Want to write? Take your brain walking.

Thanks to Sahil Bloom on Twitter for a great TLDR summary of some fascinating research into the impact moderate aerobic exercise, such as walking, has on the brain.

If I ever get stuck on a problem, be it technical or a particularly tricky bit of plot or dialogue that I can’t get right, I often “walk away” from it. I get up, I pace around, and I even go for a walk outside sometimes. I’d always assumed this was an eccentricity – other people do their jobs quite comfortably from behind their desks, sitting in their comfy chairs, so why not me?

Turns out I’ve been using a brain hack without realising it. Going for a walk is not only good for your physical health but can also improve cognitive performance, mental health, attention span, and creativity.

Conclusion: Go for more walks and never be afraid to walk away from a problem.

The Banana Experiment

I’ve used “The Banana Experiment” as an example of the dangers of “group-think” and the “that’s how we’ve always done it here” mentality many, many times.

I’m not 100% sure where I heard it originally, or if the experiment itself actually really happened. I don’t think either of those things matters, as they’ve never been a problem in terms of the power of the story or its usefulness as a parable about the way that we think and how “going with the group” is not always the best thing.

The Banana Experiment recently began doing the rounds as a meme, so I thought it was high time I shared it properly here.

Cary Grant and the Art of Self Reinvention

I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until finally, I became that person. Or he became me. 

Cary Grant

I don’t know much about Cary Grant but this quote has stuck with me for years. For a while, I actually thought it was from Errol Flynn, but doing some research recently I re-discovered it and realized it belonged to Cary Grant. This quote resonates not only with me as a writer but also as a hypnotist. So much can be achieved simply by acting in the way that you think the person you want to be would act. For example:

  1. What would you do as a non-smoker if someone offered you a cigarette?
  2. If you were the sort of person who took care of their diet, what would you do if there were free cakes in the room?
  3. If you were more confident, what would you say when you stood up to give the “big presentation”?

It sounds simple because it is simple.

You have to start being the person you want to be before you can change. Your subconscious mind plays a huge role in decision-making – far more in fact than we often want to admit. For example, one of the biggest problems when trying to break a bad habit is that your subconscious mind will often throw up a tried-and-tested, but ultimately “bad”, the habitual response when faced with a common “trigger” problem.

Consider the smoker who smokes when they are under pressure; they are not necessarily actively choosing to smoke – smoking is a subconscious response to stress. In essence, it is their conscious mind that is experiencing the stress and their subconscious mind that is latching onto and responding to this condition with “Ah, stress! I’ve seen this before – a cigarette will sort that out.”And, of course, we then make it true because our subconscious mind is so powerful that when we do have that cigarette… our stress abates.

When using hypnosis, we often get the subject to imagine what it will be like when their problem is solved. Then, we can work backward from that point to understand the steps that led them up to that point. Alternatively, we can simply experience a whole “day in the life” of the person that the subject would prefer to be – the person who doesn’t have that fear, that bad habit, or that problem.

For example, if you want to conquer a fear of flying, a powerful visualization is one where you experience the entire day of a flight from the minute you wake up, to the takeoff, then the flight itself, and the landing. Throughout the session, you are reminded of how good you feel, and how well you are doing. You experience as deeply as possible how you will behave in that situation next time you are in it. What we are doing here is retraining the brain to behave in a new way by showing it that working in that new way is beneficial. I don’t think this is something that you have to see a hypnotherapist to achieve, though – I think we all have the ability to “fake it until we make it”.

What’s a non-smoker anyway?

Yes, you really can just fake being a “non-smoker” until you are – what’s the difference between that and someone who has “really” quit anyway? In practical terms, there is no difference. However, the difference between someone who “has quit” and someone who is “trying to quit” is huge. It’s not cheating and it is not a shortcut to go from smoker to non-smoker without the “trying to quit” bit. Just fake being a better eater, better flyer, or a better public speaker and you really soon will be.

Or, as Cary Grant had it – Pretend to be the person you want to be until you are that person.