Everything you think and feel and experience is a function of processes in your nervous system:
- You are tempted or anxious or furious? Well, this is just how your brain is reacting right now (e.g., hyperactivity in limbic regions that cortical executive areas fail to regulate).
- You are shy or antisocial? Well, this just how your brain is structured right now (e.g., high glutamate/creatine ratio and disrupted monoaminergic signaling).
- You have no motivation to do anything and your thoughts go in circles? Well, this just how your brain is functioning right now (e.g., increased regional cerebral blood flow in the subgenual prefrontal cortex).
There’s nothing wrong with you. Don’t think about your subjective experience! Fuck your feelings! Just be aware that, objectively, there is something going on in your brain. Isn’t it funny how nature works and how your brain produces this experience you’re having right now? Smile at it, laugh at it! And then—do your True Will.
Doing your True Will is the important part once you’ve cooled your mind. Action is the important part. Because by taking action, you actively change your brain chemistry. Go outside, walk, and breathe fresh air, do a hundred burpees, or put on some music and attack your project without hesitation.
Just take a little step out of your rut to stir up your neurochemistry. It puts your nervous system in a more favorable state. This is why willpower works: It shakes up the chemicals in your brain and puts your cooled mind in non-circular motion.
When you don’t take timely action, you can get trapped in thoughts and bullshit feelings—your mind heats up. A heated mind can’t change your course of action; it has to cool down first. This is where thinking about your brain is helpful. By assuming a cold, scientific perspective, you enter a cool, abstract mind space where you can disengage from your current mood and feelings—and then enforce discipline.
The more you know about neuroscience, about the anatomy, cells, transmitter actions, and action potentials in the brain, the easier you can enter that abstract mind space. But you don’t necessarily have to take science classes or read books and papers on it. You can also acquire the scientific perspective by experimenting with drugs, for example:
- Depressants teach you how brain chemistry affects your behavior and the amount of fucks you give.
- Stimulants teach you how brain chemistry affects your focus, motivation, and performance.
- Psychedelics teach you how brain chemistry affects your spirituality and general attitude toward life.
None of this is medical advice. Talk to a doctor or therapist if you suspect you have chronic symptoms! But if you feel healthy in general, you can always think about what’s happening in your brain to look at yourself objectively, which cools your mind and enables you to do your True Will.
This article is an elaboration on tip #78 for unwavering self-discipline from my book Willpower Condensed.
- How to Get Out of Your Head in Two Simple Steps
- To Control Your Emotions, Understand and Label Them (Affect Labeling)
- How Scientists Measure Emotion Regulation
- To Control Your Emotions, Control Your Attention
- What to Do about Public Speaking Anxiety