“You will always be crazy…”
“You will never recover from depression/anxiety/being crazy.” “You’re doomed to mental health issues for life because of your genetics and brain chemistry.”
“You’ll never be happy.”
Ever had anyone say that stuff to you? More importantly, have you ever said that stuff to you, and believed it?
I have. It almost killed me.
And guess what? It’s bullshit.
I’ve outlined a 21 day challenge of lifestyle changes you can implement easily, so that you can start to see the truth. The truth that you can have a brain that doesn’t keep you stuck in the same cycles, day in and day out. That there is a way out of your current reality into a better one.
What’s cool about my guide is that it’s science based, and I’ve personally experimented with this stuff. I’ve also helped other people experiment with it. I won’t dump a lot of changes and information on you all at once. For these changes to be effective and lasting, you’ll need to layer them into your current lifestyle.
This is a marathon, y’all. Not a sprint. Long games require patience, but I know you can handle it.
I know I need to back up my somewhat controversial stances, so let me set up 2 truths that support the basis for why I can be confident for you and your future health:
You’ve probably heard this term or seen it pop up in your social media feed, maybe to sell you something. Because it’s been commercialized into a buzzword, you might be skeptical that it’s even a real thing.
It is! There is still some debate about how plastic adult brains really can be, but that’s because modern neuroscience is just getting started.
Your brain is the most complex, known structure in the universe. And you can ‘hack’ it and tap into its potential. Sound too sci-fi to be true? Read more about it here.
2) Your lifestyle can support your neuroplasticity so that you get results
Reading a book, taking a course, or simply changing your mind to start doing something are all great things. But unless you’ve built a foundational discipline of self-care, it won’t stick. That means that finding a steady state of well-being and happiness can happen, but only if you’ve structured your lifestyle to support your brain’s ability to rewire itself to stability.
Here’s the vicious cycle: not having the time or energy to take care of your brain and body (which are the sources of your mental health) leads to not having the time or energy to take care of your brain and body which leads to more lack of energy and motivation to take care of your…you get the point.
The best thing?
You have control over this.
I’ll say it one more time. You have control over your lifestyle. No one else does. You do.
Now, let’s look at the neuroscience of motivation, because that will also make or break your efforts. It’s pretty tough to work against your brain’s evolved and inherent structures. Luckily we have a growing understanding of the instruction manual that everyone should review before trying to operate the Jell-O in their skull.
Changing Habits is NOT About Willpower!
It’s been said that the two major motivators that lead to permanent change are great suffering or a lofty goal. It’s probable that stellar achievements throughout human history were born from a combination of these two motivators.
But what doesn’t seem to keep your motivation alive, especially when the going gets rough, is willpower.
How many times have you set out to make a change, and then berated yourself when you didn’t stick to it? Like it was a moral failing, like you’re somehow dumb, weak, lazy, a bad, ungrateful person…
Stop it! It’s not your character. It’s not something “wrong” with your, like, soul.
It’s your inherent neurology that evolved over millions of years. But you can influence it.
Your brain goes into a default mode within your basal ganglia while enacting your daily habits. Your habits are the key to affecting lasting change, not forcing your willpower to do the heavy lifting. But most of us aren’t even aware of when we are engaging in a habit. It’s mindless.
Mindfulness Practice is Key
That means for your brain to rewire with a new, wanted habit, you have to make old habits harder to do, and new habits easier and more rewarding to do. For example, when trying to help people get over their sugar addiction, educating them on the health consequences of sugar doesn’t work as well as making sugary foods difficult to buy. Increasing price, keeping them in stores that are tough to get to, enacting public bans.
That’s just an example, btw. That kind of thing doesn’t really exist in America right now.
But your environment will make or break your efforts. Is it easy for you to get and stay sad or anxious? By taking a brutally honest inventory of your lifestyle, you can see where you are engaging in comfortable, old habits that don’t serve your mental health.
Do you watch a lot of hysterical news cycles? Are you friends or coworkers with negative or abusive people? Do you compare yourself to a lot of Instagram feeds? Are you dating someone who doesn’t understand boundaries or respects your health? Do you people-please?
Is your family always in a crisis mode, going from one drama to the next?
That’s all external stuff in your lifestyle environment that is known, “comfortable”, and keeps it easy to stay in your neural networks that are programmed for depression.
Another example is the Starbucks you pass by every day. Tough to avoid it, and when you see it, your brain’s reward centers light up. Sugary yumminess. Especially when you’re stressed which, let’s face it, is daily.
Now, you can’t ask them to move that particular Starbucks, or close it down.
Oh my God, do I have to change literally everything???
What can you do that’s easy, doable, and will still reward you with a healthier habit? Take a different route, to whatever feasible extent you can. It might mean going out of your way by one block. Ok, now you won’t see that Starbucks anymore.
But what about your yummy drink?
At the end of that route, you’ll need your replacement available, or it needs to be easy to make it. It could be a new store, one that’s organic and doesn’t sell junk food. You get a matcha, sugar-free latte instead. Or, once you get to where you’re going, you have your substitute ready.
Once you’ve accomplished your new habit, another way to cement the new neural pathway in your brain is to linger on the feeling of accomplishment. That little hit of a high you get when you do good? That’s dopamine. It’s a great neurochemical for motivation, focus, and reward.
Dr. Rick Hanson also encourages us to linger on any good feeling, to support the neurochemical response and help our brains to “learn” that feeling associated with the thing you just did.
Now, here’s where motivation does come into play. And I’ll refer you back to the start of this section- do you have a great suffering or a lofty goal? Are you really ready to change your story, for which you are the only author? If not, it has nothing to do with your character. It isn’t a lack of willpower.
Sometimes, we are in different places in our healing and we aren’t ready for that small amount of self-responsibility.
Your reality is real.
I will never, ever shame you for that. I’ll repeat it again: you do not lack willpower and you are not morally or character-ally bankrupt if you can’t find your reason for change.
However, I know it’s in you. That’s not woo-woo BS. If you are reading this, your brain is healthy enough. If you have a healthy enough brain, you can do all this stuff. And a majority of people on this planet have a healthy enough brain (with some exceptions, of course.)
You can’t fake your energy. If you know you should do a thing, but you don’t have the desire to do it, forcing yourself or faking it won’t work. If you need help cultivating your foundational energy, I can help with that.
Ok, who’s ready to get the 21 day Bliss Challenge plan?
Remember, we are layering in things that will stick. It’s going to be up to you to analyze your current lifestyle to see where you can make these changes easier and still rewarding.
(One more example- say you commit to running 2 miles every morning. Cool! But do you live next to a running trail in San Diego, where bad weather never happens? Committing to exercise that is easy to implement is vital.)
21 Day Bliss Challenge
Day One- Remember how I said Mindfulness practices are key to being aware of your habits and how your lifestyle supports your habits? Cool. Today we start with meditation. If you need some beginner’s pointers, go here. A great way to ensure you do this every day is to Med Head while still in bed, first thing in the morning.
Day Two- Did you meditate yesterday? Good. You’re going to do it again today. It’s a foundational practice to become familiar with mindfulness, which is essential to changing your lifestyle. So nothing new added today. Just meditate.
Day Three- Ready for something new to add in? Too bad. You’re still incorporating meditation. That’s how important it is. Hang in there, this repetition is worth it. Now, go meditate.
Day Four- Ok, so now you’ve done a few meditation sessions. Now we need to take a look at your sleep quality. Your sleep is never, ever something that can be skimped on, despite being told, taught, and encouraged otherwise. If you still think it’s okay to get by with poor sleep, you’ve got another think coming.
It’s a cornerstone for your mental health success. For today, you’re going to meditate and, separately, take a look at your current sleep practices. What’s not good? What can be improved?
Examples: noise, light, staying up late on your device, fighting before bed, too much caffeine too late, eating too late…
Day Five- Have you meditated yet? Ok, remember the inventory you took yesterday of all the bad sleep habits you’re engaging in? Today you are going to knock off one bad habit. It could be changing the time you go to bed (earlier) or staying off your device after 8 pm. Whichever one you pick to stop doing tonight, do that.
Day Six- You’ve meditated today, and last night you stopped one bad sleep habit. Today, you’ll pick another bad sleep habit to stop, so you’ll be cutting out two bad sleep habits tonight.
Pro tip- exposure to blue light after the sun sets is all sorts of bad news for your circadian rhythm (the internal clock that tells you when to sleep, wake up, etc) so if you choose to stay on your device after 8 pm, install a filter on all electronic devices you look at, and wear blue blocker glasses.
Another Pro Tip- constant blue light exposure isn’t good for your skin. One recent recommendation is to wear sunscreen while on any devices or under artificial light, which is a little absurd. A healthier, more feasible solution is to supplement with Astaxanthin, which can protect both your eyes and skin from blue light.
Check out this recent biohacking vlog for more info. Also, if you can, turn off all artificial lights and switch to red LED lights, or salt lamps. I go in-depth into sleep hacking in my program.
Day Seven- First week complete! Today you’re still meditating, and you’ve stopped two unhealthy sleep habits. Stick with it today. And, I haven’t forgotten how well you’ve done this week, so be sure to treat yourself to something indulgent, like a bath with a trashy book.
Day Eight- At the start of your second week, you will continue meditating, sticking to your new sleep hygiene practices, and today you will incorporate some body-centered practices. It’s possible you already stick to a workout routine (good!) so don’t change that. But you need to do movement that doesn’t “burn fat, or tone” anything. A few minutes of dance or stretchy yoga, nothing complicated.
Your body is everything, and really being with it for a few minutes is important to your mental health.
Day Nine- We’re going to hang out here for a few days with what we’ve done so far. Meditate, sleep hygiene, and some form of intentional movement that isn’t just working out. It doesn’t seem like a lot when you see it on paper, but in practice, it can seem like chores or tasks you ‘need’ to do.
Pro Tip- What I call the “poor man’s inversion therapy”- you know those inversion tables that readjust your spine as you hang upside down? Those are actually awesome. But if that’s not in your budget or schedule, you can do inversion yoga poses, like downward facing dog. It’s a great way to get blood flow to your brain during your day, which is awesome for brain and mental health. Just hold the pose for a few minutes each time.
Day Ten- Hanging here again today with the three things we’ve got going. Also, take some stock of how you feel. It’s okay if you feel nothing, or if you feel something a little negative. Brains don’t like change, especially if it means taking new routes or following a slight change in schedule. Be aware of this resistance.
Day Eleven- Keep hanging here. Meditate, sleeping cleaner, yoga/dance…This is how it’s done. Incrementally while checking to see if you’re really with the process, or just checking off boxes.
Day Twelve- Something new today. Green smoothies. Ps- start getting some avocados ready for ripeness. Treat coming in a couple of days.
Day Thirteen- Almost done with your second week. You’re now (hopefully) doing 4 things and finding it not too difficult. The important thing to remember about nutrition, is your brain can’t produce the right chemicals needed to stay stable and open to positive thinking if it’s not being fed the right nutrients.
Traditional western diets are absolutely awful, and even if we think we’re eating “healthy”, chances are we are not. Not as well as we could be.
Day Fourteen- Two weeks complete and you’re amazing.
Ok, time for another reward. Stick with what we’re doing and give yourself something yummy. It’s good to avoid anything with gross ingredients, like sugars and bad fats, so if you feel inspired, here’s a great treat.
Day Fifteen- Everything up to this week has been pretty basic and expected. Wanna try a biohack? It might seem really hardcore and unpleasant, but I promise it’s great for your brain and your mood. Cryotherapy. Which for you, just means a cold shower.
Yep. For a minute, let the coldest water you can stand hit your face and your chest. Ideally, you’ll be fully submerged in cold water, but for now, just stick to your face and chest. Now, for some people, this may not advisable. If you have a severe autoimmune issue, like MS, skip this one.
Otherwise, please try it.
Day Sixteen- How was that cold shower? I know, but you can handle it. Today, hold steady. That one was tough enough that adding in something else for a couple of days might derail you. Stick with what you’ve been doing.
Day Seventeen- Today we will add in a few minutes of breath work prior to your (brief) cold shower. You can go more in depth with the Wim Hof method if you’re feeling really inspired and committed. Otherwise, some deep, diaphragmatic breaths on your back before you shower is good.
Take air into your belly through your nose, then exhale quickly but not forcefully through your mouth. You’ll start to feel light headed at about 10 breaths, so don’t push it. Exhale your last breath and don’t breath in for a moment. When you do breathe in, hold it for 10 seconds. Then exhale that one, and chill out on the floor for a few more seconds.
Day Eighteen- Recap! Meditate, sleep hygiene, movement, green smoothie, cold shower, and breath work prior to cold shower.
Day Nineteen- For the last few days, I want you to reflect on any changes you’ve noticed in your life, and if those changes are motivating for you to stay on this path.
If not, cool.
That doesn’t mean a lifestyle change to support your brain and mental health can’t and won’t work for you. Quite the opposite. However, you should be feeling a bit better and more in control of yourself and your mood. Everything starts inward. Outward is just a reflection of your inner life.
Day Twenty- One slight change to your meditation today, if you haven’t already done this. Be sure to include gratitude in your meditation. Every time, if you can. Gratitude is transformative.
Day Twenty-One- Here we are. 3 weeks! Another reward is important, but I trust that by now, you will choose something that will support you.
This hasn’t been about “fixing” something and being “good”, it’s been about respecting everything your brain and body are capable of if you provide the right inner and outer environments.
I want you to love yourself. For real. Not just say you do, but then you don’t actually feel it, do it, be it. It’s okay, we all do that. I hope this challenge will help you get in tune with what self-love and self-care can really mean.
One more thing. The path to joy and stability is never a linear process. And it’s never complete, not until we die. Doing a thing forever doesn’t mean you, or it, will always feel one way and be one way, always.
You are a nuanced, fluctuating being, always changing. Being in resistance to this reality is a major cause for suffering.
But that’s more for another post.
You might be a little pissed that this guide was so basic. That’s intentional, because these lifestyle changes aren’t one size fits all. Are you intrigued with how to go deeper into a lifestyle that supports your mental health? Let me tell you more…
If you found this guide loaded with new, interesting and inspiring information, please share!