Before Therapy: Hack Your Mind to Heal, Succeed

Uploaded 4/24/2024, approx. 24 minute read

The human mind is the most complex object in the entire universe.

It is a supercomputer.

It's a device that is wondrous and miraculous and amazing and unfortunately largely unexplored.

Psychology is supposed to be the user's manual of the mind, but it is far from it.

And the self-help industry keeps spewing nonsense that is at best irrelevant and at worst harmful.

Today I'm going to teach you 20 odd hacks, tips, advice on how to heal and how to succeed in life based on the latest cutting-edge, bleeding-edge research in psychology, especially clinical psychology, but not only.

These are the most recent studies, tests, experiments and theorizing in the field.

Based on these, I extracted 20 plus hacks that you can apply to your mind.

So without further ado, hack your mind into healing and success by Sam Baknin, the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited, a former visiting professor of psychology and currently on the faculty of CEAPs in Cambridge, United Kingdom, Toronto, Canada and the Outreach Program, let us not forget, in Lagos, Nigeria.

Now, as I said, the mind is a tool.

It's an instrument, but it's a very peculiar instrument because we tend to merge with it, to identify with it.

We are the mind. Our mind is us. There's no distinction.

When you're using a smartphone, there's you and there's a smartphone, unless you're seriously disturbed mentally.

But when you're using your mind, your mind is you and you are your mind.

It's a kind of recursive, self-referential loop that complicates matters considerably.

Hack number one, memory.

We have this image of memory as a library with numerous volumes on shelves.

And when we want to recall something, when we want to remember something, we go to the appropriate shelf, organized chronologically, and we take out the relevant volume and we open it and presto, we remember.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

We do not remember anything, actually. The only thing we do remember is the very act of remembering.

We remember that we remembered.

When you recall an early memory, you are not reaching back in time. What you're remembering is the last time that you have remembered that moment.

And even that this process is multifaced.

The first thing that comes to mind, so to speak, the first things you recall are your emotions, your effects, your reactions to the events. Not the memory of what had happened, but how you reacted emotionally, cognitively, and otherwise, the recall of the last time you have remembered this, etc., etc.

You can never actually remember any fact, any event, any person, nothing. You remember yourself in these environments, in these situations, in these circumstances.

Every time you attempt to remember something, it changes a little bit. Over time, you become unable to tell the difference between confabulation, your own concoction or invention, and what had really happened.

So memory is constructed on the fly each and every time, and each and every time, it's not the same. It's never the same.

Now this is very important as a hack. Why?

Because if you realize that your memories are not real, they are not true. If you understand, if you comprehend that your memories are not about events out there, not about people in your life, not about anything but yourself, if you grasp that memories are about you, your position, at a specific time, in a specific place, with specific people, how you reacted emotionally, cognitively, and otherwise, the recall of the last time you have remembered this, etc., if you understand that it all revolves around you, you will endow memories with much less power.

We tend to re-traumatize ourselves time and again, whenever we remember something really bad, really hurtful, really tragic.

But if we were to understand that we are the ones who generate memories, as I said, on the fly, improvise memories as we go along, if we were to grasp that we are the masters, the masters of our own memories, that would reduce trauma dramatically.

It's a kind of anti-trauma therapy, self-administered therapy.

Give your memories much less weight. Do not bestow upon them some kind of omnipotence. Don't make your memories all powerful. Don't regard your memories as objective, or as divine, or as overpowering, or overwhelming, or just realize that your memories are pieces of fiction that you keep writing and rewriting throughout your life, like a short story.

And then you will have gained proportion and perspective, and you will have understood that memories are there to remind you of your emotions at a given moment, of other people and how they triggered you in this way or that way. They're just reminders, the notes, the annotations to your life. Memories are not your life.

Disempower your memories.

By the way, a fun fact, as an aside, in 1980s, psychologists discovered that we remember almost all objects, physical objects and people, from what is known as the canonical perspective, from the side and slightly above. This is known as the canonical perspective.

So even when you recall or remember a physical object, a glass, a bottle, or a person who is also a physical object, of course, besides other things, you always remember them from the side and from above.

Try drawing a cup. You're much more likely to draw a cup from the side, but just high enough to see inside the top rim.

Try it at home.

Okay, that's an example of how memory, what we call memory, is very far from scientifically neutral and objective. It's just an imposition of internal constraints of the mind, emotions and cognitions on vaguely recalled external stimuli.

And that's a great definition of memory.

Okay, next.

When you're being socially rejected, you feel really, really bad. This could be excruciating. You feel as though you've been punched in the stomach. A breakup, a romantic breakup, for example, is intolerable. It's possibly one of the worst hurtful, painful experiences imaginable.

But what is that? Are you being oversensitive, perhaps?

The answer is that you're not. Your brain does not distinguish between social rejection and physical assault. Your brain interprets rejection, breakup, abandonment, humiliation, public humiliation, and so on. Your brain interprets all these experiences as having been assaulted physically, and it is your body that reacts. Your brains actually process emotional and physical pain identically in the same centers and with the same type of activity, releasing the same chemicals and activating the same blood flows and so on. This has been proven in numerous functional magnetic resonance imaging experiments and so on.

So why is this important?

What kind of hack or tool does it provide?

Control your body. Use your body to mitigate and ameliorate rejection, abandonment and jubilation. Exercise. Force your body to confront the pain and to quench it and to eliminate it and to vanquish it. Don't try to kind of leverage your mind to cope with rejection and abandonment. Do it via your body.

Indeed, many trauma therapies make use of the body. There's a famous book by Van der Kolk, "The Body Keeps the Score." Trauma is embedded in the sense that it implants itself or installs itself in various systems of the body, and you can use the body to undo it.

And this is a very important insight. When you have been dumped, when you have been ignored, when you have been mocked or ridiculed, when you have been rejected, when you have been abandoned, all this has to do much more with your body than with your mind. Your brain misinterprets these events as bodily interactions, as assaults on the body.

Therefore, the best way to undo all this, to counter all this, to reverse all these processes is via the body.

Next tip, next hack, it would sound very counterintuitive, and bizarre. Many of us have problems to think rationally, to make better decisions, to be analytical. Most people, I would say, are not very well versed or well skilled in doing these things. They confuse emotions with decision making, so they engage in something called emotional thinking. Their choices are irrational, motivated by fear, by biases, by cognitive distortions.

In short, we are not rational creatures. This has been a discovery in the economic sciences, and a few people have won the Nobel Prize for having realized that people don't act rationally in a reasoned manner when they use money.

The same applies to every other field of life. We are irrational agents, irrational actors, irrational players, and we make bad decisions, and erroneous wrong choices, and that includes, for example, mate selection choices, which use the wrong mates, and so on and so forth.

Here's a trick, here's a hack for you. When you are trying to make a decision, when you are trying to decide between choices and alternatives, when you're not sure about something, when you need to be analytical and rational and dispassionate, and unemotional, think in another language. Don't use your mother language when you analyze situations and people and circumstances. Avoid your mother tongue when you're trying to make decisions, because thinking in a foreign language, thinking in a second language, or a third or a fourth, forces you to be unemotional, forces you to think rationally, forces you to reason neutrally and objectively.

And I know how bizarre, shocking, and counterintuitive these sounds. Perhaps the reason is that our mother tongue has to do with mother. In other words, it is imbued with emotional residues or artifacts or recollections. We acquire our first language from mother and father, but especially from mother. And so it comes with a baggage of emotions and defense mechanisms, such as splitting and projection, and so on and so forth.

Our first language accesses the unconscious, while second, third, and fourth languages access the rational executive systematic analytical side of our mind. Using an unnatural language basically forces you to think harder and more critically about whatever it is that you are discussing. If you could actually make decisions based on some algorithm or some programming language or some symbolic system that you develop, this would be the best.

But absent this, simply use another language. I, my first language, my mother tongue, was Hebrew. Then I learned Arabic, then I learned French. English is my fourth language, actually. Whenever I have to make decisions, choices plump out for some alternative, decide, form an opinion about a proposition or a person and so on and so forth. I do my best to do it in English, to use English, not Hebrew.

And I found myself thinking in Hebrew, my first mother tongue, thinking in Hebrew when I'm immersed or involved in emotional situations. And this usually ends badly.

Next is the stunning Kruger effect. Intelligent people rarely boast about being smart. They rarely brag about their IQ, which tells you a lot about me. Whereas less intelligent people overestimate themselves.

So the less intelligent you are, the dumber you are, excuse me for the expression, the more likely you are to believe or to be convinced that you're actually super smart and intelligent.

Let's put it differently. Stupid people don't know that they are stupid. And seriously dumb people think they're geniuses. That's more or less the situation.

And it's known as the stunning Kruger effect after the two scholars who have unearthed and discovered this phenomenon.

The theory proves the old adage, ignorance is bliss. People who are not aware of how much knowledge they're missing out on will naturally think more highly of themselves.

So here's the hack. Whenever you think that you are in the right, whenever you're telling yourself, wow, I'm super creative, I'm smart, I'm intelligent. Whenever you give yourself compliments within the confines of your own mind, whenever you consider yourself superior to other people, as far as intellect goes and so on and so forth, be very careful because that's a powerful, strong indication that you're exactly the opposite, that you may be getting things wrong, that your analytical skills in this particular case are deficient, that your reasoning is lacking and that you're not being visibly or discernibly wise or intelligent in this situation.

The Downing Kruger effect is a warning. The more highly you think of yourself, the more careful you need to be because this is a cognitive distortion known as grandiosity.

You're perceiving reality wrongly in order to inflate a fantastic self-image that is counterfactual.

So be careful. People could take advantage of this. This kind of approach renders you gullible.

If you think you're super smart and no one can pull the wool over your eyes, you become vulnerable to con artists, to scammers and to exploitation more generally.

So beware.

Next hack, music. When I listen to music, almost any kind of music, I become very sad, very, very down and blue and you know, and that's one of the reasons I try to avoid listening to music as much as I can, although I'm an aficionado and I'm a fan of some types of music. But it makes me feel so bad and so depressed and so down that I'd rather not.

Music can lift your mood, music can lower you. The type of music you listen to actually has a much more significant impact on how you process information.

This is a phenomenon in psychology known as perceptual expectation. When you hear something in your ears, your brain expects to see something similar through your eyes. Your brain coordinates audio with video, audio with visuals.

So when there's audio input, your brain fully expects a visual input. And so your brain sometimes misleads you into believing that you're exposed to this visual input, even when it is absent.

Information processing in the brain is massively affected by music to the extent that brain waves get synchronized in a rock band or a jazz band. The players in the band synchronize their brain waves in accordance with the music.

This is a phenomenon known as entraining. And so be careful when you listen to music.

Make time for listening to music that does not involve decision making, analysis, absorption of data or information from the environment and so on, because the music will distort all these, will affect all these.

In a 2001 study, participants who were listening to said music, struggled to identify happy faces in photographs. They simply couldn't identify happiness just because they were listening to said music.

When you listen to music, never, ever do it together with another task, especially another task that involves analytic skills and capacities, the need to make decisions and choices and or the need to cope with an environment that poses demands.

In other words, when you need to deploy coping strategies, music is going to hamper all this.

Music is going to distort your reality testing, affect your mood, render it lay by in many cases and definitely alter your decisions and cognitions in ways which are not good for you.

Music should be therefore a solitary activity, not in conjunction with anything else, not a part of multitasking.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of people, especially younger people, listen to music all day long, all the time they have airports, earphones and other ear gadgets and they are surrounded ambiently with music everywhere they go and this is affecting of course the capacity to process information from the environment accurately and to reach the right decisions.

A jump to this is singing. Singing reduces anxiety, singing out loud reduces not only anxiety, it's not only axiolitic, it's anti-depressant, it reduces depression and this has nothing to do with how good a singer you are, even the worst singer in the world. Just singing, hearing your own voice probably reduces anxiety and depression by releasing endorphins and oxytocin. Both oxytocin and endorphins relieve stress, improve your mood and make you feel comfortable, egosyntonic while keeping heart rate and cortisone levels, the stress hormone at bay.

So singing is a great way to reduce anxiety and depression.

Unfortunately, when you are anxious and depressed the last thing on your mind is to sing but you should force yourself to do this, you will see the outcomes almost instantaneously.

Now people who sing are positive people, we like them. What about negative people like me? Where do I fit in? I also deserve some attention and compassion and whatever.

So am I responsible for being a negative nasty mean S-O-B?

I'm not quite sure. Actually, science says that I'm not, gets me off the hook which is the way I like it. Science says that negativity is in the genes, negativism, a negative attitude to life, to reality and to the future through catastrophizing. These are all in the genes, they're hereditary.

Grumpiness is not a choice, it's an expression of a genetic code.

If you are traculent, this, you can't help it. A curmudgeon is there by nature. A 2013 study found out that some people are genetically predisposed to negative thoughts.

There used to be a personality disorder, negativistic personality disorder, also known as passive-aggressive personality disorder.

These people seem to have a hereditary component, they automatically react with stronger negative emotions to external stimuli and cues.

Negativity is a precursor to anxiety.

So could we link the two?

Could we say that anxiety is also genetic? It doesn't look this way.

In the last 15 years, anxiety has exploded all over the world, especially among the young. So it doesn't seem to be fully grounded in a genetic component or in heredity.

A study made 15 years ago found that the average high school student was as anxious as the average psychiatric patient in the 50s. And that was 15 years ago.

Anxiety now among younger people, people under the age of 25, anxiety quantupled almost. That's according to studies by Twenge and Campbell, which in themselves are dated already.

Mental health issues are much more common today than they were 15 years ago. And even 15 years ago, the average high school student was in as bad a mental state as an inmate of a mental asylum in the 50s.

Isn't it terrifying?

Yes, it is.

Issues like anxiety and mood disorders are increasing because we are more and more stressed. The world sucks. Reality is ominous. It's increasingly more important to take care of your mental health much more than your parents did.

And one of the ways to do that is to monitor your anxiety and your depression and use some of the hacks I've just described. All of them very simple, all of them costless, and all of them can be done at home time and again.

Sile cousin.

We hate sarcastic people. That's a proper negativism. People who are sarcastic are perceived as negative people. People whose vibes are wrong. You don't want to be around sarcastic people.

But here's the breaking news. Sarcasm makes you smarter. When you're being sarcastic, you're improving the health of your brain.

Now sarcasm is insulting. Sarcasm is humiliating. Sarcasm is everything. I could say antisocial. You can weaponize sarcasm and really hurt people. But at the same time, you're improving the health of your brain.

And it's a major common sign of high intelligence. Intelligent people are sarcastic. Me, for example.

And it improves the health of the brain.

Sarcasm requires you to instantly understand, instantly grasp tone, meaning, perspective, context, history, and then spin all of these simultaneously to generate humor, something funny.

Sarcastic people are quick-witted, they're creative and they're good at understanding abstract concepts.

Sarcasm renders you unlikable. It is a part of the personality trait known as disagreeableness.

But sarcastic people in studies have excelled in thinking outside the box. They're very creative, they're iconoclastic, they're unusual, they're non-traditional. And perhaps this compensates in some ways for their antisocial, in-your-face, defined, hurtful attitude. Who knows?

Now here's the hack of all hacks. Sunlight. Filling down, depressed, expose yourself to sunlight.

Now we have no studies that demonstrate whether artificial lighting sources which simulate sunlight have the same effect. No one bothered to check this, shockingly. But sunlight itself, the natural thing, the original McCoy, works.

After you've been inside all day, you are likely to be more down, more blue and more depressed. And that has little to do with how much you like your job. That's what studies show. It seems the problem is a lack of sunlight.

A lack of sunlight disrupts the mood and promotes depression. And we even have a name for that. It's called seasonal affective disorder or SAD.

Some people, not all people, but some people, react with depression to a lack of sunlight during winter. Seasonal affective, SAD, seasonal affective disorder or seasonal affective depression, that's common in winter especially.

Sunlight has been proven to prevent actually mood disorders like depression. It seems that it, this is mediated via vitamin D. You know that sunlight creates vitamin D, helps to create vitamin D inside the body through the skin. Our body is a huge laboratory and one of the processes is the generation of vitamin D under exposure to sunlight. It's very reminiscent of photosynthesis in green leaves, in plants.

Anyhow, we create vitamin D and it seems that vitamin D is a mood stabilizer and releases pressure hormones in the brain. So treat yourself, consider yourself to be a plant, just a plant, a healthy house plant if you wish. As you would give your house plant plants nutrition and water and sunlight, give them to yourself. All you need is 10 minutes.

Studies have shown that a 10 minute exposure to sunlight prevents depression. How cheap is this? Much cheaper and much more efficacious merit than antidepressants. Up to antidepressants and hormones and everything, dopamine.

Many people believe that repetitive addictive behaviors, for example, staring constantly at screens like the screen of your smartphone. Pornography, even substance abuse. Many people believe that they are mediated via the pleasure effects of dopamine.

Social media, texting, sexting. All this is pleasure and the pleasure is a name we give, a word we use to describe dopamine release in the dopaminergic pathway in the brain. Dopamine also controls desire. It tells you when you want something and compels you to get it.

And this creates addiction. The longer you let it go on, the harder it is to break.

So there is a lot to vouch for, a lot to say for self-denial. We have these traditions, especially in various religions of self-denial, monks and nuns, and self-flagellation and hair shirts. And you know, self-denial is very important because it breaks the pleasure cycle. The pleasure cycle in the brain, more precisely, the dopamine cycle, which includes pleasure and desire. The dopamine cycle in the brain is self-enhancing, self-reinforcing. It's like developing tolerance to alcohol or to a drug. You need more and more of it to feel the same. You need, you must break this cycle.

The only way to break this cycle is to deny things to yourself, to dedicate a few minutes a day, and that's all you need, to not please yourself, to not engage in addictive activities, to deny yourself that which causes you pleasure and that which you crave and desire.

That can, it includes everything, sex, alcohol, social media, smartphone usage, television, video games, you name it. You need to break the cycle.

If you do this three, four times a day, ten minutes each time, the dopamine cycle will reverse, reverse itself, and you will have regained control over your actions and over the reactions to your actions.

Sleep is a highly, highly fine-tuned activity. If you sleep too little, you're cranky, you dysfunction not only mentally but also physiologically, and you're liable to develop very, very nasty diseases such as diabetes too or even have a stroke.

It's bad to under-sleep.

If you over-sleep, however, these are the same outcomes. Under-sleeping and over-sleeping are identical as far as the etiology of dysfunctions and disorders and diseases.

If you sleep 10, 11 hours a day, you would still feel that you need more.

Sleeping too much is as detrimental as not getting enough sleep. There is a sweet sleep spot either direction. Either direction throws off the circadian biological clock and you wake up foggy and fatigued and your body and mind dysfunction.

If need be, wake yourself with an alarm clock.

Never exceed eight hours. If you suffer from insomnia, treat it. Treat it somehow. First, find out the underlying physiological problems. Maybe you have sleep apnea. Maybe you have some other condition that causes you to not sleep well. Even diabetes too, which is very common nowadays, disrupts sleep.

There's a high of glucose in the blood starting around 3 a.m. and so on. So, investigate the underlying physiological medical problems. Having dispensed with this, and if your body is perfectly functioning and so on and so forth, proceed to the next stage.

If you're suffering from insomnia, you may wish to consult an insomnia CBT practitioner, insomnia cognitive behavior therapy practitioner. Invest in your sleep. Make sure that you end up having seven to eight good hours of sleep. You need to transition through the deep sleep phase.

If you don't, if your dreaming is disrupted, other activities, REM sleep and so on, this is bad for you.

Sleep is an lack of sleep or sleeping too much. Is life threatening? Do not underestimate this problem.

Now, we all faced with the limited resources known as time. We can buy anything. We can buy cars, we can buy smartphones, we can have laptops. You can't buy a single second beyond the time allotted to you on this earth. Buy someone.

I have no idea. But you can't buy time.

So, some people are trying shortcuts, get rich quick scams and schemes and other nonsense.

One of these is reading faster or fast reading. Publishers at the time figured out that people like shorter lines and were more likely to keep reading if the lines were shorter. So, they started to format newspapers and even books in columns, columns of 30 to 50 characters.

But this was wrong. It was not based on any research or study.

One of the biggest misinterpretations of people's preferences for the length of lines, short or long, is that we read them faster. The shorter they are, the faster they are to read. But the truth is exactly the opposite.

Psychologists discovered recently that short lines make us read more slowly. Lines of 100 characters are the ideal.

So, if you want to read fasteron books. Focus on books because the majority of websites, not to mention newspapers, these antiquated dinosaur age media, they still use the nonsensical and counterfactual belief in typesetting that 30 to 50 characters are the maximum.

And that slows down not only your reading, but your comprehension deteriorates.

Okay, that's just a fun fact. Back to depression and anxiety and other fun facts.

Yes. When you're in a bad mood, did you notice that your body reacts also? You're much more likely to have aches, headache, other aches, back pain when you're in a bad mood. You're much more likely to develop inflammation. You're much more likely to catch a cold.

Is this just your imagination? No, actually, it's not. These are facts and they're not a coincidence. Bodies and minds are tied together. When you feel bad mentally, this can actually make you unwell physically.

Don't underestimate your mental health. Treat your mind first. Your body will follow. If, on the other hand, the main symptoms are bodily, treat your body, your mind will follow.

Don't worry about your mind. Most of the things we medicate for, depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, I mean, most of them are easily treatable with the hacks that I mentioned and with other hacks.

Easily. And these treatments, self-administered treatments, self-therapy, are as efficacious as any medication. So try to cope with problems and so on by trusting yourself, by developing self-love, self-acceptance, self-conviction. Just trust yourself to be your best friend and then consult this new best friend, you, and try.

Only if you keep failing and it's a systemic failure, long-term failure, it begins to affect your functioning and your relationships. By all means, address yourself to a mental health practitioner and seek help. But there's so much more you can do before.

So don't just immediately jump to therapy. In some cases, it's a really, really bad idea. For example, in the wake of an abusive relationship, you need to do some work on yourself before you go to therapy. It's a serious mistake to immediately go to therapy because you get trapped in a cycle that is never broken. I encourage you to hack your mind for healing and for success.

The resources you need are all inside.

What do you think a therapist does? He uses these resources. He uncovers them. He discovers them and he uses them. Therapists doesn't bring anything new to the table except the knowledge of how your mind is structured if he's a good therapist.

And this is a kind of knowledge that you already possess intuitively. Make use of it.

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