10 Techniques for Improving Your State of Mind

I’ve been employing these techniques for several years now, and they seem to have led to a marked increase in the quality of my experience of the world. Of course, it’s can be tough figure out whether a relationship is correlative or causal. This is especially true when it comes to one’s internal experience, and I’m sure that the introduction and elimination of other habits also contributed to my experiential elevation.

That said, these seven techniques are, to me, backed up by a lot of solid evidence. This evidence includes that derived from personal experience, from the anecdotes of others, and in some cases from scientific research. If you end up giving any of them a try, and feel so inclined, let me know how well they worked for you.

Note: When performing any of the following exercises, I recommend playing close attention to any sensations you experience within your body.

Unpleasant Experience Journaling

This one can also be pretty tough, however, it’s well worth it. The objective is to revisit experiences from your past, and to describe and analyze them. To do this practice, think back to memories that still bother you. Examples could include times you were humiliated, failed, were embarrassed, lost someone, etc.

This one can also be pretty tough, however, it’s well worth it. The objective is to revisit experiences from your past, and to describe and analyze them. To do this practice, think back to memories that still bother you. Examples could include times you were humiliated, failed, were embarrassed, lost someone, etc. Then, simply write down what happened, as objectively as possible (in a journal or by writing on your computer). Then write how it made you feel, and if applicable, what it taught you.

The scientifically proven benefits of this practice are borderline miraculous. They include boosted biochemical markers of immune function, fewer visits to the hospital, and improved job performance. 

If that sounds too good to be true, I’d recommend watching the video below. In it, the developer of this journaling technique, Dr. James Pennebaker, discusses the research that showed therapeutic writing to be capable of eliciting these amazing effects.

(Dr. Pennebaker is the Regents Centennial Professor of Liberal Arts and Professor of Psychology at University of Texas, and the lecture was delivered at Columbia University)

 

Important moments from the lecture:
 
4:40: Pennebaker discusses a survey he conducted with 24,000 subjects.  It showed that those who had suffered sexual trauma were twice as likely to have been hospitalized for any cause in the previous year, they were also more likely to have been diagnosed with cancer, high blood pressure, and ulcers, colds, and flus. 
 
5:00 – 7:00: Pennebaker discusses the evidence for the theory that keeping trauma secret often leads to negative health outcomes.
 
8:53: Pennebaker outlines the structure of his initial experiment, which looked at the effects of expressive therapeutic writing sessions on health center visits following the writing session. The experimental subjects visited the health center far less frequently than control subjects, after taking part in the expressive writing expertise (During which they wrote about their trauma, and described their emotions surrounding the event(s))
 
18:15: Pennebaker outlines the structure of what is, in my mind, his most important study. In it, participants’ blood was drawn the day before writing, the day after writing, and six weeks after writing. The blood was tested for immune markers. The markers indicated that immune function had been enhanced by the therapeutic writing sessions. 

 

Insight Meditation

This is my go to form of meditation. It is supposedly the method that the Buddha used to attain enlightenment, and in my experience is far more effective than forms of meditation that center around the repetition of a mantra, or emphasize focusing on the breath. 

Here’s how I recommend doing it: 

  • Sit up straight with eyes closed. Do not lean your back against the back of your chair. 
  • See where your mind takes you. 
  • If thoughts come, let them come. There is no need to put effort into not thinking. There is no need to put effort into not thinking. 

I recommend doing this practice for at least forty minutes per day. In my experience, it’s best to perform this practice at night, just before going to bed. These days, I usually do it for around two hours prior to sleep. Doing so nearly always leads to my having interesting dreams, and a very enjoyable and productive day after waking up. 

If you’d like to get a more in depth description of this technique, along with some theory about what it seems to do, check out the video linked to below. The speaker is Naval Ravikant, a legendary Silicon Valley founder and angel investor, who credits this form of meditation with radically improving his day to day mood. 

Loving Kindness Meditation

Another great meditation technique, this one can be practiced pretty much anywhere, and can take as little as a minute to perform.

Here’s how to do it the way I do:

Sit down, close your eyes and imagine someone you know or know of. Picture them smiling, with joy in their eyes. Breathe. If you would like to, send them some loving thoughts such as “May you be happy. May you be strong. May you be healthy. May your life be filled with love.”

Out of all the techniques on this page, Loving Kindness probably seems like the most wu-wu. Funnily enough, it’s also one of the techniques that is best backed by evidence. If you  want to learn about the effects it can have, click here. 

Amazingly, studies suggest that loving kindness meditation may actually be able to slow biological aging by reducing the rate at which telomeres shorten. To all you skeptical scientists out there who are raising your eyebrows in disbelief, I’d recommend reading this study on the topic, that was published in the National Library of Medicine. 

Excerpts from the Study: 

“Combinations of multiple meditation practices have been shown to reduce the attrition of telomeres, the protective caps of chromosomes (Carlson et al., 2015). Here, we probed the distinct effects on telomere length (TL) of mindfulness meditation (MM) and loving-kindness meditation (LKM).”

“After controlling for appropriate demographic covariates and baseline TL, we found TL decreased significantly in the MM group and the control group, but not in the LKM group. There was also significantly less TL attrition in the LKM group than the control group.”

Emotional Release Technique

I first found this one on the internet, then had it recommended to me by a close family member with a background in the hard sciences. It takes a little more finesse to perform successfully than the journaling exercise, but can also do some pretty amazing things. The first time I did it, I cried for about ten minutes, and felt great afterward. Unfortunately, I often struggle to cry, so this was a pretty big thing for me.

You can read an excellent description of how to perform this technique by clicking here. I decided to include this link rather than describe it myself – the description you’ll find by opening it spells out the exact way in which I do the practice.

One variation is to set your alarm for around 3am, and perform the steps described in the link above at that early hour. It seems as though there is a stronger link between the conscious and the subconscious during that time of day, which can make it easier to access and experience emotions.

Holotropic Breathwork

Known by some of its practitioners as “Industrial Strength Meditation” Holotropic Breathwork is a form of deep, rapid breathing, that can induce a radically altered state of consciousness. I was initially a bit skeptical of this technique, but changed my mind after trying it. Just two sessions of HB completely eliminated a knee problem that had been virtually unaffected by nearly two years of physical therapy. Therapists have credited it with alleviating a wide range of mental disorders (as mentioned in James Nestor’s wonderful book Breath) and unlike many other treatment regimes, it does not require patients to ingest any form of foreign substance. 

I’ve written about the practice at length in this blog post.

Darkness Retreat

This is probably the most extreme practice I have ever employed. To perform it, I spent a week in total darkness. The experiences I had over the course of seven light-free days shook my view of reality to the core, and seem to have led to an improvement in my state of mind unlike anything else I have tried. I wrote about my time in darkness in this blog post. Embedded below is the interview that initially inspired me to give the practice a shot. 

Gratitude Journaling

It seems as though everyone and their mother has started doing this one. If you type “gratitude journaling” into the search bar, you’ll probably see countless sets of instructions for how to do it.

This is my technique:

Write three very simple and tangible things for which you are grateful, shortly after waking up. Here are some examples from past entries in my morning journal Evernote page:

  • I’m grateful for the fact that I have access to clean water
  • I’m grateful for the sky
  • I’m grateful for the dream I had last night
  • I’m grateful for music
  • I’m grateful for my Mom
  • I’m grateful for my Dad
  • I’m grateful for my mind

Internal Family Systems Meditation

I started using Internal Family System practices after the famous writer and podcaster Tim Ferriss credited them with helping him overcome the after effects of extensive childhood sexual abuse (which he discusses at length in this episode of his podcast). 

I have found that IFS practices, though they may seem a bit strange, tend to lead to some very noticeable effects. One of my favorite IFS meditations is delivered by the therapy’s founder, Dick Schwartz, in the video below. 

Active Forgiveness 

This one can be tough, but it also feels great. To perform it, sit down, close you eyes, and take a few deep breaths. Then, think of a person against whom you still hold a bit of a grudge. Someone who you feel has wronged you. They might have laughed at your expense, turned you down, excluded you, not paid you back, broken up with you, etc. Simply picture their face, or mentally say their name, and then think to yourself, “I forgive you.” It can take some effort, and some shelving of pride, but whenever I do it, it makes me feel lighter.

The Lie Rectification Exercise

This one is, in some ways, the most difficult exercise on this list. To perform it, simply think about the people that you’ve lied to in the past, and who’s views of the reality are still distorted by your lies. Contact them, and tell them the truth.

I had a pretty interesting experience then I first tried this one over the summer.

There was one lie in particular that was really weighing on me. It was pretty innocuous, and had been driven by insecurity as opposed to maliciousness, but was still frequently on my mind. I messaged the person I had said it to, and told him the truth.

Two days later, I decided to take a nap. A few minutes after lying down, I experienced a strange sensation in my throat. It felt as though a massive amount of tension suddenly released. Ever since, I have found it easier to speak. Take from that what you will.