4 Weird Brain Hacks That Make You a Better Person With Almost No Effort

by Emily Guy Birken on 20 June 2014 1 comment

We tend to think of our personalities as pretty set in stone. If you have always been short-tempered or shy or change-averse, you may think that it's simply who you are. Yes, you might be able to work hard over years to chip away at the aspects of your personality that you'd like to change, but overall, what you see it what you get. (See also: 13 Easy Ways to Improve Your Brain)

But it turns out that your mind is much more like clay than marble. With the right brain hacks, you can make real and lasting changes to just about any aspect of yourself — without feeling like you are fighting a war with your true nature.

Here are four brain hacks that can help you to become the best version of yourself.

1. Become More Generous by Spending Time in a Beautiful Garden

It has been well established that spending time in nature is both calming and mentally restorative. However, recent studies out of the University of California and the University of Southern California have determined that subjects who spend time in natural places that they find beautiful increase what's known as "prosocial tendencies." Basically, after spending time in a beautiful spot, subjects show more agreeableness, empathy, generosity, trust, and helping behavior.

What is interesting about these studies is that they show how important it is for the subject to perceive their surroundings as beautiful in order to experience the generosity increase. It's not enough to be outside in nature — you must also appreciate the beauty of the nature you see.

How to Use This Hack

If you have a garden, now is the time to spend some time in it. Not only will working in your garden give you a sense of satisfaction (and a reduction of the stress hormone cortisol), but making your own little patch of nature look more beautiful will also help to improve your relationships and increase your empathetic and generous behavior.

If you don't have a garden to tend, regularly make plans to head outside for a walk through a beautiful spot. Bring a grumpy friend and help hack his brain, too.

2. Prime Your Brain for Improvement With the Right Words

The language that you use to talk to yourself actually has an effect on your brain. That's because your brain retains the memory of the words you say, even if you don't think that you recall them. Adam Dachis of Lifehacker explains it this way:

If you were to say the word mustard out loud, and then you were to see a portion of the word later, you'd be reminded of mustard. For example, if you were to say, 'I must have this,' you might be reminded of mustard because of the word must. If you were hungry and liked mustard, you may even want some.

This is because your mind has been primed to think about mustard. Your brain retains the memory of you saying the word out loud, and so it gives you a kind of a neural shortcut to get back to the word that clearly must be important because you said it out loud.

Advertisers have been using priming for years, but you can also use it to hack your brain to be happier, more ambitious, or more outgoing. All you have to do is create the right list of words to say out loud.

How to Use This Hack

Create a list of words that you associate with whatever feeling you are trying to evoke in yourself. For instance, if you are trying to encourage yourself to become more outgoing, you might come up with this list of words:

  • friendly
  • eager
  • talk
  • enthusiasm
  • go
  • yes
  • smile
  • people
  • fun
  • interest

After reading this list aloud, you will find yourself in a more outgoing mindset. Reading the list will help to focus your thoughts and prime your brain to react in an outgoing manner throughout your day.

While reading this priming list aloud every day is not going to magically transform a wallflower into a social butterfly, it does provide you with the mindset that encourages the behavior you're aiming for.

3. Improve Your Willpower by Becoming a Lefty (or a Righty)

Whether you have trouble passing up the office donut box or you find yourself consistently blowing your top over minor issues, the root cause is the same: a lack of self-control.

But before you start beating yourself up, it's important to remember that studies have shown that self-control is a limited resource that can be depleted. Basically, willpower is like a muscle — and it can be exhausted. But it can also be strengthened, just like a muscle.

Specifically, allowing yourself to be regularly frustrated can help you to improve your willpower muscle because you become more immune to feelings of frustration. And according to a study from the University of New South Wales, an excellent way to do this is to use your non-dominant hand for two weeks. Aggressive individuals who practiced being a lefty (or a righty, if they were left-handed) for two weeks were able to respond to annoyances more calmly after the experiment.

How to Use This Hack

If you are concerned about your ability to practice self-control, plan on using your non-dominant hand for everything (within reason and safety concerns) for two weeks. This means that you will be fighting your habitual tendencies for two weeks straight. While it will be difficult to remember to butter your toast with your left hand for two weeks, your capacity for self-control will grow stronger over that time. Afterwards, you will find it easier to pass up that cruller or keep your cool when you get cut off in traffic.

4. Rearrange Your Refrigerator to Eat Healthier

You have every intention of eating better. But it seems like all the fruit you buy just rots in the bottom of the fridge, and you end up snacking on potato chips and onion dip yet again.

While it might be simplest to just not buy the junk food that tempts you away from eating right, that's not always feasible. A junk food loving family member or roommate can easily thwart those plans. Instead, make eating healthy easier by rearranging the food in your kitchen.

How to Use This Hack

Specifically, put your carrot sticks and apple slices front and center in your refrigerator so that they are easier to see and grab. If you put the onion dip in a far corner, you'll make it even easier to avoid, since you're less likely to see it and be tempted by it.

This hack comes from Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, the authors of the book Nudge. They refer to such a change as "choice architecture." Basically, if you make it harder to do the unhealthy thing, you're more likely to make the healthy choice.

In addition to putting your healthy snacks in a prominent position in the refrigerator, it's also a good idea to prep those healthy foods ahead of time so all you have to do is grab a bag of pre-cut fruit slices when you're hungry. Add that to placing all of the unhealthy foods in as remote a spot as possible in the refrigerator, and it will be easier to eat healthy without thinking about it.

You Can Train Your Brain

Our brains are wired to respond to all kinds of stimuli. If you know how to hack that wiring, you can improve your life without any of that overwhelming, soul-sucking, hard work that's usually required.

Have you been able to trick yourself into becoming a better person? Do the right thing and share in comments!

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GuestKathy

I can see the value of some of these things. If they don't change the brain, it would sure get me out of my recliner doing something worthwhile.