Brain Hack: Have Something to Look Forward To

Joy is the antidote to stress. While stress shuts us down and sends negative signals to our HPA axis, joy opens us up and helps us to rest and digest. So often we get stuck in the same way of doing things, the work-eat-sleep repeat schedule, that we don’t make time for fun and joy!

Even though our brain is wired to focus on the negative, having something to look forward to is a tool that can help our brain focus on the positive. I do this with my youngest child on the way to school every day, because he’s slow to get moving and always says he doesn’t want to go, even though he always ends up liking it. In the car on the way there, I say, “It’s going to be a great day today. Can you think of three things that will make today great?” One day, he was excited about taking his Avengers backpack to school. Another day it’s because we were going swimming right after. It’s usually pretty random, but his answers often inspire me to look beyond what I would normally say as well.

I think this is why I put so many books on hold at the public library. Do you know how much excitement I get when I receive an email that says that the book I had on hold is available? (And even better that it’s free!) We do the same thing with online shopping orders and deliveries. I love to make plans to eat out at a fun restaurant with my family on the weekend, or even plans to pick up takeout. It gives me anticipation that feels good.

Calling an old friend (not just texting), making plans for dates, double dates, or vacations, trying a new activity, taking a different walking route, heading to a state park or nature preserve, planning a day for you-time – all of these things can bring joy!

So what is it that brings you joy? What is something that you love to do? Maybe it’s something that you feel you haven’t been able to do in a while, due to responsibilities of adulting. It is okay to make space on the calendar for fun! In fact, I demand that you do. Personally, I hate planning things because it’s just one more thing I have to do, but having a fun game night with friends and laughing for hours always makes it worth it.

How can you plan for joy and fun this week? Break out your calendar, the one on your phone or a paper one (if you’re OG millennial or older), and add in times for joy. Take yourself out to breakfast or lunch, schedule a catch-up call with a friend, or plan to bake a new treat with your kids.

For me, I’m planning two pool days with my boys before we head back to school next week, and as I mentioned above, a new book came in at the library that I’ve been dying to get my hands on. Thinking about both of those get me excited for what’s to come, instead of being filled with the despairing thoughts of a typical Monday.

No matter what your life looks like right now, however hectic it may feel, don’t forget to make time for JOY! Your whole body health will thank you.

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