Train Your Brain, Cranky Style: Monthly Goal Support Post

Yep it's time to check in and see what everyone's been up to, as well as to find out who won the Airbac Backpack and the Extreme Makeover DVD's.

I also have a few thoughts on strengthening the most important body part you own to ensure maximum healthiness and happiness: your brain.

But this being Cranky Fitness, you can be sure my training suggestions are not going to include the typical crossword puzzles,  foreign language lessons, socializing when you'd rather stay home and sulk, or focusing on your freakin' breath for endless, endless, endless, endless, endless, endless minutes until your ass goes numb and you want to shoot yourself. (Um... speaking of which, anyone wanna know how that whole mediation thing is going? Drop down in the comments).

There are tons of ordinary practical lists on brain strengthening out there already.  This is more a Cranky Fitness style list that is so "meta" as to be virtually useless.

Sound like fun?

Oh and hey, did I mention there's no giveaway this month?  Nothing all that appealing offered itself up, unless something did and I forgot; always a possibility.  My brain training regimen is not, apparently, all that effective on the memory front.

This means we will have a nice refreshing break from sponsored product pimping! At least until the next new fun gadget or apparel item or tasty-sounding comestible comes down the pike that Crabby is too greedy to say no to.

First Up, Who Won the Backpack and the DVD's? 

Kick-Ass Extreme MakeOver DVD's:

Bdaiss and Jody!

The Awesome Airbac Backpack:

Tree Peters!

Congrats you guys, and please email me your mailing addresses so we can get the stuff to you.

Now Back to Your Brains...

So, what is the most important thing you can do to build an awesome brain, according to Crabby McSlacker, who does not quite have one yet but is working on it?

Screw Objective Reality and Create Your Own Happy Universe!

This is a tough one for us over-thinker analytic types.  We like data and logic and strategizing and plotting and scheming.

But you can still do all that!  You just have to switch from an external to an internal focus.

One of the most powerful brain enhancement tools I've discovered is to consistently work on improving my subjective reality rather than worrying so much about what is going on in the actual real world.

Sound nutty? Is it just a road to hell paved with clueless mistakes, selfishness, sloth, and regrets? Maybe, but so far it's just made me twice as happy and half as neurotic. If I end up on a street corner high on something happily babbling away convinced I'm the queen of the universe and the cockroaches are my loyal subjects and the moldy piece of bread I'm eating is the most delicious cupcake ever, is that a bad thing if I'm deliriously happy?  If you asked me that two years ago, I'd have said, of course that's a bad thing, what a dumb-ass question! Now... I'm not so sure at all.

My ultimate goals? They are not really about Things I think I want to have or the Accomplishments I want credit for. I'm actually aiming for the feelings that these Things and Accomplishments would bring: happiness, comfort, satisfaction, love, peace, fulfillment, excitement. Yeah, you've heard all that before, but do you actually believe it? And if so, do you do anything about it?

I finally getting it that I can have all the happiness I want if I create my own reality. Not that I'm always capable of doing that, but I'm getting a lot better.

And whether my subjective reality  is "right" or "wrong" in some larger sense is (a) hard to figure out, and (b) not all that important.

(Plus, the more you read about quantum physics and philosophy, the less convinced you'll become that "objective" reality is anything we have any freakin clue about).

This is not exactly a novel observation. But if you take it to heart, the implications are huge. If we can just control our thoughts and feelings and beliefs, we do not have to look so hard to the outside world to get our needs met. Because we can control what happens inside our heads much more easily than what happens outside of them. (Unless you actually are Queen or President of something and can command the outside world to do your bidding. In that case, whoopeee! Order up a gourmet feast and a personal concert performed by the London Philharmonic and your favorite popstar and have George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, and/or Rachel Maddow fix you a cocktail and give you a backrub. The hell with all this tedious personal growth stuff).

But, as an ordinary person without millions or minions or any influence whatsoever, I try to keep a few things in mind:

It doesn't matter what I actually get done in a day as long as if I feel like I've made a contribution.

It doesn't matter how much of an ass I make of myself if I don't think I've done anything all that dumb.

It doesn't matter if the task I'm working on gets interrupted with an unexpected obstacle because the particular task doesn't matter as long as I feel happy and useful doing it.

It doesn't matter how many people like, love, or admire me if I believe I am cared for.

It doesn't matter if I spill a cup of coffee all over myself just as I am heading out to meet people and have to change to an uglier outfit and apologize for being late if I think it's no big deal and don't feel frustrated or stressed.

It doesn't matter how I choose to be kind and generous if I feel inspired and motivated by my choices and actually do something rather than feel too overwhelmed by all the options.

It doesn't matter how unfairly I am treated in a particular situation if I don't think that unfairness should never happen to me and I still believe I am an incredibly fortunate person.

There are a whole bunch more implications and a lot of practical barriers; I really do intend to write a book on this sometime. Because, seriously, there really aren't enough self-improvement books with foul language and pointless digressions and silly pictures available.

But here are a few things I've learned about how to do this:

1. I take every opportunity to consciously choose how I'd like to feel about whatever situation is at hand. And then I work on changing my thoughts and beliefs to make those emotions more likely. It's kind of amazing how effective this can be if you practice it a lot.

2. I treat my mind like any other body part that needs constant training in order to perform the way I'd like it to.  Reading more about neuroplasticity, and the ways we can actually change the structure of our brains so that they behave more optimally, is a huge motivator in this. (And my BFF Rick Hanson was hugely helpful here).

3. I choose not to worry about things I can't control anymore. I though it was impossible NOT to worry about things, but again, it is something that practice can accomplish. There are many tricks to this. More later, perhaps.

4. I try to practice mindfulness in ways that do not make me want to saw my head off. One of the ways to build up the ability to direct our attention and focus is to... practice it!

While my official meditation experiment is new, it follows a whole bunch of other mini-practices that have been very helpful.  The whole "sit down for an extended period of time and focus on something boring" style of mindfulness is just one of many varieties.

There are other methods that are much more fun and easy. Again, another long-ass post some day.

I have a monkey-mind and a lot more to learn. But my growing ability to know when my thoughts are going in stupid directions and redirect my awareness to more positive places has been hugely helpful.

5. I visualize positive outcomes.  As I lifelong cranky-pants skeptic, this sounded silly. But it's amazingly powerful.  I don't believe in "the Secret" sort of hocus pocus, but there is much to be said for the power of imagination in influencing how we think and feel and behave.

6. I manipulate my brain's "happy" chemicals.  I have found certain practices that make me blissful and I've actually learned to "anchor" them (a weird-ass NLP technique).  If I pump my right arm 3 times, I get a little rush.  Not enough to experience nirvana, but enough to assist when I'm trying to manipulate my mood to a more positive, joyful one.  And yes, it does probably make me look like an ass in some objective reality... but remember, I'm learning to be happily oblivious to that in my own weird little world.

7.  I allow myself hope for the future.  Again, I'm a lifelong pessimist, but I finally figured out that I can still be prepared for disastrous outcomes without constantly expecting them.  I can hope for the best, and not be any more upset if something crappy happens than if I were totally expecting it would. My whole cautious "better set expectations low" approach to the future turned out not to be protecting me from anything at all. Most things DO turn out fine, and even when they don't, I don't sulk about it, I just rally and do what I can to return to a state of happiness.

I have always been incredibly, existentially, fearful of death. So now I even allow myself to be more open to the possibility of a conscious universe, mysterious forms of interconnectedness beyond current understanding, and even the chance that my own puny consciousness may not cease to exist when my body does but might somehow be preserved to become melded with a bigger whole.  Who knows? As it turns out, consciousness has a weird place in the universe, even the smarty pants scientists and philosphers aren't exactly sure what it means and how it all fits in.  I decided that a meaningless random universe is no more a certainty than a meaningful one. And again, why not choose the belief that leads to peace and happiness? There's no downside I can see.  (It also makes it way easier to be on an airplane when turbulence hits).

8. I attend to the outside world in ways that are more consistent with my true goals, not the illusory ones.  Again, this means taking actions that make me subjectively comfortable and happy, not necessarily admirable in the eyes of others.  And I'm discovering my true goals are less and less about ego boosting or shame-avoidance and more about appreciation, nourishment, satisfaction, contribution, and connection.  (And hedonism, there's that!).

What about you guys, do you incorporate an internal focus as well as an external one in setting your sights on the future? And how the heck are things going with your goals and/or lives?

[And, note for any newbies who may have wandered in: the monthly "goal post" encourages Cranketeers to share their quests and accomplishments, and also to reply to other people's comments in a supportive fashion. This sometimes results in prizes but more importantly makes other people feel really good.  Try it!]

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