Mind Control

Happiness is a state of mind. Here’s how to unlock and train your brain.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

While we make plans on what we’re going to do for each day, we let the mood we wake up in dictate our day. Practise “forward feeling” to set the tone for the day by deciding how you’re going to feel without letting external circumstances rule your emotions.

Whether you want to feel happy, creative, assertive, stress-free or unstoppable, focusing your thoughts in this way and setting the intention at the beginning of the day will help shape your mood and behaviour in ways that make it a reality.

“The fastest and most effective way to change how you feel is to change how you think because it’s your thoughts that generate your emotions,” says life coach Michelle Zelli.

“Thousands of thoughts pass through your mind each day, but your brain can only focus on one at a time. It’s up to you to ensure that the one you choose to home in on is the one that makes you feel how you want to feel and achieve what you want to achieve.”

Take The Right Action

Imagine this. It’s a day where you need to impress someone: your boss, the bank manager, your date. If you enter the situation worried you might mess things up, you’ll walk into the room feeling awkward. That thought changes the way you stand, your facial expression, how you interact with the person you’re seeing. As a result, your initial thoughts could lead to that person being less inclined to receive what you say with authority: it can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now, relive that same experience imagining you started your day deciding to feel confident and awesome. You walk into the room tall and confident – you look like someone who deserves to be listened to, so people do. And their positive feedback boosts your confidence further. You ace your interaction. That’s what forward feeling is all about – creating the mindset that makes things happen.

Generate The Right Feeling

What’s going on around you can also change your perception and help you focus on things that reflect your feelings. For example, playing happy music causes people to spot happy faces, while switching to sad tunes makes them pick out the unhappy ones, according to researchers in the Netherlands. Choose music, clothing, props and surroundings that reflect how you want to feel. If you need inspiration, head onto music streaming site Spotify, where people create playlists associated with mood and tasks, such as “getting things done” to “feeling creative”.

Know What Feeds Your Feelings

Discover what it is in your environment that makes you feel creative, happy or focused by journaling. “Every day, try to identify five things you did that fed the feeling you’re hoping to cultivate. This creates an evidence base of things that work for you that you can draw upon in the future,” says Michelle.

Surround Yourself With The Right People

Neuroscientists have proven that when you spend time with someone, you both start to emit the same pattern of brain waves and think alike. Researchers suggest that it’s a good idea to spend more time with people who embody the traits you want to cultivate, to help you achieve them yourself. “It is said you become most like the five people you spend the most time with – so choose wisely,” says Michelle.

Ask Yourself A Question

The question could be along the lines of “Am I feeling what I hoped right now?” Do this at least twice a day. If your answers are no, ask yourself what obstacle is in your way and how you can overcome that. “You will go off track with your thoughts now and again, but if a thought enters your head that you don’t want to tackle right now, just thank it for being there and let it go to make room for the thought you should be focusing on,” says Michelle.


The success of forward feeling comes about because your brain’s primary goal is to make you happy and achieve what it thinks you want. Every day, it assesses your main goal and filters your experiences to take you towards that. There’s also biology involved.

“All thoughts are chemical in nature. Positive thoughts generate chemicals in your body that result in positive emotions, [giving you] positive life experiences,” says Dr Vilhauer. “Good things don’t need to happen for you to feel good. Simply anticipating that they will happen will cause you to experience the feelings associated with them now.”

In the US, for example, there’s a trend called “positive passwording” that sees people choose passwords to reflect how they want to feel that day, week or month, so that every time they sign in, they’re reminded of their goal.

You can try apps like Happify and RealLifeChange to record your daily experiences and keep track of your emotions.

"Consciously choosing how to think [will] help create the path of your life"
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Start the day with positive affirmations to set the tone. While you’re getting ready, talk to yourself in the mirror and say, “Today will be a good day.”