The common view of human behavior is that thinking causes doing.

In recent years science has discovered this situation to be more of a bi-directional thing. For example, studies show that forcing a smile can lead to greater happiness. Most of you already knew that factoid. And obviously you understand that events in your environment and various sensations in your body can influence your mood and your thinking.

But I'll bet most of you hold the view that for the most part your thoughts lead to actions and that's 95% of the story of you. Lately I've come to the opposing view. I think our actions are the things that matter and our so-called minds are nothing but some executive control and a chemistry experiment.

I've been experimenting in the past year with the idea that I can control my thoughts by what I do with my body. Obviously my mind has to get the ball rolling to make me act in the first place. But instead of acting based on how I feel, I act based on how I WANT to feel. In other words, I use my body to control my future thoughts.

Yeah, yeah, you all do the same thing. I know. But it's a matter of degree. And it's a matter of how you THINK about your choices. A subtle shift in thinking can be a big deal.

For example, when feeling down, many people will curl up with some junk food and watch bad television shows until the feeling passes or some other duty calls. That's an example of letting your mind control your actions.

What I do in that situation is ask myself what is likely to cause a chemical improvement in my brain. Then I do that thing.

An hour ago I was in a funk. These days I recognize that situation as being no more than my brain chemistry being temporarily out of whack. In my younger years I would have cursed the world for serving up so much crappy luck, even if my luck was perfectly normal. Today I went and hit some tennis balls for an hour. Now I feel just fine. My body fixed my brain.

There's a tendency to think of the brain as the decision-making master of your person while the rest of your body is a slave. I see my body as an experience collector and my brain as the central depository of the experiences. When my brain chemistry is out of whack I use my body to collect the types of experiences that will correct the situation.

My observation of other people is that what I am describing (the moist robot view) is far from a universal approach. I think most people feel that their emotions and thoughts are somehow spontaneously generated, almost like magic, thanks to our souls and our free will and other things that aren't real.

The problem with that view of your own mind is that when things go bad you don't have a tool to fix things. Bad moods cause you to do self-destructive things which make your life worse which in turn keeps you in a bad mood. And repeat.

Now when I feel the world has conspired against me with a torrent of bad luck I keep in mind two thoughts that always help.

1. If this is truly a random cluster of bad luck, my luck will surely return to the mean in due time. In other words, the universe owes me big time. No one can be unlucky all the time. It's not an option the universe typically offers. 

2. I'm probably imagining the bad luck, or investing too much emotion in whatever is going wrong. I can reprogram my mind to happier thoughts by manipulating my body. 

So the next time you're not feeling the way you would like, ask yourself what you could do with your body to change your brain chemistry for the better. Then do it. You might be surprised how well it works.


Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of the best graduation gift ever.


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Apr 23, 2014
With billions of people on Earth, probability would suggest that it's entirely possible to be unlucky all the time. Just rare!
Apr 23, 2014
What you're describing sounds a lot like the psychological treatment method called 'behavior modification.' It was first proposed by B. F. Skinner, who called it 'operant conditioning,' in the '30s.

At its most basic, it involves inducing proper behavior through positive and negative reinforcement. But the more advanced application of the technique sounds similar to what Scott is doing.

The advanced behavior modification technique calls upon you to act the way you'd like to feel. Say you're no longer feeling happy (this is a dumb example, but you'll get the idea) with your car. You think it's old, and ugly and you're embarrassed to be seen in it. Yet you realize that feeling that way affects your overall happiness with your life, and you don't want to let that happen.

Behavior modification technique says that you should start acting like you would if your car was the newest, most vibrant automobile on the planet. Wash it, wax it, polish it. Vacuum out the insides and clean the dashboard. Get it serviced and start telling other people what a great car it is. After a while, you will start to feel like it is really the greatest car in the world. You're then happy with it, and your life changes for the better. Yet nothing has changed with your car; your attitude hasbeen changed through your actions.

Scott's method seems a little more indirect than straight behavior modification. It seems to focus on performing some action that makes him feel good, rather than simply acting like he would if he felt better.

Hey, whatever floats his boat is OK with me. His method is a lot better than doing something like taking drugs to change his brain chemistry. More power to him.
Apr 23, 2014
My wife is a children's mental health therapist that is a big proponent of cognitive behaviour therapy. This is the idea that the link between behavior, cognition (conscious thought) and psychology (brain chemistry). Influence each other in both directions. When someone is suffering from a mental illness or injury, you can treat it in three ways - you can tinker with the chemistry with drugs, you can change people's thinking through talking, or you can have them modify their behavior. The most effective treatments - from a cognitive behavior theory - might use all three methods.
The thing to note however, is that cognition-behavior-psychology patterns are self-reinforcing. A person is generally powerless to really change their mind all on their own. An outside agent (a therapist or trainer) is usually required to push things in the right direction, and help the subject get over self-reinforcing habits.
My advice is, if you are unhappy with something in your life, go find another agent who has an interest in helping you and the competence to do so - whether a therapist, a boss, a preacher, or a personal fitness trainer. (For atheistic misanthropes I'd suggest going with the personal fitness trainer).
I do not recommend self-help books (no support for beating self-reinforcing behaviors), friends (not enough vested interest) or family (not enough training, too much bias).
Apr 23, 2014
To hold the view that my thoughts causes actions or my actions cause thoughts, I would have to hold the view that there is a substantive difference between the two categories. Causally this does not seem to be the case.
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Apr 23, 2014
My wife reprograms our kids like this all the time. Often at least 1 of the three gives us/her the, "I don't want to do that" attitude. We get them in the car, go do the thing, and everyone has fun, and comes back happier. She's a genius, because she makes them go, whereas I would have taken the path of least resistance.
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