When we look back on our lives, we often aren’t watching a perfect recording of what has happened to us.
Instead, our brains are creating a story. Certain memories immediately stand out to us more than others, then our brains find meaning in those memories and transform them into a coherent narrative of events.
Our brains are “meaning-generating” machines. We don’t just observe our world, but we add meaning to it. We can’t help but look back on our past and think, “This happened in my life because of X, and then that led me to Y.”
We all tell ourselves these stories whether we realize it or not. Some people try to take conscious control of these stories through cognitive therapy, where individuals work on finding new meaning in their past, present, and future.
There’s a great book that just came out called Step Out of Your Story which teaches you step-by-step writing exercises you can do to reframe your stories and find new meaning and insight in them.
It shares really interesting exercises in introspection, and provides a practical way for you to dive deeper into your story and begin taking conscious control over it. The book includes a healthy combination of both “cognitive therapy” and “writing therapy.”
Our emotional experiences often have a physical component to them.
When we’re nervous, we may feel a churning in our stomachs. When we’re disappointed, we may feel our hearts sink. And when we’re embarrassed, we may feel our faces flush.
Our emotions don’t just exist in our minds, but also in our bodies. This is why it’s difficult to rationalize your emotions away, because they usually exist at a visceral level that is beyond thoughts or words.
In The Body Keeps the Score the Dutch psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk does an excellent job describing how this physical component to our emotions plays a huge role in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Part of the reason our emotions have a physical component is because they are often coupled with a desire to take action. When we feel afraid and threatened, there’s a natural instinct to “fight or flight.”
However, during traumatic experiences, individuals are often completely trapped and helpless. They are victims of forces beyond their control. So their nervous systems kick into overdrive, but there is no way to act on these feelings. They are just stuck.
For those of us who have never been very health-focused throughout our lives, it can be very difficult to build a new healthier lifestyle.
We often see exercise as a “chore” that needs to be done. We try out new routines and diets because we think they are what we should do to “lose weight,” or to “look better,” or to “live longer.”
But while these are good goals to have, they usually aren’t very motivating.
Why? Because they are based on external factors (“we exercise because society says it’s good”), rather than internal factors (“we exercise because we like it and it makes us feel good.”)
Imagine how much easier it would be to build a healthier lifestyle if you genuinely enjoyed the physical activities you participated in?
This is one of the major themes in the new book No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness by behavioral psychologist Michelle Segar.
In this article, I’ll describe the key ideas mentioned in the book and how these have transformed my own health-related habits.
When we think of “psychopaths” our minds usually jump to serial killers, terrorists, and pathological manipulators.
However, according to The Wisdom of Psychopaths, this only describes a small part of the picture. Today, psychologists are beginning to see “psychopathy” as a spectrum that we all lie on to some degree.
At extreme levels, psychopathy can lead to a lot of antisocial and destructive behaviors; but in moderate levels, it can actually come with interesting advantages.
For example, psychopaths tend to be very focused, ambitious, and confident when it comes to achieving their goals. A person who has very low levels of psychopathy probably isn’t very good at standing up for themselves and what they believe in.
According to psychiatrist Kevin Dutton, one key difference between “clinical psychopaths” and “functional psychopaths” is that the functional ones know the right context to exhibit their psychopathic characteristics.
Our personality is often much more flexible than we think, especially depending on the circumstances.
We often change our speech, body posture, facial expressions, and behaviors depending on the context of a situation and the people we are interacting with.
In this way, one could say we put on different “selves” or “personas” depending on who it is we are interacting with and where we are.
How you interact with a friend from college is going to be very different than how you interact with your boss. And how you interact in a classroom is going to be very different than how you interact at a party or bar.
In Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being, it describes how our personalities are influenced by 3 main factors: biogenic (genes and biology), sociogenic (environment and culture), and ideogenic (personal constructs and goals).
According to renowned psychologist and professor Brian R. Little, the ideogenic factors are what create the “degrees of freedom” we have over our personalities.
A mother may be very introverted (biological) and have been raised in a quiet household (social), but when she throws a party for her daughter she becomes active and out-going for her guests, because being a “good mother” is a personal goal that means a lot to her (ideogenic).
We all “act out of character” every now and then. And sometimes it’s necessary for being a happier, healthier, and more dynamic human being.