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Ep. 8 — Reshape the image that you have about yourself

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David The Optimist owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of The Optimistic Perspective Podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as his right of publicity.

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Hello and welcome to the Optimistic Perspective Podcast. I’m David the optimist and, in today’s episode, I’m going to talk about the image that you have in your mind about yourself.

This image is usually created through past experiences.

Whatever we did in our past and we did repeatedly, it created an image in our mind about ourselves.

The more that experience was connected to our emotional intelligence, the more we created an image around that experience. So if you did something in your past and it was a strong emotional experience, then that experience was more likely to create an image in your mind about yourself.

But the problem is that whenever there’s an emotional experience that we have, the chances are that emotional experience is going to be connected to a trauma.

I don’t have any specific study or research paper on this but from my experience it feels like whenever I look back to my past, the memories that I remember are more negative than positive.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t have positive past experiences, but in a way I’m wired to remember more than negative experiences. And I’m guessing this is happening to most people. It’s not just me.

All these negative experiences, since they are more than the positive ones, create an image in our mind that is more negative than positive.

When that happens, now in the present moment, especially when we want to change something at ourselves, we create some sort of conflict between who we want to become and who we used to be.

Just to recap and make sure it’s clear what I’m trying to say, we have all these past experiences that are both negative and positive. And the ones that are emotional create a stronger image in our mind about ourselves.

It makes sense that the more negative experiences we have, or the more we look at our experiences from a negative point of view, the more we’ll create a negative image in our mind about who we are.

We’ll keep that image to ourselves in the present moment, even though it’s about someone who we were in our past.

Whenever we’re going to try to change, that image will come into play and if, let’s say, you want to change a behavior right now, then who you want to become will be in conflict with who you used to be.

And that happens more than you think.

For example, whenever you want to change something at yourself, there’s always going to be a version of your past that’s going to come into conflict with who you want to be.

Because, let’s say, if you did something for 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, if you did something for that amount of time, then for sure when you decide to change that, it will kind of try to draw you back, to drag you back to that behavior.

That behavior will try to still be present in your life and will do its best to be present in your life.

If you look at what happens in your brain from a neuroscience point of view, there are a few things that you would want to be aware of so you can understand why these past experiences are holding you back and I’m specifically talking about building habits.

Let’s say you used to go out to party and, whenever you went out with your friends, the first thing you did with your friends was to drink one shot of tequila. That was the first thing.

But now you want to change that and you don’t want to do that anymore. When you want to go out with your friends, you don’t want to drink alcohol at all.

That’s going to be hard because the old behavior of drinking one shot of tequila as soon as you get there will want to be part of your life, especially if you did it for a long period of time.

From a neuroscience point of view, your brain, when it comes to habits, is built of two big areas: there’s your prefrontal cortex and there’s your striatum.

I’m hoping I’m spelling it right; so your prefrontal cortex and your striatum.

And your striatum also has two important parts: nucleus accumbens and dorsal striatum.

Again, I’m hoping I’m spelling these parts of the brain right – is how I learned them.

So, in total there are three parts: prefrontal cortex, nucleus accumbens, and dorsal striatum.

When it comes to your daily actions and the things that you do every day, these three parts of your brain are there every time:

  • The prefrontal cortex influences what you do on what’s good for you in the long term;
  • The nucleus accumbens influences what you do based on the pleasure that you get right away;
  • The dorsal striatum influences what you do based on the past experience that you have with what you want to do.

Let’s just say that these three parts of your brain are three friends that you usually spend time with. And I’m going to take them again one by one:

  • There’s one friend that gives you good advice and helps you with planning and goal setting – that’s your prefrontal cortex;
  • Then there’s another friend that wants to be part of your life if there’s dopamine involved and together you watch Netflix or eat sweets – that’s the nucleus accumbens;
  • And the final one, the third friend, is the friend that wants to be part of your life when you do something that you’ve done before.

Going back to the image that you have in your mind, that’s been created through all these past experiences and there are some habits connected to that image that you have in your mind, whenever you’re trying to change something at that image that you have in your mind, you’re actually trying to change habits.

And those habits for sure are connected emotionally to who you are and to what you’ve done in the past.

If you’re trying to change these habits, you have to understand that the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that’s in charge of planning and decision-making, is not going to help you too much to change what you want to change.

It’s only going to help you with planning that change.

It’s like at the beginning of the year when you set yourself that you want to start going to the gym. You’re going to make the plan because the prefrontal cortex is going to help you with creating that plan.

But then when it actually comes to putting into practice that plan, that’s when the striatum and the two parts of the striatum (the nucleus accumbens, that’s connected to pleasure and dopamine, and dorsal striatum, that’s connected to the things that you always did) these two parts of your brain are the ones that are activated.

Your prefrontal cortex, when you have to put into practice, is not there anymore.

You can plan for as long as you want. Nothing is going to actually happen.

Going back to these parts of the brain and the image that you have in your mind and all these habits, there are two parts of the brain that can actually help you: there’s one that’s connected to dopamine and there’s another one that’s connected to past behaviors – the things that you’ve always done.

And in order to activate these two parts of your brain: first of all, you have to find dopamine and something that you want to do, and second of all, you have to reach a point where the thing that you want to do has been done before.

That sounds to me like you have to force yourself.

Because imagine, if you’ve never run before but you all of a sudden want to train for a marathon, then there’s going to be no dopamine in running. Maybe you’ll get some dopamine after you’ll finish your run but if you are on your couch and you’re wearing your pajamas and you want to go for a run, there is no dopamine involved.

Maybe if you get really excited about running a marathon, and you’ve heard some stories, and you have some friends, and somehow you got to anchor yourself in running a marathon, maybe that idea will give you some dopamine.

But if you don’t have that, then there’s no dopamine involved and there’s no way you’re going to activate the nucleus accumbens.

And then there’s the dorsal striatum that wants to be part of your life whenever you do something that you’ve done before.

You’re not going to be able to activate that unless you force yourself to go for a run.

That’s really important.

The more you force yourself to go for a run, the more you’ll be able to activate the dorsal striatum and because you go for running you finish your run, then you’re going go generate dopamine as well.

And that’s how you’re going to come on top of what the prefrontal cortex can do for you and use these other two parts of your brain (the nucleus accumbens and the dorsal striatum) to both generate dopamine and create a new behavior.

That’s how it works.

If you’re trying to change something at yourself right now, I would have these three parts of your brain – I would create awareness around them and know that as soon as I have my plan done, there is no need to invest more effort into that plan.

But instead of investing more effort into the plan itself, I would invest more effort into making sure I’m ready to go for a run or whatever I want to do. Making sure I’m ready (emotionally, physically, mentally, whatever it means) and then go for it.

It doesn’t matter if I feel prepared, or it doesn’t matter if I feel tired, or if I feel lonely, or whatever it may happen. That doesn’t matter at all.

What matters, I want to change a habit or add a new one, is to force myself to do it until it becomes a habit. Otherwise, how is it going to be a habit?

As soon as you do that there’s going to be something else involved in your process of building a new habit and that’s you punishing your past version of yourself.

That happens a lot because whenever we’re trying to do something new and we don’t succeed, when we fail we blame ourselves. We become sad, we become depressed, we don’t want to do it anymore. We believe that all effort is in vain and so on.

When you reach a point where your current version of yourself and the desire to become someone else are in conflict with who you used to be, that point is so crucial because first of all, it means that you started the process of change.

It’s natural if you’ve done something for 20 years, it’s absolutely normal to have that version in your life and fight for your attention.

But simply being aware of that happening, then you can create some space in your life where you let that past version of yourself still get some of your attention. But at the same time focus on the person that you want to become.

That’s really important because, at the same time, if you get upset when you try to do something but it’s not working out the way you want to, then that self-judgment is going to create a voice in your head that will try to get you back to where you used to be.

If you go right now and run and you set yourself to run 1 kilometer (let’s say you’ve never run before, and you set yourself the goal to run 1 kilometer), you will see that it’s going to be really hard.

It’s going to be difficult and after the first 50, or 100 meters, or 200 meters, right in the first part of your running session, there’s going to be a voice in your head that will tell you to stop, to go back to whatever you used to do before.

The more you judge yourself, the more that voice will be active in your mind and forcing yourself to go for a run will activate that part of your brain that will help you build a habit. Will help you build the life that you want to build – it’s the dorsal striatum.

I would be really aware of the self-judgment and I would be really aware of the way that I am trying to punish myself.

Whenever that happens just let it happen as in, let the past version of yourself still be around you. But don’t let it be around you till the point that you can’t build a new habit anymore.

For sure, maybe you didn’t run the whole kilometer, maybe you ran just 200 meters. But that’s still something considering that you didn’t run before

That’s still something.

Instead of focusing on all the self-judgment, maybe you focus a bit on your small victory (which is 200 meters). You run that; you actually did it!

It’s something compared to nothing and it’s really important. It’s really important to start small whenever you want to make any change in your life and become someone who you’ve never been before.

That’s really important.

Moving on, and this is my final point, I believe it’s important to make peace with your past.

Whenever you will try to build this new version of yourself and change the image that you have in your mind about yourself, then it’s important to be at peace with the version of yourself that you’re trying to change.

Otherwise, whenever it’s going to come into your life, there’s going to be a lot of emotional resources invested into trying to keep away that past version of yourself.

That’s not healthy.

The purpose is to invest those emotional resources into who you want to become and not into keeping away the version that you don’t want to be anymore.

In a way, the focus should be on something that you want instead of not having any more something that you don’t want.

It’s a subtle way of looking at things, but it makes a lot of difference

To give you a personal example here, I used to play a lot of video games. I think I started playing at the age of 8 or 10. Right now I’m 32.

In the last few years, I played on and off. The addiction wasn’t there anymore or at least I thought it wasn’t. And last year in December, in 2023 December, I decided to stop. I simply decided to stop. I took my computer and gave it to my parents and then all the accounts that I had for my games, I deleted all of them. And imagine I had some accounts for some games for more than 10 years.

It was a lot of effort and creativity and thinking invested into these accounts and into these games. And I decided to delete everything.

As soon as I did that, there were a few things that happened.

At first, I felt relieved and relaxed and I had more time and energy to invest in something else, like this podcast, for example.

But at the same time, more cravings started to happen. I don’t know how else to call it, but it was this, let’s say need and desire to play games again.

Whenever this happened, I found some coping strategy. Maybe I go to YouTube and watch someone playing a game for 5 or 10 minutes and the craving goes away.

But there’s something else that happens that I don’t know how else to describe it then just whenever I do something that has nothing in common with video games, I get to have these flashbacks of images from the video games that I used to play.

That’s my past version of myself trying to tell me that I should go back to playing video games.

I believe it’s normal after spending more than 20 years playing video games, I believe it’s absolutely normal to still, in a way (and this is what happens to me but in your case, maybe something else) but these flashbacks, I think they’re there for a reason.

They’re not going to go away so easily just because all of a sudden I decide to not play video games anymore.

And I accepted that. I accepted that I’m still going to have these flashbacks or maybe video games are going to try to enter my life one way or another.

But at the same time, I’m not going to focus on that. I’m not going to give that part of me, that version of who I was, I’m not going to give attention to that part of my past.

No.

So whenever I get a flashback, I think about it for one or two seconds. I try to understand what it is and then I go back to what I was doing.

For me, that’s a healthy way of handling the image that I have in my mind about myself, whenever that past version of myself enters my life without my approval, without my permission.

I believe it’s healthy because I’m not investing any emotional resources into it and whenever it happens to appear in my life again, as a memory, or as a flashback, or as a thought, or whatever, I just become aware of it and let it go and that’s it.

I’m hoping, but I have no proof of this, I’m hoping that the more time will pass, the more I will be able to focus on the new directions that I set for myself instead of just having all these memories and flashbacks of video games and all these other behaviors and thoughts about my past.

So this is the episode.

It’s a bit different than my past episodes and I’m trying to have these episodes where I’m speaking freely about something that I have in my mind and right now, as I’m recording it, I can say that I’m happy with the episode.

I’ve been able to say what I wanted to say. It’s going to go a bit through an editing process for sure.

But I’m happy and there was no script. Just a few ideas on a piece of paper (digital paper) and also an article that I wrote recently and I got some of the insights from that article that is pretty consistent and is research-based.

So thank you for listening. I hope this episode was valuable to you and that you found some valuable insights inside this episode and if you’re listening, just let me know what you think

Go to my website and send me an email using the contact page, which is at davidtheoptimist.com/contact and share your thoughts with me.

It’s important for me to know what your thoughts are and just share with me whatever you feel like about this episode.

This has been David. Thank you for listening.

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