The common view of human behavior is that thinking causes doing.

In recent years science has discovered this situation to be more of a bi-directional thing. For example, studies show that forcing a smile can lead to greater happiness. Most of you already knew that factoid. And obviously you understand that events in your environment and various sensations in your body can influence your mood and your thinking.

But I'll bet most of you hold the view that for the most part your thoughts lead to actions and that's 95% of the story of you. Lately I've come to the opposing view. I think our actions are the things that matter and our so-called minds are nothing but some executive control and a chemistry experiment.

I've been experimenting in the past year with the idea that I can control my thoughts by what I do with my body. Obviously my mind has to get the ball rolling to make me act in the first place. But instead of acting based on how I feel, I act based on how I WANT to feel. In other words, I use my body to control my future thoughts.

Yeah, yeah, you all do the same thing. I know. But it's a matter of degree. And it's a matter of how you THINK about your choices. A subtle shift in thinking can be a big deal.

For example, when feeling down, many people will curl up with some junk food and watch bad television shows until the feeling passes or some other duty calls. That's an example of letting your mind control your actions.

What I do in that situation is ask myself what is likely to cause a chemical improvement in my brain. Then I do that thing.

An hour ago I was in a funk. These days I recognize that situation as being no more than my brain chemistry being temporarily out of whack. In my younger years I would have cursed the world for serving up so much crappy luck, even if my luck was perfectly normal. Today I went and hit some tennis balls for an hour. Now I feel just fine. My body fixed my brain.

There's a tendency to think of the brain as the decision-making master of your person while the rest of your body is a slave. I see my body as an experience collector and my brain as the central depository of the experiences. When my brain chemistry is out of whack I use my body to collect the types of experiences that will correct the situation.

My observation of other people is that what I am describing (the moist robot view) is far from a universal approach. I think most people feel that their emotions and thoughts are somehow spontaneously generated, almost like magic, thanks to our souls and our free will and other things that aren't real.

The problem with that view of your own mind is that when things go bad you don't have a tool to fix things. Bad moods cause you to do self-destructive things which make your life worse which in turn keeps you in a bad mood. And repeat.

Now when I feel the world has conspired against me with a torrent of bad luck I keep in mind two thoughts that always help.

1. If this is truly a random cluster of bad luck, my luck will surely return to the mean in due time. In other words, the universe owes me big time. No one can be unlucky all the time. It's not an option the universe typically offers. 

2. I'm probably imagining the bad luck, or investing too much emotion in whatever is going wrong. I can reprogram my mind to happier thoughts by manipulating my body. 

So the next time you're not feeling the way you would like, ask yourself what you could do with your body to change your brain chemistry for the better. Then do it. You might be surprised how well it works.


Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of the best graduation gift ever.


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Apr 28, 2014
Because the universe is ransom you assume that in one person's life, good lunch and bad luck will balance out. But there are 7 billion of us on this rock - that's a huge sample. On that bell curve, the vast majority will have an average amount of good and bad luck. But there will be a small percentage of those that have a massively disproportionate volume of bad luck and on the other end a massively disproportionate volume of good luck. After having a run of bad luck, it's entirely reasonable to fear that I might be at the low end of that bell curve.
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Apr 25, 2014
2. I'm probably imagining the bad luck, or investing too much emotion in whatever is going wrong. I can reprogram my mind to happier thoughts by manipulating my body.

or you could just adjust your mind to happier thoughts without any body manipulation. without trying to lie to yourself that that body stuff is just for loosers ;-)
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Apr 25, 2014
" I think most people feel that their emotions and thoughts are somehow spontaneously generated, almost like magic, thanks to our souls and our free will and other things that aren't real... So the next time you're not feeling the way you would like, ask yourself what you could do with your body to change your brain chemistry for the better. Then do it."

I don't have a choice about whether I do it, remember?
Apr 25, 2014
Hey, Scott, here's a fun experiment you can do, next time you go hit balls to make yourself feel better. Keep track of all your bad shots. Keep a running count of all the balls that would have gone into the net, the number that would have gone out long, the number too far left, and too far right. The physical actions will still be the same. Do you feel just as good at the end of the hour?

Of course, you need a control experiment. The following time, only think about your favorite moments in Dilbert history while you are hitting.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 24, 2014
It's a somewhat old theory proposed by social psychologist Daryl Bem [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daryl_Bem]--in the seventies, I believe; and it's true in my experience.

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Apr 24, 2014
Scott: "So the next time you're not feeling the way you would like, ask yourself what you could do with your body to change your brain chemistry for the better."

Stick a joint between its lips?
Apr 24, 2014
Thanks Scott, I'll try that because 1) I DO have bad luck all the time, almost. 2) The universe does owe me big time & 3) It has for a long time.
Apr 24, 2014
One need look no farther than mood-altering pharmaceuticals used to treat psychological disorders (chronic depression, etc.) for proof of this.

If your brain chemistry goes out of whack often enough and it does effect your behavior, then the prudent thing is to try to find a counter-behavior (or prescription drug) that will put it back into whack and allow you to continue your day. For some of us, this kind of thing is rarely an issue, for others it's a daily struggle, and that's just a difference in brain chemistry.
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Apr 24, 2014
It may be obvious but I still think it needs to be stressed that this works only for a somehow healthy brain and insignificant problems and moods. If your brain chemistry is out of order or you have real problems than this alone does not work. A common and often deadly fallacy is to adopt this life coping strategies and apply them to sick people who need real help. It works for you because your brain is biased towards good mood and just at that moment it is distracted. If the premise does not exist than the measure may be not the right one. It may be part of a broader approach though @Kingfisher already wrote about this.

[I am not biased toward happiness. I can't do idle time for that reason. I have to crowd out the childhood memories just to keep the gun out of my mouth. Literally. But to your point, all I'm saying is that if you need a chemical adjustment, go get it. For some that might mean exercise and for others it might mean medical intervention. -- Scott]
Apr 24, 2014
We have a dog that was rescued from a high-kill shelter. She is always in a good mood, so seemingly perpetually grateful, that it is impossible to get in a funk. She won't allow it.
Apr 24, 2014
I can sum up this post in six words: Fake It Til You Make It.
+15 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 23, 2014
I wholly agree: I can't remember a single time when I was feeling too tired to go do something, whether a play, concert, pickup soccer etc, that I didn't feel better having done it.

However, I'd suggest another option: take a nap (or go to bed early). Most people get way too little sleep and that really exacerbates stressful situations.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 23, 2014

>For atheistic misanthropes I'd suggest going with the personal fitness trainer

Damn, I was hoping for something with no yelling and pain.

Apr 23, 2014
What you could I with my body to change my brain chemistry for the better? Open beer. Drink beer.
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 23, 2014
The most useful trick I've ever learned to rapidly improve my mood is to get up and walk into another room. This makes sense - research has shown that, as far as your brain is concerned, walking thru a doorway creates an 'event boundary' in your mind, and everything that was happening before the event boundary is now in the past. (Brains are a little dumb and easily fooled). So, going into a new room has been shown to cause forgetfulness about what you walked into the room for (that's a real thing!), but it makes sense that it can also help rapidly move bad moods or lingering bad thoughts into the 'past' category.

Research link: http://news.nd.edu/news/27476-walking-through-doorways-causes-forgetting-new-research-shows/
Apr 23, 2014
I think I agree overall, but I lean more heavily towards your "moist robot" perspective.

For the most part, our conscious mind is just rationalizing what we do. We have a much higher capability than, say, a dog to understand some of our emotions, motivations, and patterns. But ultimately, most of what we do is some instinctual behavior, or maybe a pattern based on trial and error in the past. Or maybe in the best of people, a pattern that we intentionally worked out in the past.
Apr 23, 2014
As we continue our discussion of pop psychology, I'd like to offer Expectancy Theory (Vroom, 1964). This theory posits that certain actions will lead to certain outcomes, and if the outcomes are desirable, then those actions likely to be repeated. Clearly, Scott has identified a desired outcome and a set of actions that will lead you there.

Now add to that the Power of Suggestion, the belief that cause and effect are related even though there no causal relationship exists. Viola, tennis cures depression (if you think tennis cures depression) every time you're depressed and play tennis.
Apr 23, 2014
This is similar to how Stephen Covey described it in his "Seven Habits" book. He said reactive people use a stimulus/response model -- i.e. something in our environment acts on us and we respond in a way that we were born to or environmentally programmed to.

But he said between stimulus and response man has the ability to choose, which allows us to be proactive. Scott modifies that somewhat to use his choices to create his own stimuli, not just control his response to random ones. Uberproactivity.
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Apr 23, 2014
I agree that mood can be manipulated. I use both exercise and personal work to enhance my outlook. If I'm feeling overwhelmed I might just jump into a short to medium term project with a focus to finish it that same day. Not only does the chore / task / project get done but I feel so much better about life. Exercise does that same thing and it's more than just the post exercise euphoria. It results in a better outlook, like a warm spring day after a long winter.
Apr 23, 2014
I was feeling down today until I found out that Nadia G is coming back with a new show called "Bite This with Nadia G"! Wooo!!
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