How are stress and addictive emotions holding us back?
What can we do to be more balanced and less stressed?
After reading the first part of this series “On Changing Your Personality And Moving Into A New Future”, you might still be a bit skeptical.
How can my thoughts influence my emotions?
And how can my emotions influence my genes and even my immune system?
A good example to look at is how animals, as well as we humans, react to threads in our environment.
The Stress Response
Whenever a deer recognizes a predator in its environment, the body immediately triggers the fight-or-flight response.
This response releases all kinds of stress hormones that make the heart beat faster and let the deer run faster than ever before.
Once the deer escaped the predator, it will simply return to its default state of homeostasis and within minutes continue grazing as usual.
We humans have the same fight-or-flight response. It gets automatically activated in stressful or threatening situations.
With the rush of adrenaline, cortisol and other chemicals, we are more focused, faster and stronger than before and escape a threatening situation or defend ourselves and loved ones if necessary.
This form of stress is short-term. It is made for emergency situations and is an important tool for our survival.
The problem, however, is that the conditions for us, when this kind of stress response is usually triggered, have changed.
We don’t experience stress anymore running from a predator, but rather in our work environment or at home with family.
Let’s look at an example.You’re at work, sitting at your desk. Your boss enters your office with a grim look on his face. While you’re working as fast as you can on the required monthly reports, he asks you why are they not ready yet. You try to explain but all the boss says is that you better be faster.
This is a common everyday situation that triggers our fight-or-flight stress response.
The problem is that we can neither fight nor flight. And we also cannot easily turn off the stress response. This kind of stress is reoccurring.
It is long-term, low key stress, that we have to suppress.
And since we are in this same (work) environment nearly every day, we get triggered all the time.
In since we can keep this stress response running by only thinking about it, even when we are in at home or in a different environment, we never fully turn it off.
This is not natural and not healthy.
No organism is made to keep this stress response over the long-term.
We are in a state of survival. Not only short term but all the time.
And it’s a scientific fact that these stress hormones of survival, like cortisol, then downregulate our genes.
And this is what creates disease.
The State Of Survival
The biggest reason why it is so hard to get out of this state of survival and stress, is that the hormones of stress give the body an adrenaline rush that we can get addicted to.
It sounds masochistic but we get addicted to these hormones and the thoughts and emotions that produce them.
We get addicted to them not only because they give us a feeling of aliveness, but also because they have become so common that we start to identify with these thoughts and feelings.
They start to become our identity. We get used to them. That’s “who we are.”
Since we are in a state of survival, we have no time to realize that by looking within.
Just like a deer that is being chased by a coyote has to worry about fight or flight, we are also focusing on our external environment, the next task, the next deadline, the next set of expectations.
There is no time to go inward and rethink our personality.
We are more reactive, less proactive and are not seeing possibilities.
But don’t we also have positive experiences that get us out of this state of survival once in a while?
We surely have these experiences, but the question is to what degree are we actually noticing them and using them to change our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors?
Because of our psychology’s sneaky confirmation bias and selective perception, we actually only seek out and notice experiences in our external environment that give us these negative emotions and thoughts we are craving to reaffirm our identity.
So if you always use the same people and the same environment to bring up these old thoughts and emotions then you become addicted to a life you don’t even like.
Because it reaffirms your identity, gives you something to hold on to and keeps your addiction going.
You are living enslaved to your emotions from the past. That is why change is so hard.
What is the alternative?
To truly change your personality you have to change the way you think, feel and act.
You have to break the addictions to the old negative emotions and thoughts that kept reaffirming your old unhelpful identity.
How to do that?
The formula for inner transformation looks like this:New Personality = Clear Intention + Elevated Emotion
Let’s have a look at the two necessary ingredients:
If you are not satisfied with your present state, both the thoughts and emotions you are having as well as your life situation, you need to become clear about what it is that you DO want instead.
You need to start thinking about it and become clear about how this new You would look like.
By doing that you already start to influence your brain.
Our brain is not as rigid as we once thought. That science of neuroplasticityshows that through learning, rehearsal, and remembering we can influence the structure of our brain.
Every time we learn something new or think a new thought, new neurons connect in new ways to establish new synaptic connections.
When we rehearse an information or thought, we strengthen these connections and when we revisit and remember these thoughts we maintain these connections.
It is normal that we have to revisit and rehearse new information because we usually don’t “get it” the first time.
What is contributing to that is the fact that the average human loses his attention 6-10 times per minute.
But paying attention, being present is a skill like tennis or golf, it can be practiced.
Once you become better at it, you will make synaptic connections faster.
But how is thinking about who I want to be changing me? Don’t I have to have real-life experiences?
Actually, you don’t.
There are several research cases that show that by mental rehearsal and visualization alone, you can generate results.
In an experiment they had two groups of people practice playing the piano. One was actually practicing, the other one was only imagining themselves practicing.
Both groups showed similar improvements in piano playing skills, because both groups build both build the same neurological connections.
Then there was a similar experiment, this time with two groups performing exercises for finger strength. One group actually did the exercises, the other one only imagined doing them.
Similar changes in muscle size and strength.
So what you mentally think about and rehearse every day, is what builds a structure in your brain and influences who you become.
What does that mean for personality change?
You have to have a clear picture of yourself, your life situation and how you will act in that future scenario.
You must be able to see it in your mind's eye, it must be so real that the thought becomes the experience.
Now you might say:
“I know that it’s using affirmations! I have a whole list of them and read them every morning!”
It is not exactly the same.
Affirmations are limited because many people forget one vital ingredient when they read their affirmations or think about them.
They don’t feel a strong emotion when doing it.
If you say „ I’m rich“ or “I’m confident” but you don’t feel it with all your senses, and the emotions of being worthy and free behind it, it will not work.
Because there’s a mismatch between the positive thoughts in your mind and the negative emotions your body is addicted to.
You have to withdraw the energy from the old emotions and combine a clear intention (your new thoughts and image about yourself in the future) with an elevated emotion (how you will feel once that has happened).
In the timeless classic about self-image psychology “Psycho-Cybernetics”, this elevated emotion is called “the winning feeling”.
The good thing is we all have felt these kinds of emotions before, whether it is joy, bliss, gratitude, freedom or empowerment.
So you could simply recall an event from the past that gave you that emotion, feel it now and then combine it with your clear intention from the future.
What is the purpose of that?
One you dwell in that positive emotion while you are vividly visualizing your future self, your body will simply think that this event is happening right now.
It cannot tell the difference between something vividly imagined and actually taking place if the accompanying emotion is strong enough.
So you are teaching the body before the anticipated event how it would feel like and condition it to a new set of positive chemicals released by the emotions of joy.
Now, there are two questions you should ask yourself:
Firstly, can you believe in a future that you cannot see or experience with your senses but you have thought about enough times in your mind that it is now actually wired in your brain?
Well, neuroplasticity says it’s possible.
Secondly, can you emotionally embrace a future potential before the actual experience so many times that you emotionally condition your body to reflect that new mind by signaling new genes in new ways?
Well, epigenetics says it’s possible.
Once you combine a clear intent with an elevated emotion, your brain and body start to change before the actual experience happened, so you are ahead of your time.
Your Body’s Resistance
However, your body will still crave the old emotions that gave your old self a sense of identity.
It will be addicted to the old thoughts and the chemicals that gave reaffirmed your identity, even if they were negative ones.
And to make sure you stay in your familiar old self, while you do your visualization it will send you all kinds of excuses in the form of distracting thoughts, self-doubt, bodily signals like not feeling like it, feeling sick, needing to go to the toilet and so on.
The key is that your old biological self, made up of all the addiction to negative ways of thinking and feeling, has to “die”.
The mind has to become the master and stop firing the same old thoughts and emotions.
Just like when a rider tames a wild horse, he has to become the master, teach the horse his will, until it trusts him and they can work in unity.
The same is true for our body and mind. The old self has to be replaced by a new self, that is in line with your new mind.
For the visualization meditation when you combine your clear intention with an elevated emotion, this means that you keep the body down in meditation until you truly reach an elevated state, like joy and gratitude.
You cannot get up as the same person. You have to become someone else.
The key is to maintain that state independent of the environment and independent of your body’s addictions.
By that, it denies the body the old negative chemicals of guilt, shame, anger, judgment etc, and breaks the addiction.
And since where you place your attention, is where you place your energy, you draw energy from the old self, remove attention from it and place it on a new self.
You remind yourself regularly who you want to be and who you no longer want to be and how that should be reflected in your behavior.
You start living in a new self in the future, instead of the familiar old self.
This is where your actions are equal to your thoughts, your mind and body work together. This is true congruence.
Just as Gandhi said:“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
This is how you change your personality and move into a new future.
This wraps up the second part of the series “On Changing Your Personality And Moving Into A New Future”.
Head over to the third part, which show the actual science behind this process.
See you there,
KilianPS: What emotions and thought patterns are currently holding you back?