I Dedicated 30 Days To Joy: Here’s How It Changed My Life
From the time I could talk, I was forming plans and telling others what to do, even if they were my stuffed animals. I started writing books when I was five years old, and started my first business when I was ten. I was always a high achiever, and my plans usually worked out.
Fast forward to age 39. I was living near the entrepreneur capital of the world, Silicon Valley, California, with my husband, two kids, and a cute dog. I’d made the biggest plan of my life, and invested a considerable amount of both money and time into a startup I was sure was fail-proof. On the outside, I looked like I had it all, but on the inside, I was riddled with anxiety.
They say the higher you climb, the harder you fall, and boy did I fall hard. When my business fell apart, I became a statistic—part of the 30% of entrepreneurs who are depressed. And even worse — for the first time in my life, I didn’t have a plan for what to do next.
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The Breakthrough on the Other Side of the Breakdown
It’s often those moments in life that bring us to our knees that also give us our greatest opportunities for growth. If you’ve ever suffered a loss, or accomplished something you previously thought was impossible, perhaps you can relate. For me, the loss of my business was a critical turning point. I realized that if the way I’d been living my life—perpetually worried, stressed, and in a rush—didn’t change, it was probably going to kill me.
Since I didn’t have a better plan at the time, I decided to dedicate 30 days to the singular pursuit of joy, based on the premise that finding joy in the life you have will create the life you want.
The Science of Joy
My business was related to epigenetics, the external factors that influence our genes, and I knew that joy effects the entire body, down to the DNA. I utilized my geeky science side to take on joy as a full-on science experiment.
Calling on the body of scientific and personal research into hormones, neurotransmitters, and mindfulness I had amassed over many years, I calculated a synthesized plan to go after joy from all angles. I followed the best advice I could find—scientific, spiritual, even sexual—and everything in between. I called it “The Joy Plan.” I wrote down what happened so I could remember how I did it—and my story became a book (The Joy Plan, Sourcebooks, July 2017). Since joy is an emotion that’s experienced in the brain’s limbic system—it’s a physiological state that can be fostered, just like any other habit.
Your Brain on Joy
Think about folding a piece of paper in half. The first time you fold it, it might take a few seconds to line up the corners and set the crease properly. But if you unfold and then refold the paper, it folds much faster the second time, right?
Well, that piece of paper is like our brains. Thanks to the phenomenon called neuroplasticity, every time we have a thought, or say something, or do something, it creates neural connections (nerve cells clump together in our brain). And if we think or say or do the same thing repeatedly, those neural connections get bigger, eventually forming what’s called a neural pathway – like a well-worn highway that our brain goes back to over and over again because it’s familiar. Like our piece of paper.
That’s how habits are formed. And they aren’t always easy to change. But it is totally possible to create new habits, to create the conditions for joy in your brain that then turn into the conditions for joy in your life.
Joy as a Lifestyle
It took me 30 days to get the process rolling, but joy really is a lifelong practice. Luckily, once you know how to find it, it’s pretty simple to keep it up.
When I dedicated 30 days to joy, I tried every tool and trick that was recommended in every self-help book I could get my hands on. And it was remarkable to see what worked and what didn’t. For me, giving up on complaining, finding a way to meditate that’s actually more calming than it is stressful, and turning the mental dial from worry to gratitude were the major keys to my “Joy Plan.”
As I found joy through simple, everyday actions, I watched my life morph to match that joy. Although the changes happened so fast that it almost seemed like magic, I know it was really because of science. I tapped into the neurobiology of joy and formed new habits that changed the course of my life. Following a “Joy Plan” is simple, but it’s not a quick fix. In order to create lasting change, it’s important to engage both body and mind. New habits of thought create new feelings and eventually inspire new actions. To be effective long-term, joy must become a lifestyle.
Luckily, 30 days is long enough to form new habits and put this lifestyle into place.
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