As clients increasingly come for coaching while taking or having taken various mind altering substances, and as individuals in my community increasingly rely on alcohol, nicotine, and medications, an important aspect of being is increasingly overlooked. The psychiatric and pediatric community is even guilty of overlooking the same question, in viewing the brain as a physical diseased organ unresponsive to other important stimuli. In essence, we alter ourselves or others with chemicals and forget our body produces chemicals in response to a variety of stimuli. These chemicals cannot be wholly substituted. It is reliant on these stimuli for that reason.
Think of these as ways to have a better life or jumpstart your better self in the new year.
Positive Brain Stimulation
If we want to feel a greater sense of well-being or reduce our substance usage, remember these areas which stimulate positive neurochemicals, as outlined by Bessel van der Kolk in his book, The Body Keeps the Score:
- Restoring relationships and community is central to restoring well-being. Our capacity to hurt one another is matched by our capacity to heal one another.
- Language gives us the power to change ourselves and others by communicating experience and defining what we know (also what we want and what we should do). This results in finding common meaning and purpose which produces joy, focus, drive, peace, etc.
- Our physiology regulates our involuntary brain activity through breathing, moving, and touching.
- Social conditions to create environments in which children and adults can feel safe, and thrive. The more people feel safe and happy, the more they will do and say things which make us feel safe and happy.
These basic truths outline the functional reason for the most important precepts of coaching and organizational psychology, such as transformational leadership and psychological safety. They also demonstrate that our state of well-being is the result action, either our own or others. Ultimately, this gives us significant, demonstrable power to create the reality we want.
But there is a caveat – we must act. An experiment performed by Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania illustrates how this need to act can become damaged, a condition referred to as learned helplessness. Dogs experiencing painful electric shocks in their cages eventually succumbed to the situation such that even when the cages are opened they stayed, preferring the painful known to the painful unknown. They had to be dragged out of their cages repeatedly to learn that the outside world is much less painful than home. Their neurocognitive systems even adapted to prefer this stress. For this reason and because of this research, many therapeutic techniques rely on teaching individuals to gradually approach, and become comfortable, with things they fear, irrationally. It is also for this reason that coaching is effective for individuals capable of choosing new actions – for those not caged.
So what should we do? Act in a manner which provides significant neurochemical improvement above our current operational state. Act in a way which will make us feel happy, and loved, in the long-term. Move towards life improvement.
- Find and lean into good relationships. Do and say the things you want other people to do and say to you, as the maxim goes, “treat others the way you want to be treated,” and as Jesus said “love others as you love yourself.”
- Act to increase your experiential knowledge. Use language to define your experience, understand the experience of others, and the collected experiential wisdom of the past (religion, science, and philosophy). Then assess what you want, what you really, truly want, and request feedback from others about these desires. Move towards those good desires and let go of the things which hurt and impair your progress. Place your faith in well-thought out tried, true, and tested actions* while double-checking personal, experiential deductions.
- Regulate your own physiology. Breathe every day. Establish routine movement and exercise. Establish routine meditation. Connect with loved ones. Give and receive hugs. Have sex. Give sex. Enjoy touch, lots of touch. Your body requires it. Only disciplined asceticism in a controlled monastic fashion with others of like mind can overcome these needs of physiology.
- Create and advocate for environments of psychological safety, both for children and for adults. Throw parties. Go to parties. Cut lose at parties. Advocate for the poor. Give. Adopt. Volunteer. Promote democracy and social safety nets, domestically, and globally. Promote education. For optimal impact, go to the edges of society, to those who have been condemned. Reach out to those who are suffering or those who are alone. Find those whom culture has abandoned.
Faith & Experience
*A note about faith & experience. For the religious, understand that faith is reliance on the experience of faith itself producing reward of joy and of personal, excellent behavior in oneself, the gospel “fruit of the spirit.” Rejection of experiential information is not faith, but foolishness. “Test the spirits.” (1 John 4:1-6) True faith provides the experience of positive change in self-love and in love of others. Moreover, experience is necessary to ensure faith is placed in the correct presupposition – faith placed in the incorrect action can have devastating impacts in oneself, others, or the community, and result in the rejection of wise practices, nihilism, scapegoating, self-harm, etc.