Research Blog

Strategies For Happiness

One of the assignments I like to give to people is to ask them to write down what they think they need to have or do in order to be happy. I tell them to write down their answer and then tear it up.

Even though it appears no one saw their answer, this is the most intimate sharing they will ever do. Whatever the person wrote down is going to be seen by their unconscious brain and if what they wrote is not consistent with their actions, then it is possible for the person to immediately become depressed.

For example, if a person says all they need to be happy is satisfaction with what they have, yet all of their actions are focused on making more money, the unconscious brain can confront the person by taking all their energy.

As it turns out, I don't even need to see what they wrote because there are only four possible answers and each corresponds to a different thought process. When it comes to life, every person habituates to one of the four thought processes for happiness.

In order to begin understanding these four thought processes, I use the following story.

A test was done with people using four decks of cards. Two decks had a red back. Two decks had a blue back. The people were told to flip a card from any of the four decks and they won or lost money based on what the card stated.

What they didn’t know was the red decks were filled with cards that had big losses and big wins... and more losing cards than winning. The red decks were dangerous! The blue decks were filled with cards that had small losses and small wins... but more winning cards than losing. The blue decks were safe.

It took 10 draws or flips for people’s unconscious brain to realize the red deck was dangerous.

After 40 flips, people began altering their behavior. They still picked from the red decks, but not as much.

After 80 flips, people consciously stated, "The red decks are dangerous.”

Right there, I’ve just told you everything you will ever need to know about your behavior and the behavior of everyone else. My behavior changes at 40 flips, but I’m not conscious of it until 80 flips…yet everyone else sees my behavior change. When someone tells me my behavior has changed, they are talking to me like I’m at 80 flips, but since I'm at 40 flips I don't understand them and I say, "I don’t see it."

What I’m really saying is, “Rather than listen to you and easily change my behavior, leave me alone and let me do this 40 more times until I see it and then complain about how hard it is to change my behavior.”

Notice, each of us has a 40 flip gap. While our intentions may be good, our behavior changes at 40 before we realize it at 80. I like to ask people, "Do you want to be judged for your intentions or your behavior?" People answer, "My intentions". If they say "my behavior", they are lying. Otherwise, the second someone tells that person they are exhibiting bad behavior, that person needs to NOT bring up their intentions. They can't give a reason for the mistake and they have to immediately agree to be a racist or abuser or bully, etc.

Then I like to ask people, "Do you judge others on their behavior or their intentions?" and that is when everyone puts their head down. Every issue in the world comes from people wanting the benefit of the doubt for their 40 flip gap and not wanting to give others the benefit of the doubt for their 40 flip gap.

Back to the test. Professional gamblers, not addictive gamblers; but people who make a living gambling, took the same test. At 10 flips they were able to consciously say, “The red deck is dangerous.” How do you think they did this? Do you think they got there by thinking, focusing or trying harder? Do you think they got there through more effort? Actually, that approach makes people frustrated and prevents them from ever seeing the behavior in 10 flips!

Do you want to live life at 80 flips or 10 flips?

What is your plan to get from 80 flips to 10 flips?

You may have heard it said we only use 10% of our brain. Actually, we use all of our brain; we only have direct access to 10%, which is our conscious brain. The other 90% of our brain is the unconscious brain.

Our mind/brain model is the "Driver and Car" analogy: I see every person as a Driver in a Car. The Mind of the person is the Driver. The Brain of the person is the Car. Your conscious brain is the 10% of the Car you have direct control over: steering wheel, gas pedal, and brake. Your unconscious brain is the 90% of the Car that runs automatically.

This means your unconscious brain is nine times the size of your conscious brain. The unconscious brain is a supercomputer that will never be replicated with our computers. It will never run down. It will be working perfectly on the day you die. All of our computers are based on replicating the conscious brain... the 10% of our brain that is running down and will, given enough time, eventually fail.

Ultimately, our Car only has four "gears." There are only four thought processes. Psychology has named three of them. We have identified the fourth thought process and it is very similar to what was identified in every chapter except the last chapter of the book "Blink!" by Malcolm Gladwell. Let's look at these four thought processes, and it all begins with the Habituation graph...

Looking at this graph that represents how we experience reality, we see the four thought processes.

The Four Throught Processes

The one day people are fully experiencing reality is the 80 thought process, also known as "self-regulation" by psychologists. This is done by focusing the conscious brain on one thought.

Everything to the left of 80 is the 10 thought process, which we have found does not have an agreed upon name. This is due to your unconscious brain.

When it comes to facts, your unconscious brain is unbeatable, however, it does not know what you are consciously thinking until you say it out loud or write it. Let's see what happens when the unconscious brain is put in charge of behavior...

Before 80 flips, your unconscious brain knows you are doing the wrong thing, but it gives you room until you recognize it. At 80 flips, you state it out loud and your unconscious knows you are aware of it. Now, everything depends on the 81st flip...

When you choose to do the behavior after your unconscious knows you are aware of it, your unconscious concludes you want to do the behavior... and it does everything in its power to make you want to do it. It makes you feel miserable when you don't do the behavior. It only allows you to feel settled when you do the behavior. This is the slope to the right, which is called "regulation" by psychologists.

We call this "160" because if you think you are going to effort your way back to control by using the 10% of your brain to overcome the 90% of your brain, it’s going to feel like you are at 160 flips and need to do the new behavior 80 times to get back in control... all the while feeling drained and miserable.

160 is when your unconscious brain is in charge of your behavior. It is the addictive thought process. This occurs when your brain is drifting at no thoughts or more than one thought.

Is there something you want to do, but can't bring yourself to do it? Like exercising? That's 160.

Is there something you want to stop doing, but can't bring yourself to stop it? Like smoking? That's 160.

Finally, when a person is in 160, they are one external event away from becoming destructive and looking to kill someone else or themselves. We call this 320 and it occurs when the amygdalae are triggered to fight or flight. That is represented by the flat part of the graph and is known as "dysregulation" by psychologists.

What I'm talking about right now is adaptation... where people can be in the moment. 94% of people are living at 160... in an addictive thought process and running automatically. This occurs when people are unable to focus on one thought. One of the proofs they are in this addictive thought process is they don't answer a direct question.

Some small percentage of this 94% are at 320 for 60 to 90 seconds. Being at 320 for any longer is what happens in a panic attack and attempting to stay there would result in the person having a heart attack from all the adrenaline. Likewise, only 1% of people are accessing the 10 thought process at any one time.

This means about 5% of people are at 80... in the conscious brain focused on one thought and able to answer direct questions.

Notice, 15 out of 16 people are at 160. People at 80 want to have direct, focused, intelligent conversations. This means when these people want to have an 80 conversation with the general population, they will fail 15 out of 16 times.

We have identified four thought processes. However, this information tells us there are two scales on which our thought process can be identified.

The first scale is adaptation. Everyone is able to experience any of the four thought processes in the short term. In fact, there are no "zero events" to the brain, so every two seconds your thought process is moving to the right (unhealthy) or the left (healthy) on the graph whether you want it to or not.

The second scale is habituation. Everyone has habituated to one of the four thought processes for happiness. Each of us considers one of the four thought processes as our goal in life and we rewire our brain accordingly.

Happiness is chemicals being released by the brain. Everyone would say they are "happy" because the chemicals they get in their habituated state are more pleasant than the rest of their life. Let's look at each...

A person who has habituated to 320 Dysregulation can only feel good when they are controlling and tearing others down. They are in continual distress thinking about their life. The only way to avoid the constant fear is to get their brain to release chemicals that don't allow them to think. Adrenaline is released when they act in a destructive manner and this feels better than the constant dread they are feeling. So, they would call this situation "happiness". People who answer the assignment by saying they would be happy if something bad happened to another person (enemy) or group of people (competition) have habituated to 320 for happiness.

A person who has habituated to 160 Regulation can only feel good when they are avoiding tension and only trying to get a release. All confrontation and tension causes them pain. The only way to avoid pain is for their brain to release chemicals that don't allow them to feel pain. Endorphin is released when they isolate themselves and avoid tension. They would call this situation "happiness". People who answer the assignment by saying they would be happy if they won the lottery or sat on a beach every day for the rest of their life drinking mai-tai's have habituated to 160 for happiness. For a lot of people this is "retirement"... trying to be not unprofitable.

A person who has habituated to 80 Self-Regulation can only feel good when they are looking for tension. These people focus on exerting effort towards a difficult (profitable) achievement, which releases the tension chemical dopamine. People who answer the assignment by saying they would be happy if they won an award, got a promotion, or acquired a degree have habituated to 80 for happiness.

Notice, when they accomplish the task, their brain releases endorphin to deal with the pain. This result is what most people actually think of as true happiness because of our view of life. Here is the view of life graph:

View of Life Diagram

There are only three options: hating life at 320, working to stay out of the 320 pit at 160, and on top of the mountain at 80.

What is wrong with habituating to 80?

First, the only way to feel happiness at 80 again is to intentionally effort towards an even higher achievement. This is going to result in more pain, which is why these people's motto is "No pain, no gain". In fact, people who habituate to 80 desire the pain more than the achievement itself. Why? Because the feeling behind the accomplishment quickly disappears.

Second, the real reason people habituate to 80 is guilt. When these people are bored they realize how few people ever get to feel a sense of accomplishment and they begin to feel guilty. The only way to avoid the guilt is for them to feel pain. The chemicals released when they are tense cause them to feel energized and alive which is better than being bored and guilty.

Finally, there is a limit to the number of times each person can go up the mountain. Notice, if a person goes from obscurity to enormous fame, the size of that mountain will most likely never be exceeded in their lifetime... like reality tv stars. This is also why billionaires take on obscure hobbies... to have a completely new mountain to climb.

Unattainable Over Time Diagram

Ultimately, the person can only handle so much pain before they lose energy and seek a release... which is when the person habituates to 160. The only step left for them is to get bored with life and begin getting pleasure in bossing others around... which is when the person habituates to 320.

When I see people declare what will make them happy, my first question is: "For how long?"

This information ought to have proven to you every solution to happiness that is external will only result in preventing the person's ability to be happy in the long term because of habituation. People get used to their solution.

Habituation is the real issue... yet we never seem to hear anyone talk about the solution to overcoming habituation, do we?

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