Five hundred years ago, the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne said, “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened.” This quote made people laugh back then and it still makes us laugh today because our species hasn’t made much progress in transcending the mind’s capacity to catastrophize. But the consequences a fearful mind bring-on aren’t so funny. Worry and fear activates the brain’s stress response system, dumping toxic stress hormones into the system that debilitates the higher brain function that makes us smart, happy, and loving.
Studies suggest that high levels of stress hormones from chronic stress reactions can increase the risk of heart disease by increasing cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure. At its worse, fight or flight stress reactions can take over and generate the hostile, impatient, controlling competitiveness that leads to the extreme stress condition called Type-A. Type-A behavior increases the likelihood of a fatal heart attack.
Dr. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford, one of the world’s top stress researcher, states: “We human beings … generate all sorts of stressful events purely in our heads. We can experience wildly strong emotions, provoking our bodies into an accompanying uproar, and it’s all linked to mere thought.”
The technical term for it is psychological stress. It’s fearful, worried, pessimistic thoughts and attitudes that, when believed, produce a perception of threat, when none actually exist. Research has found that 85 percent of what people worried about never happened, and of the 15 percent that did, 79 percent solved the problem better than they thought they would. That means when we imagine some “terrible misfortune”, 97 percent of the time there was nothing to get worked up about.
We can wire our brain for the calm, creativity, and optimism that predicts the health, success, and happiness that defines the "good life". It takes a change in mindset that accentuates the positive. Making this change is simpler than you might think and change can happen faster than you might imagine, within a few weeks if you practice.
Below is a 10-point prescription for wiring your brain for the good life. Take up one these challenges every day for the next ten days, then repeat it for another ten days. It takes an everyday practice to change the brain, so stick with it see what changes in you.
Simple Steps for Rewiring Your Brain for a Better Life Experience
- Look out the window for thirty seconds and let your mind become quiet. Watch the wind blow or the sun shine or the rain fall or people walking by. Allow peace to emerge all by itself.
- Drive home in the slow lane and listen to calming music on the radio instead of the news.
- Smile more today.
- Choose the longest line at a store and stand in it, letting go of your mind’s sense of hurry and choosing to be at peace.
- Listen better, judge less, and forgive more.
- When you feel conflict today, tell yourself, “I am not going to let this control how I feel.”
- Call a good friend you haven’t talked to in a while.
- Love someone unconditionally, Look for the best in someone you know.
- Accept yourself in total way, strength flaws and all and see how this frees you to change.
- Use a measuring stick other than business metrics to measure your success in life.
These steps are a good start for rewiring your brain’s autopilot. You can take this change much further with the tools and neuroplastic practices outlined in my book The End of Stress.