The writer Scott Adams says that we are moist robots. We are programmable, like machines. He’s a trained hypnotist, so he’d know.
When I want to program my computer, I use a keyboard. That’s the user interface. Doing things to the keyboard changes what the machine does.
Our minds and moods don’t come with a keyboard attached. But they do have a user interface. The user interface for the mind is the body.
I’m a “head” person. I connect better to what I think than what I feel. I went to a therapist once. She asked “but how do you feel?” I said “I think I’m okay.”
I have a tendency to think through my problems. This can help. I’ve developed some great solutions that have become systems. Those systems changed my life.
But thinking doesn’t help some problems. They can be too stubborn for logic to win through. Sometimes the problem is too much thinking in the first place.
So what if there was a short cut? What if we could give our brains the afternoon off? Imagine if we could go straight to our bodies instead to make changes in our mood.
We can do all sorts of things with our bodies. For starters, we have five senses: touch, smell, taste, sight and sound. Changing how we interact with those senses changes how we feel.
What would you rather listen to? A full blast pneumatic drill for three hours? Or your favourite soothing music? Each sound leads to different moods. In this case, you program your mood with your body by changing what enters your ears.
We can choose to make our bodies rest or be active. Too much of either can lead to different moods. Do you ever get cranky when you don’t sleep? Ever feel uplifted after exercise?
These are all ways we program our moods via our bodies.
One quick warning. Moods can often be messages. So that pain you feel when your hand is in the fire? That helps you. Emotions do too. They are useful things to take note of.
At other times they hang around past their usefulness. Sometimes they are responses we learned in childhood. They were clever survival strategies then, but they don’t serve us now.
These programming hacks are for those times.
Here are 6 moods you might want, and how to program your body to get there – no thinking necessary.
This is the opposite to anxious or angry. Anxious people jitter. Angry people screw their faces up and yell. So physical slowness and quiet are key to becoming calm.
When you need to feel calm, take three long, super deep breaths. Breathe as slow and as deep as you can. Inhale slowly and deeply. Pause and let the air stay in your lungs. Now exhale slowly too. If you need more than three, keep going.
Another tip, if you have longer, is to meditate for ten minutes. Meditation isn’t about clearing your mind so that it is empty. That’s impossible. It is about taking time out and winding down. It’s the human equivalent of switching a computer off and on again. The goal is not to get rid of thoughts, but to simply notice them.
I wish I did this at least once a day. I fell out of the habit. It’s on my list of 1% improvements to get to.
Some people have favourite smells that have a calming effect. Others have favourite music. This tune won a competition for being the most calming. Try that.
Others like to immerse themselves in water, by taking a long bath.
Or you could pet your dog. Or hug someone. That releases oxytocin, which has a calming effect.
Studies show that just changing your stance changes your attitude. Amy Cuddy did a TED talk on it. Watch it here.
Stand like a confident person stands, and you’ll feel more confident. Tip: Wonder Woman has this off to a fine art. Legs apart, hands on hips, head up.
You don’t need to stand like Wonder Woman through an entire social interaction. That would be odd.
But do it during a private moment when about to tackle anything you need confidence for. It will change your confidence levels.
Then keep the good posture and confident chest and breathing. If you look confident, you’ll feel more confident.
Laughing is good too. It converts nervous energy into something that serves you.
Often, before I go on stage to perform a show, I’ll say something to someone nearby that will be an excuse to laugh. It doesn’t even need to be so funny. The point is that I turn my adrenaline into laughter power. I am more confident when I do this.
Picture an energetic person. What are they doing? I’m thinking of someone jogging around the streets or doing some form of exercise.
When you feel lethargic, doing something that uses energy is the last thing that makes sense.
Yet it’s one of the best ways to give yourself energy. Exercise boosts your energy levels. Weird huh? Next time you’re feeling lethargic, try it and see. Burn off some sweat and see the effect.
Another way to help with your energy is to get good sleep. I’m terrible at this. So I know the effect that poor sleep has on my days.
Food too. Eat stodge and you’ll feel stodgy. We’ve all suffered a sugar crash. Eat well and you’ll have energy.
Energy can come from having people and work that boost you rather than drain you. Spending time with some people is like plugging myself straight into the mains. Other people bring negativity which saps my energy. Change the kind of conversation you put into your ears, and your energy levels change too.
Medical note: if low energy levels are a constant for you rather than a momentary thing, check with your doctor.
Did you know that nervousness and excitement are the same thing? Well, not quite, but to your body they are.
Imagine if you’re about to give a talk. Your body can’t tell if you’re nervous or excited. It responds in the same way.
So if you’d rather be excited than nervous, you can trick yourself with ease.
Add some extra symptoms. Do some of the things that an excited person would do. Think of a child who has learned that she’s going to Disneyworld.
Clap, jump up and down, smile, and then (as Jane McGonigal advises) repeat: “I’m excited, get excited!”
Body hacked. Mind tricked. Mood altered.
When I smile I feel happier. Especially if I do it right and crinkle up my eyes.
Try it now. Smile. Then smile with the eyes crinkled up. Something shifts inside, doesn’t it?
Try “smile meditating” when you need to (or even when you don’t). I invented smile meditation. It means smiling for 10 to 20 minutes at a time as you go about your day.
Obviously, pick your times for this. It’s good, say, during car journeys. Inappropriate during funerals.
Another proven way to hack your body for happiness is to dance. You have three things going for you here. First you’re moving. That boosts endorphins. All exercise does. Second, you’re touching other humans more. Third, there’s a good chance you’re smiling.
Take notice of things you see and hear that result in you feeling less happy. Sometimes one of the best body hacks you can make is to edit out stuff. I no longer watch, listen to or read the news. It made me less happy, so I stopped. I can program my moods using my eyes and ears.
I struggle with joy. I do something great and I don’t feel it. I’d like it to come in, but it doesn’t. Old programming. I want to learn how to feel joy.
I even asked Scott Adams how to hack my body to feel joy. But he suggested illegal drugs. Scott is a professional cartoonist so he has a good sense of humour. Or maybe he meant it. I don’t know.
I searched online to learn more about joy, but found very little. So I asked myself what joy looked like.
Happiness looks like a smile. As you know, we can reverse engineer that, meaning we smile and feel happy. Maybe it works the same way with exhilarated joy?
Joy looks the way I look when my team scores the winning goal in a cup final. That’s one of the few times I do feel joy. I jump up and down. I cheer. I punch the air. I thrust my arms into the sky.
So I looked for the effects of doing that. Guess what, it causes us to feel joyful. Even if we’re faking it. As long as we really commit to it. No half measures.
If you want a backup plan, try cold showers. This works for energy too. Some doctors are even prescribing cold swims for people with mild depression.
All Other Moods
Finally, here’s some general advice for accessing any mood not listed. Or for adding ideas for the moods above.
Go through each of your senses: touch, smell, taste, sight and sound. How can you interact with these to hack your emotions?
You might look at a favourite photo, smell some flowers, walk in nature, taste your favourite food, or play your favourite song.
You can do things with your body too. How you breathe, how you move or rest, whether you are quiet or loud, and what activities you choose to do. For instance, singing loud makes me feel good. So does doing work I love.
Another trick is to picture a person in the mood you want access to. Pretend you are a an actor. You have to show that your character has this emotion you want. What would they be doing? Start there.
We don’t always have to “figure stuff out.” We are moist robots. Our brain is the machine. Our bodies are the keyboard that we program it with. Let’s start typing.