I arrived to India last week – my first time visiting the country – and it’s already the most interesting country I’ve ever been to, at least that I can remember. I expected culture shock, and India has exceeded my expectations. I write this from Dharamshala (home of Dalai Lama in exile) and this is actually my first time touching a laptop since I arrived here (didn’t miss it honestly).
But I won’t talk about India today. Today I was reading a book by celebrity psychiatrist Daniel Amen called “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life”, which along with my recent experiences, being at the intersection of Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism, etc., have had me thinking about a lot of things.
See I arrived to India admittedly not in the best mental state. There was a lot of negative rumination in my mind. Part of the reason I decided to go to India was because I knew it’d be a culture shock and might help me take my mind off the looping negative thoughts from a prior breakup.
It’s worked way faster than expected. Since yesterday I’ve felt fantastic and completely free of rumination.
It’s not only because I traveled. There is no magic pill solution to anything, and one always needs to be putting in the “work”. But traveling here definitely catalyzed the process in a way that I don’t think would’ve been possible had I for example spent that time lounging around my parents’ house or engage in some other boring, predictable routine.
Some people say that travel is just an escape that won’t cure your problems. Obviously travel alone won’t cure anything, but I completely disagree with this sentiment.
The brain is a muscle that enhances with new learning, and atrophies with lack of learning. Going to a foreign country with a completely different culture from your own is a fantastic way to get you out of your routine, stimulate your brain, and rewire it for the better.
Of course you don’t need to travel to stimulate the brain – but it certainly works. Even little things like changing the route you use to get to work, trying out some new exercise routine, etc. can work out your brain. Again the brain is a muscle, and without being worked out will atrophy.
Mind vs. Brain
We are always living in some form of delusion because our current state of mind is the result of chemical reactions in our brain which are not entirely in our control.
You are not your brain, your thoughts are not entirely your creation, and recognizing this is a useful step towards creating the life you want. By recognizing the separation between you and your thoughts, you enable yourself to disregard the thoughts that aren’t helpful to you (ANTs, or automatic negative thoughts), and either deliberately think thoughts that can help improve your state and cognitive function (eg. gratitude) or just calm the mind (eg. via meditation). I’ve found learning the neuroscience to be very helpful in recognizing and internalizing this distinction between the mind and the brain.
Our brains are actually biologically wired towards being in a negative state of worry and overactivity because historically this was conducive to survival. However today we live in an abundant world where this doesn’t really apply. If your brain is particularly overactive like mine, it is highly recommended to exercise and meditate. I can definitely attest that these activities calm the mind.
Your brain is like a horse and you are the jockey. The horse is a separate being from you will go wherever it decides to go, but you can direct it via training it, feeding it, and taking care of it.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, every single decision you make has reverberating consequences because it cements the habit and rewires your brain to make you more likely to do what you just did. Smoke another cigarette and you cement the habit of giving into your destructive impulses, making your more likely to do the same in the future – not just with cigarettes but with impulses in general like binge eating. Or use your willpower to resist the urge, and you’ve then strengthened your willpower to resist destructive impulses setting yourself up for a better future.
Everything you think and do makes you more likely to do what you just did, so be careful what you think and do.
I’m 32 now, and I’ve definitely noticed changes over the past couple years such as lower sex drive and energy. That being said I have no intention of throwing in the towel just yet and resigning to some pathetic life decline.
Energy is a state of mind and function of willpower as much as it is biological. That’s why a 60 year old man with the right mentality and lifestyle can have more energy than a 20 year old.
Energy isn’t just about quantity, but form and quality. Some people have good, positive energy – you know the kind of person that people enjoy being around because they enhance the vibe, mood, fun, whatever. Then there are toxic people with negative energy who drain you, bring you down, are insecure, constantly complain, etc. Don’t only strive to not be negative, but strive to be the most ideal version of yourself. And that doesn’t mean always needing to put a smile on one’s face or being high energy, but it generally entails being authentic and not another boring depressed zombie.
We are all free to decide our own purpose in life. My purpose is simply to contribute to humanity as much as I am capable of.
I haven’t touched a laptop in almost a week, and I don’t miss it at all. When I don’t use computers for a while, it makes me question the value of most of the work that’s done in modern society. Don’t get me wrong there’s value to much of it, but is it worth it if it’s built by the blood, sweat, and tears of wage slaves? The Egyptian pyramids are beautiful, but should they have been built if they were only going to be built by slaves?
I’m a firm believer that technology and especially smartphones, social media, and short form content (eg. TikTok) have had enormous negative impacts on peoples’ mental health – increasing ADD, depression, anhedonia. Of course the technology can be positive if used responsibly such as by allowing us to connect more than we might otherwise, but most people aren’t capable of using the tech responsibly.
I still have social media, but I generally only go to post or talk to others. My phone is always on silent mode unless I’m waiting for a call/message. I don’t even have Tik-Tok on my phone because I think that app is cancer, and in the future will be looked back at in the same disdain as cigarettes (with the bonus that they allow the Chinese government to control our minds).
I recommend you do the following today
- Talk to someone new today.
For example I went to this cafe across the street, and the owners were a couple where I could tell the wife was Japanese from her accent. I asked her if she was Japanese, she said yes, and we ended up chatting for a long time as she was really cool. Then in the evening when I returned home we chatted again.
Many if not most people in modern society, are lonely, deprived of connection, and bored if not mildly depressed. Why not be the type of positive energy person who brings the world together.
- Learn something new today
If you have one of those rare jobs where you actually learn new things and use your brain, fantastic.
Most jobs unfortunately are the same crap over and over again with maybe some slight deviations that don’t really stimulate you.
Try reading a book on a topic that interests you, or exploring some topic that’s challenging but you find interesting.
Today for example I read that book “Change your Brain” by Daniel Amen. Ok I didn’t read the whole thing, but I read or skimmed through the chapters that interested me.
- Get in touch with your purpose
Why do you do what you do? What is it all for?
If you lack drive to do anything and can’t answer these questions, well it shouldn’t be any surprise.
- Find things you’re grateful about
This has been proven to improve one’s mood, for example such as by increasing activity in the temporal lobes which are associated with mood and memory.
For example today I wrote that I’m grateful for:
- Freedom to do whatever I want in life. Site note: By the way everyone has this freedom. Your freedom may be restricted to some degree (eg. needing to go to school, work), but at the end of the day it’s all your choice, and you still have freedom within whatever restrictions you impose on yourself. For example you can still go to some jazz club and chat up some cute girl, you can talk to or not talk to whoever you want, you can read whatever book you want, draw whatever you want, etc. You could even cartwheel down the street while reciting Shakespeare if you were so inclined, that would be within your freedom. Appreciate this freedom instead of focusing on what you can’t do.
- All my ex-girlfriends
- Japanese lady at that cafe
- Ability to withdraw 8k rupees today ($100) without any issue. Just for context: I realized my debit card expired after I arrived to India, initially scaring the hell out of me since practically everywhere is cash only. Luckily I had a $100 bill in my wallet that I immediately exchanged, and India is so cheap that lasted me until now almost a week later. I found a convenience store today that let me withdraw cash from my credit card – and I only found that out because a friendly random dude in line told me that. Also on another note hanging out with this local who lives in a room sharing a bed for whom this $100 would be significantly more valuable than to me also makes me very grateful.
- That I’m a handsome m-fer
- That I’m in good health. Ok India has somewhat affected my stool/digestion but I thought it would be wayyyy worse so that’s a win to me.
Wtf is my plan
I’m admittedly still figuring out my purpose and plan in more detail – specifically how I can best contribute to society.
For the time being I’m enjoying this cultural experience traveling through India, and am making an effort to be adventurous and not be a “lazy” traveler which I’ve had too much of a tendency to do in the past.
So far it’s been great. For example a few days ago I chatted with a local art seller who invited me to his home for dinner, later I was invited to a spiritual ceremony at his house which entailed cooking food and giving it to poor people, and tomorrow I will go hiking in the Himalayas. Maybe I’ll go paragliding the day after, or try yoga where it was invented. These things are more adventurous for me than the typical city hopping I was doing before where I’d just go to some European city similar to another city I’ve already seen, see some cool looking buildings, and bring my laptop to cafes.
That being said I’m not planning to just do random stuff forever aimlessly. I want to take full advantage while I’m in India and have the best experience while I’m here. But I do need to figure out what the next money-making venture is. I’m a software engineer so naturally that’s probably the best bang for my buck, but we shall see.
I want to be passionate about what I’m doing – not necessarily the day-to-day as I believe all work will have day-to-day drudgery (ideally that you can delegate) – but the mission. I want to believe that I’m doing something useful to humanity, something that matters, something that will actually help people’ lives and make a real difference.
I also want to be evolving, learning, growing.
Alright that’s it for now. I realize this post is super disjointed and more just a dump of my random thoughts on my mind at the moment. But hopefully someone got some value from it. If not…well sorry no refunds bro