Every mental health insight I’ve learned, as concisely as possible

Every mental health insight I’ve learned, as concisely as possible

First, here’s a few helpful essay / blogs:

These are reminders to myself as much as they are directives to anyone else.

I recommend re-visiting a few times. Or reading only a few ideas and mulling over them for a bit. Take the time necessary to weave them into the fabric of your life.

Hope they help!

1. You are not your thoughts.

Thoughts are random, fleeting reactions to your surroundings, experiences, and memories. They are not who you are. They are random.

As much as we silly humans like to, there’s no need to latch onto them.

They are not true. They are not representative of reality.

Don’t forget that.

2. Consistent negative emotions are signals from your brain telling you that you aren’t living the way a human is built to live.

When you feel anxious / depressed / burnt out, you should review how you’re living and see if it’s aligned with how humans evolved to live.

Your mind is wired to spend its entire life with a tribe of ~15 people, use most of the day hunting for food, constantly be aware of potential threats, and try to have kids.

In my opinion, humans must live a similar way to feel alive.

We must maintain strong, loving connections with a handful of people. Do hard things that reap rewards. Be active and get sunlight. Eat healthy. Stay hydrated. Give ourselves the space and time to let their brain unwind. And, get quality sleep.

It’s simple, but not easy. Naturally, you will mess up. So you gotta remember that…

3. You’re just a monkey with a plan.

A large part of your mind is outdated and not well-suited for the current world.

In today’s day, we are exposed to thousands of people every day. There is more food than we can imagine. And practically no threats to our lives.

But our oh-so-friendly monkey mind continues to deeply care what other people think, chew its way into obesity, and freak out over the smallest problems. It’s wired that way. So fun!

It won’t stop. So, instead of trying to prevent your monkey mind from manufacturing irrational thoughts, just don’t take your thoughts so seriously. Work around them.

Our monkey mind spends time on many silly things, but above all: it loves short-term pleasure. On that note…

4. The endless pursuit of pleasure leads to a lot of pain.

Pleasure and pain are deeply intertwined. Sort of like a seesaw. Too much pleasure and your brain will make you feel pain. Too much pain and your brain will manufacture some pleasure.

When you get dopamine from something, you will need more of it to experience the same levels next time. This is adaptation made humans seek more (we evolved from people that had to travel many miles a day to find food). The pain-pleasure seesaw relationship kept us alive.

But now, we live in an abundant world with lots of dopamine. So, those ancient neural pathways get exposed.

Life is about finding balance in our world of abundance.

Our brain tries to balance it out through a dopamine deficit state. Then, we experience the universal feelings of withdrawal: anxiety, irritability, insomnia, and craving. Aaaand then we reach for that same dopamine that messed us up. And thus, the cycle continues.

The solution? Cut out cheap dopamine (ex: social media). Ideally cut it out for 4 weeks. Then, slowly reintegrate it (if you want). Lay the foundation for a healthy relationship with proper barriers.

3 methods to put yourself in a position to succeed

Self Binding: Your present self doesn’t let future self use the substance. You put phone away in a different room when doing work. Or call the hotel to remove mini bar before you arrive.

Chronological Binding: Only do things on certain days of the week. Ex: only party on weekends.

Categorical Binding: Group things into you can and can’t do. Ex: can only play video games with friends.

Also, we can deal with more pain and experience it better if we find a greater purpose in our pain.

5. All the real scorecards are internal.

The real winners in life are the ones who have internalized such self-control and self-awareness that they don’t need anything from anybody else.

Caring about things that you can control makes you more resilient to life’s inevitable shittiness.

We can’t know anyone else’s inner life. It could be wonderful or it could be a mess. The problem is that looking at it from the outside gets us nowhere because people show us only what they want us to see.

So, never compare yourself and your progress to anyone but yourself.

6. Moods are like muscles.

Most people are just reactive. Good weather, good mood. Bad weather, bad mood. No traffic? Good mood. Mean boss? Bad mood.

If you can control your mood, you’re unstoppable. You’re unconditional.

So, how do you get better at controlling your mood? Train it like a muscle. The more you do a certain mood (eg. playful, anxious etc.), the better you are at it.

It doesn’t matter if you’re rich. If you’re stressed out, you have a shitty quality of life.

Now, everybody has times where they are very generous..and times they’re assholes. But, where do you spend the most time? That’s your emotional home. Work towards a positive emotional home like joy / curiosity rather than stressed / anxious.

7. Sometimes, you can’t out-think a problem.

Problems pop up all the time. You solve and overcome most of them. Sometimes though, those problems keep bothering you. Maybe you remind yourself of something somebody said a while ago. Or you have an injury that won’t go away. Or you roominate on something you did or said the previous night.

In these moments, you’re overthinking. These things make you feel down. But, thinking about them more doesn’t fix anything. And telling someone to think their way out of overthinking is like telling someone to snort their way out of a cocaine addiction.

It doesn’t work.

The way to get rid of this stuff is to accept it and take action. Remember that everything which arises, will pass. But what you resist, persists.

Accept and embrace your current situation. Then take steps towards improving it.

8. Action leads to belief.

You don’t become confident by shouting affirmations at the mirror. Instead, build an undeniable stack of proof that you are who you say you are.

Confidence is the byproduct of adventure. If you want more confidence, just increase the amount of adventure (saying yes to things that are outside your comfort zone).

Every time you have an adventure and you don’t die, your brain becomes more confident (I can do this, and it’s not so bad, next time I won’t be afraid).

9. Get back to the basics.

There will be times when your brain gets worked up, overstimulated, & spirals into negative thoughts. When that happens, get back to the basics:

  1. Consistent morning routine w/ no phone.
  2. Chip away at the important (& stress-causing) tasks. Knock out one big thing in the morning to build momentum early in the day.
  3. Explore your curiosity (write & walk if you’d like)
  4. Socialize with friends. Have free time to think. Don’t overstimulate your brain.
  5. Eat well. Exercise well. Hydrate. Walk & get natural sunlight.
  6. Consistent night routine w/ no phone. Write 3-5 things (big or small) you want to get done in the day on a notecard. Then, go to sleep.

10. Care about things that matter.

We give value to the wrong things. Society tells us that more is better. So we naturally put value to more. Rather than putting it into love, connection, relationships, and personal growth.

So many people are so fogged up that they don’t even know what really matters in life. Even when your brain starts to care about unimportant things and those things make you feel shitty.

Remind yourself that you don’t care about those things. Over time, you will train yourself to not care about them. The training takes decades (or a lifetime). But it’s a worthy battle.

11. Hard conversations, easy life. Easy conversations, hard life.

If we want to live a happy & whole-hearted life, we have to talk about the things that get in our way (especially shame, fear, and vulnerability).

If we don’t talk about the obstacles of our true priorities, they will continue to stay in our way, unaddressed, and we will suffer from it. By confronting our issues (ex: negative self talk), we can figure out how to solve them & enjoy a more full life.

By not talking about it, we are trading another day of “stress free” living for more time not feeling genuinely accepted by ourselves and others. We spend another day living an imaginary person's life.

So, how do you have a hard conversation?

First, write out how you feel and what you want to change. Second, find a trusted friend/family member/therapist and tell them about what you wrote. Third, genuinely listen to their thoughts (and your own) & come up with an approach together. Finally, test and iterate. Hypothesize a cause, change a variable (food, habit, etc), see how it changes you, & adjust accordingly.

You won’t be perfect. But, more iterations lead to better solutions.

12. If you can’t seem to make yourself happy, do little things to make other people happy.

This is a very effective magic trick.

Buy coffee for the person behind you in line, compliment a stranger, volunteer at a soup kitchen, help a classroom on Donors Choose, buy a round of drinks for the line cooks and servers at your favorite restaurant, etc.

The little things have a big emotional payback, and guess what? Chances are, at least one person you make smile is on the front lines with you, quietly battling something nearly identical.

13. Consistent reflection helps you spot patterns and proactively prevent negative outcomes.

Each reflection is a data point. Over time, you can spot patterns in those data points.

You may see that a certain activity consistently makes you feel great (or terrible). You may see that you are very interested in a certain subject. Or that your heart just isn’t in it for another.

For me, these broader-quality-of-life-trend insights almost only come after I review previous reflections.

Plus, reflection gives you the time to process all of the things going on in your life.

14. Happiness requires presence.

At any given time, when you’re walking down the street, a very small percentage of your brain is focused on the present. The rest is planning the future or revisiting the past.

This keeps you from having an incredible experience. It keeps you from seeing the beauty in everything and being grateful for where you are.

15. Fully embrace the current moment.

A happy person isn’t someone who’s happy all the time.

It’s someone who is satisfied with what they have. Someone who effortlessly interprets events in such a way that they don’t lose their innate peace.

They flow with their ever-changing river of life and accept it in most cases.

16. Figure out tricks that help you.

Below are three tips that consistently help me. They might seem simplistic, but they keep me from careening too far off the tracks. They are my defense against the abyss. And they might help you find your own.

Test them, keep your favorites, and use them as a starting point:

1) Go to the gym with no phone and move for at least 30 minutes.

For me, this is 80% of the battle. I always feel better after a workout. And sometimes, the shittiest days are fuel for the best workouts.

2) Walk with no phone

Just get up. Leave all stimulants behind you. And walk around outside. Let your brain work itself out.

3) Dance in the shower

Nothing like a really good dance party. Usually latin music will do the trick.

Fun fact: dancing is the most effective treatment for depression

I hope this helps you or a friend out.

Your friend,


Hey! If you liked this, you’d also love Notes To Self. Every Friday, I send out a 3 minute email of my notes from the coolest things I read, heard, watched, or used that week. Check it out here :)

PS: here’s 4 extra insights from my brother Paul

From Paul (read his newsletter here!)

Create an emergency protocol.

Have a touchstone you can come back to when shit hits the fan. It could be a piece of media, a mantra, a scripture. Just something you can go to when the world gets crazy.

An example could be the Buddhist phrase “This too shall pass”

You don’t use this often but you know it’s there if there is an emergency.

Build connection to feel more alive.

When you are depressed (or anxious to some extent) you start to believe you are no longer connected to the world or your community. If you no longer feel connected, you may lose the will to live.

Luckily, connection exists everywhere.

  • Find a sport team you love and follow them and watch their games with friends.
  • Find a good group of friends to do dinners with or other activities where phones are minimally used.
  • Find a band you absolutely love.
  • Find a local restaurant or dive bar you enjoy.
  • Find time to get into nature to remember you are part of this beautiful world and it’s part of you.

These things give you life.

If you are looking forward to getting a good meal with friends, going to that new artist’s concert, or going to your favorite teams next game…you will be less likely to believe you don’t matter. Because you do. Someone has to eat that food, dance to that song, or cheer for that team.

Keep up your maintenance.

  1. Find a sleep routine and ritual to get 8 hours
  2. Have some sort of wearable so you can connect bad sleep to bad feeling and realize you might just need some sleep
  3. Learn to understand how certain foods and activities make you feel. How do you feel after going for a run? What about after a big meal? What about after a night of drinking?

Start to find correlations between activities and feelings. General hack is if you feel good after, it’s probably good for you. Delayed gratification.

Find a philosophy or practice that will make you more anti-fragile.

  1. Transcendental Meditation - Have some sort of mindfulness practice
  2. Buddhism - Have some sort of spiritual connection to the earth / living beings and learn to understand the nature of your mind
  3. Stoicism - Learn to deal with the terrible shit that will eventually happen to you.

Find a philosophy that will make you anti-fragile. It becomes more useful when things go wrong.

See yourself as a hero on an epic journey not a victim. If you are on a journey, your story is never over so you can’t be a helpless victim for too long. It’s just another part of the quest!