that you’re changing into something, and able to choose so much!

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2. Change one thing you listen to while commuting

You’ll manage just fine, even if there is a loud, misbehaving child on the bus to work or another driver just cut you off. Podcasts are great audible entertainment paired with educational information. You can download them from a digital media store and then store them in an mp3 player or smartphone. Devour at least one on the drive or commute to work and the time is almost guaranteed to go by quicker. You’ll also emerge to your destination with a little more readiness to aid you in just about any situation.

3. Change what you drink first thing in the morning

What’s the first thing you drink in the morning? A tall glass of milk? How about a mug of warm coffee? They aren’t bad drinks in themselves, but maybe the best alternative is water. Water is a power team of hydration, nutrition, and customizable taste. Throw in a fresh citrus slice for an all-natural sweetener. Drink one glass of water before anything else, and you’ll likely feel refreshed and hydrated before reaching for something more sugary and dehydrating.

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4. Change your relationship to the universe

As night breaks, your routine might consist of curling in front of the television or surfing on the web. By all means, you don’t have to break your television or internet, just spend a minute or two taking advantage of the shortening of the days and embrace the night sky. If that doesn’t suit you, spend a few minutes a day on an astronomy site and look up pictures of space. It’s humbling to think that you’re here, and everything else is so distant. You might feel overwhelmed and even a little depressed, but keep looking and think of intertwining yourself with the universe in harmony. Comparing human anxieties and problems to cosmological spectacles is like comparing a child’s toy to a planet.

5. Change the method you use to debate

Named after the iconoclastic Ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, the Socratic Method can rip apart ingrained beliefs. The instructions are simple. Identify a declarative statement in an argument or in a belief. Respond with a question predicated on a contradiction to the original statement, and take the altered statement into account. Ask a new question. So if someone argued that all people like ice cream, think of a question that doesn’t necessarily make it true. Do people with lactose intolerance like ice cream? Your opponent will probably respond and declare that people with lactose intolerance only like certain types of ice cream. Then introduce a new statement, so it includes the alternative answer. So people with lactose intolerance only like certain types of ice cream. Finally, ask a new question. What makes lactose intolerant people like certain types of ice cream and so forth? Use this on one argument of your own or on another person’s argument.

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6. Change how you confront anxiety

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, has helped countless people with their psychological problems. The ABC method is one little charm that can highlight your most harmful behaviors. To trace a damaging behavior back into its inception, first label the event (A), the beliefs you may have held about it at the time (B), and then the pattern of behavior or emotions that followed (C). Let’s say your best friend didn’t greet you this morning. You believed that they wanted to terminate your friendship with them, and so you felt angry and glared at them. Try keeping a journal and using the ABC method to interpret behavior a little better.

7. Change how you praise yourself

Most of us crave compliments. Compliments are actually tools used to remind us of all the good things we are and deserve. Unfortunately, compliments are often forgotten and washed away into downtrodden seas. Counter that by starting a compliment file and putting one in today. Use whatever digital or physical material you prefer, and observe the compliments people or yourself praise you with. Once you got one, write the compliment down and detail the compliment if you can. So if someone insisted your cooking is amazing, you could write that down and the meal you made for them. You could even take a picture of them eating the food (if they agree of course), and clip it below the details for a hands-on sensory experience. Highlight or tag the ones that echo most true to you and read it whenever you need a quick pick-me-up. Regardless if some of the compliments are genuine or not, you’ll feel better knowing that you’re paying more attention to them.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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