Medicating off the placebo

Medicating off the placebo

If you want to instantly feel better, step into a hospital. The placebo works every time.

Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Hospitals can make the healthy feel a bit ill.

Does anyone like hanging out in hospitals?

Placebo is a mere expectation. It helps only because we think it helps. But that psychological boon could be the difference in making things better or worse. Brain modulation is pain modulation.

It turns that out managing your own internal wiring whether through expectation, habits, or lucky charms may just be the oldest medicine in the world.

Read The Placebo Effect’s Role in Healing, Explained


The sharing virus

The biggest threat to a virus is its own exhaustion. It wants to be said, repeated, and spread until it cements into a meme.

Words, ideas, and apps are all types of viruses. Pretty much anything that spreads. Most are benign of course but perhaps none is more pervasive and self-inflicted than the sickness of self-promotion.

The social media age is plagued with envy, where everyone tries to one-up each other with their next best post. The cycle of jealousy shatters reality into shards of half-truths.

The sharing virus constricts people to a 1080 x 1080 square. Meanwhile, portrait mode constrains satisfaction. Spiraling into overextension, overworked trends and habits start to leak.

We like to think we’re dabbling in the next niche before the entire market even knows it.

How complaining affects the brain

anxiety-changes-brain.jpg
The positive brain versus the negative brain

“Don’t whine, don’t complain, don’t make excuses, just do the best you can do,” said UCLA coach John Wooden.

It turns out coach was on to something.

Recent studies show that complaining every day changes the structure of the brain.

Harmful behaviors such as complaining, if allowed to loop within the brain continually, will inevitably alter thought processes. Altered thoughts lead to altered beliefs which leads to a change in behavior.

Our brain possesses a something called the negativity bias. In simple terms, negativity bias is the brain’s tendency to focus more on negative circumstances than positive.

Dr. Rick Hanson, a neuroscientist and author of Buddha’s Brain, explains negativity bias:

“Negative stimuli produce more neural activity than do equally intensive positive ones. They are also perceived more easily and quickly.”

Fortunately, the brain is plastic, which means it can allow more positive emotions to work alongside more negative ones. Writes Alex Korb, author of The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time:

“In depression, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the brain. It’s simply that the particular tuning of neural circuits creates the tendency toward a pattern of depression. It has to do with the way the brain deals with stress, planning, habits, decision making and a dozen other things — the dynamic interaction of all those circuits. And once a pattern starts to form, it causes dozens of tiny changes throughout the brain that create a downward spiral.”

Your hopes and fears may be in your genes, but that doesn’t spell doom. One of the most practical things we can do to counter negative thinking is practicing meditation. “Neurons that fire together, wire together,” said neuroplasticity pioneer Donald Hebb. 

If forcing positive thinking feels inauthentic, try watching your thoughts instead. Being a neutral observer will help you rise above the whole notion of emotional sidedness. As with any self-improvement mechanism, daily practice and momentum is the key to long-term success.

When sharing is not so self-caring

Social media is a world where everyone tries to out self-promote each other and in doing so, stretch their lives further from reality.

Even the destinations — whether it be a restaurant, hotel resort, or kayaking trip — want to make their experiences more Instagrammable.

Sharing has commoditized life, turning us into an avalanche of rotating ads, blurring the lines between paid and organic. Every post is an ad in some way, shape, or form. Like TV, we start to develop an imaginary relationship with those on screen, doubtful we’d ever met in real life.

The blizzard of images droughts perception with seeing. We feel envious of those in our feed before we know why we may feel so. The contagion of jealousy spreads like a virus. The upshot is a homogenization of lives and content.

We all want what we don’t have. Social media generates a false narrative of unnecessary desire. Instagrams are just pictures on a wall, temporarily surfing over the hopes and fears in our genes. It feels good lying stuck in the ludic loop.

But irreality is ephemeral. The long-term narrative eventually wakes us up to the fact that we’re barking up the wrong tree. Life is here and now, attracting itself and trying to love you back.

What holds attention determines distraction

Even checked distractions will lead you to distraction. What holds attention determines distraction

This very day I have been repeating over and over to myself a verbal jingle whose mawkish silliness was the secret of its haunting power. I loathed yet could not banish it. 

What holds attention determines action.

William James, The Principles of Psychology

Was it a rhyme or a sick joke that got in the thinker’s way? What do you think James was referring to?

Fast forward to modern day distraction

The courage to believe

If you don’t believe in yourself, who will?

Faith drives action. Faith drives results. Without faith, nothing works.

Indifference and pessimism are attractive because they’re the easiest to obtain, the most accessible to deploy and practice.

“Ask yourself this: would your childhood self be proud of you, or embarrassed?” — Julien Smith, The Flinch

Pursuing the good stuff requires work that’s never easy. The game of goal-setting aks for obstacles. But that’s where excitement and expectation push you forward.

Beliefs are mere guesses

Wouldn’t you prefer to cultivate courage and confidence rather than cowardice and negativity? Never blind to outcome, but never sold on the end-game of hurdles either.

Always remember that where your attention goes, your energy flows. — Kevin Horsley, Unlimited Memory

Appreciate the grind. Remaining perpetually interested should become part of your mind.

Until belief exists, action has not really begun.

Making better decisions / Better decision making

Indecision is still a decision.

Illustration by Tom Gauld

The script, the story

How many of us are just acting our way through life, adapting to different settings like chameleons?

Situational elasticity lends its hand to the collaborative truth, that people inject each other with signaling serum. We try to demonstrate to others ‘this is who I am and this what I do.’

All life is a stage, not just the internet, with many reaping the psychological benefits of expectation, even children. Studies show that pretending to be Batman helps kids persevere.

We should follow the route that builds up the most confidence. We just can’t expect a return on a relationship should we switch off and reside to impulsiveness.

The edited self is known to slip.

Hooked on artifice and spin

Twitter’s removal of millions of fake accounts reminds us that not everything is what it seems. The internet is full of bots, replicating humans, even programmed to act more human than the humans themselves.

We too are conscious automata, no more authentic than the droids themselves. People are just savvy editors. We present our best selves online to increase our self-worth make other people envious.

Artifice defeats authenticity in all chess matches of the irreality we crave.

Yet, the push to be at our best could be the resolution to our proposed mediocrity. Why shoot ourselves down when a quasi-celebrity lifestyle sits at our fingertips.

Fame happens to the mobile holder. Stuck in a ludic loop, we are the host of our own Truman Show. Attention captured, republished, and released. We’re neither superior to bots nor are we consciously behind.

The happiness curve

Behavioral economists explain why the mid-life crisis is only temporary. Happiness increases with old age.

“Life satisfaction tends to decline gradually after early adulthood, bottom out in middle age [or 40s], then gradually rebound after.”

Study: Is well-being U-shaped over the life cycle?

In short, life gets better after 50.

Thinking aloud in chemical synchronicity

When you can think aloud your own thoughts, you will strip the mind of its own disfluency.

The brain’s pen will be mighter than the sword.

“Protect yourself from your own thoughts.” — Rumi

At which point it’s too late.

Identifying what matters

The brain is an empty void. It waits to remember until we give things meaning. Otherwise, it clings to the instincts of the amagdyla for its main sensory perception.

Thankfully, our brains are large processors. It knows that survival depends on exchanging information with others. Information is quid pro quo.

But the problem with oral communication is all the selling. Through rhetoric and persuasion, one can rise to have incredible influence. This is, unfortunately, how we got the Kardashians. We make stupid people famous.

Modern life narrows down our perceptions. Praising others, let alone mimicking them, makes us blind to our own self-worth.

The thrill of knowing is internal. It reminds us that we are more interesting than the role society gives us. Nothing means anything if we can’t float with nature and find the question.

Rest and reflect to success

buzzfeed canada animation GIF by Rebecca Hendin

As digital technology colonizes our mind, self-reflection will become ever more important.

But not just any reflection. Reflection in terms of boredom, gratitude, and mental processing.

Blogging = Therapy 👇

Boredom

No one ever died sitting and doing nothing or staring out into space. These are precious moments where the mind has no choice but to wander, to dance with fear, and to play with ephemeral thoughts. You don’t need another splash of smartphone dopamine, you need to relax.

Gratitude

Lifehacker Tim Ferriss writes in his gratitude journal every morning. The simple technique may also do wonders for you, a gentle reminder that life depends on others. Remove the ego.

Processing

Reflection also comes in the form of deliberate processing. If you want to remember more, you can try two things. One, you can teach something to yourself as you would a child.

A lot of people tend to use complicated vocabulary and jargon to mask when they don’t understand something. The problem is we only fool ourselves because we don’t know that we don’t understand. In addition, using jargon conceals our misunderstanding from those around us.

The other mental processing hack is reducing interference. Give your brain a 10-15 minute rest by sitting in a quiet room and dimmed lights. No phones, no distractions, only effortless brain rest. Reflection comes in many forms, a habit vital to success in today’s fast-paced, screen-obsessed mobile culture.

Managing the amygdala, the fear center of the brain


If humans didn’t have an amygdala — the two tiny almond-shaped nuclei in the temporal lobes of the brain — we wouldn’t have any fear. We wouldn’t know how to process risk, thereby letting us go hug a bear or climb the highest cliff.

But we do feel fear and in most cases, we’re smart enough to run away or not do anything as a survival tactic. The problem becomes though when fear has us running away from the very things we wish to accomplish.

As they say, do something enough and the fear dissipates. The habit of practicing public speaking reduces presentation anxiety. Shooting hoops every day will make you more confident at the free throw line come game time.

The obstacle is the way

Risk-taking helps develop courage which helps engender competence. We shouldn’t ever feel fear, but we should be able to manage its impact.

In doing anything more and more, whether it’s through risk-taking, practice, or visualization, we can dull the senses. We can take things on without thinking about them or second-guessing ourselves.