In school, we learn that the brain tells the body what to do, how to move, when to react, and provides feedback if we’re hungry, thirsty, and so on. Did you know that your body can tell your brain what to do, too?
By creating physical habits and making tiny tweaks to your actions, you can trick your brain into doing what you really want to do (even if you’re sitting here right now thinking these changes seem too daunting).
The action: Sitting still. Some people think of meditation as a mental starting point, but when you’re a beginner, the simple act of sitting still in quiet place devoid of distractions—cell phones, computers, televisions—all vying for your attention, is a huge adjustment that sets you up for some serious mental benefits.
The mental benefit: Oh, where to begin! There’s a long list of mental meditation benefits, including:
Less reactionary, more able to think through your decisions instead of acting impulsively
And that’s not even including the physical benefits, like lowered risk for cardiovascular-related mortality.
Stand Tall and Lead with Your Heart
The action: Stand (and sit) tall with your head held high and your shoulders back. This makes you feel and look much more confident and reminds you to put your heart into everything you do.
The mental benefit: You probably already know that when you stand tall and lead with your heart that other people see you as confident and open, but walking this way also affects the way you see yourself.
In a study in the European Journal of Social Psychology, researchers found that subjects who were instructed to stand this way were much more confident in the statements they wrote down at the end of the experiment than those who were instructed to slouch.
The quality of their statements didn’t vary, but their belief in them did.
Practice Power Poses
The action: I’m not talking about yoga poses here, and this tip is actually similar to the one about posture. It just takes it a step further. Power poses are the ones that make you stand or sit as if you’re open. Arms out (and sometimes up as if you’re enjoying a victory), head raised, etc. Take up space.
Opening up with your body language instead of shrinking down on yourself as if you want to be as small as possible can lead to some pretty positive changes.
Cuddy recommends not just “faking it ‘til you make it,” but “faking it ‘til you become it.”
The mental benefit: You’ll begin to see yourself as more powerful and in control. Testosterone levels will increase and cortisol (the stress hormone) will decrease.
Overall, you’ll feel more capable and be less reactive to stress.
Eat Healthy Food First to Avoid Caving to Cravings
The action: This one can feel a little tricky if you’re not used to eating a very healthy diet. Just make a deal with yourself and take it one day at a time.
If you’re subject to cravings for junk food, eat something healthy first. Don’t automatically tell yourself, “No, I can never have that.” Just say, “I will reconsider after I’ve had my salad/GGS/vegetable soup.”
Always have healthy foods handy so it’s easier to stick to this plan, or you may sabotage your efforts.
By the time you’ve eaten the healthy food (if you’re not actually hungry but you’re craving something that’s not so good for you, you can distract yourself with another healthy habit, like going for a walk or practicing yoga), you probably won’t crave it anymore.
The mental benefit: Your cravings for junk will diminish. The less junk food you eat, the less you crave it. Your food preferences actually change. It’s incredible!
You’ll eventually start craving the healthier foods you’ve used to replace the junk.
De-clutter Your Home and Work Space for a Clearer Mind
The action: Your environment can be a reflection of your mind, so try de-cluttering. Too much going on in a room can lead to feelings of distraction and stress because everything in your visual field is competing for your attention, whether you like it or not.
If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed, fuzzy-headed, and totally distracted, taking some time away from work or chores to tidy up, reduce clutter, and get rid of the things you don’t really need can help make your work go that much faster once you return to it.
Not only do you get to take a mental break from whatever it is trying to accomplish, but clearing out some of the clutter in your home or office will in turn clear out some of the clutter in your mind.
Zen Habits has 15 tips for de-cluttering your space.
The mental benefit: You’ll be more focused once all the visual chaos is gone. You’ll probably see your productivity levels increase because there will be less competing for your attention.
Even if you really don’t want to pay attention to that pile of dirty laundry in the corner and you want to focus on something important, you’ll still feel a mental “tugging” from clutter in a room.
Smile to Boost Your Mood
The action: You’ve probably heard this one before. Smiling—whether it’s a real smile or a fake one—can boost your mood.
You trick your brain into thinking you’re happy when you walk around with a big smile (okay, don’t go around with a creepy grin frozen on your face, but you know what I mean).
The mental benefit: Happiness! If you can trick your brain into thinking you’re happy, your whole outlook could change and your day could turn around.
A Forbes article discussed the benefits of the fake smile and its effects on mood. The “Duchenne smile,” for example, that involves not just your mouth but your eyes as well (your whole face, really!), led to a happier mood in a 1990 study.
In a similar, later study (also mentioned in the Forbes article), subjects were asked to hold chopsticks in their mouths that would force them to maintain a smile or a neutral expression.
They then completed stressful tasks. The subjects who had smiled had lower heart rates once the task was over than the ones who’d held neutral expressions during the experiment. Simply put, just smile to change your mood!
Use Positive Self-Talk or a Mantra to Address Whatever You’re Struggling With
The action: Say something positive to yourself. If you’re worried about something or you want to make a change from a bad habit to a good one, make up a mantra for yourself.
Say, “I’m not going to be afraid. I’m fearless and capable. I can do this,” or “I’m going to save this money. I don’t really want to buy that.”
The mental benefit: Your thoughts affect your feelings and your mind and become your truth. By repeating a mantra or just giving yourself a little pep talk, you can retrain your brain to think something positive, not negative.
Small Changes Yield Fantastic Results
The smallest little tweaks to your day can help you replace bad habits with healthier ones, whether they have to do with your diet or behavior.
No matter what you need to change, you can change it.
Sometimes the changes will just be behavioral, but in other instances, you’ll actually be able to change your hormones and the way your brain processes experiences.