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9 Mind Hacks That Will Make Your Day Better

Fake it till you make it.

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1. Trick yourself into thinking you got a good night's sleep.

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A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology showed that just thinking you've had a good night's sleep can make you sharper the next day.

In the experiment, 164 people were assigned randomly to "above average" and "below average" sleep quality groups. All participants were hooked up to machines they were told could measure how much rapid eye movement (REM) sleep they'd got the night before. Most people spend around 25% of the night in REM sleep. One group was told they'd spent 28.7% of the night in REM sleep, the others 16.2%.

Then they had to complete a test that involved quickly adding up numbers (you can take a version online, if you like). Those who were told they'd had above-average sleep quality performed much better than the below-average group.

Weirdly, both groups' performances were in line with what would be expected if they'd actually got the amount of sleep they'd been told they had. So instead of complaining about your bad night's sleep, try lying to yourself.

2. Convince yourself you're tired to get to sleep sooner.

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Got an early start tomorrow, but can't get to sleep early because you don't feel tired yet? Acting sleepy could trick your body into thinking you're actually tired.

"When you behave as if you are sleepy you become tired," Richard Wiseman writes in Night School (Macmillan, 2014). "To take advantage of this strange effect, let your eyes droop, your mouth hang open, and your arms and legs feel heavy. Sink into your bed as if you have had a long and tiring day in the office. Even fake a yawn or two. In short, fool your body into thinking that it is time for bed."

3. Stop yourself frowning and you'll feel less sad.

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One study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology found that it's harder to stay sad if you can't look sad. Twenty-five women, 12 of whom had received Botox injections that stop them frowning, had their moods tracked. The people who'd had Botox had "significantly less negative mood" than the other participants. "Paralysis of the frown muscles could make it harder to maintain negative emotions just as paralysis of smile muscles makes happy emotions harder to maintain," write the study authors.

Various other studies show a similar phenomenon. For example, scientists at the Technical University of Munich got Botox recipients to make angry faces while in an fMRI machine, and their brains showed less activity in the areas that process emotions than people who had not had Botox.

4. Fill your days with new experiences to feel like you have more time.


Novel experiences feel like they last longer than familiar ones, a study published in 2004 in the journal Perceptions & Psychophysics found.

Everyone's had the feeling of time slowing down during something dramatic and dangerous, like a fall or a car accident. But according to the study, non-threatening experiences that are new or unexpected produce a similar, if less dramatic, effect.

Peter Tse, the lead researcher on the study, told Popular Science that the brain processes more information per second when we're paying attention.

So, aside from stealing a TARDIS, filling your days with new experiences is the best way to mess with time.


5. Do creative work when you're tired for more inventive solutions.

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Being less focused could actually be a help, not a hindrance, when you're trying to think up your next big idea.

In a study published in the journal Thinking & Reasoning, 428 students were asked to complete a questionnaire to determine whether they were a morning or an evening person. They then had to complete a test made up of insight problems – questions that require creative thinking, rather than diligent calculation – either in the morning or late afternoon. The result was surprising: Students performed better when they took the test at a time when they should have been less alert (such as an evening person taking the morning exam).

Which might explain why people claim to get their best ideas as they're falling asleep, or bleary-eyed in the shower.

6. Tell yourself your job or household chores count as exercise and reap the benefits.

Being aware of the exercise benefits of your job or activities could actually help you become fitter.

In one study published in Physiological Science, 84 female room attendants were split into two groups: one group was told that cleaning hotel rooms was good exercise and counted as an "active lifestyle", whereas the others weren't given that information. Four weeks later, the group who were told they were active had lost weight and experienced a drop in blood pressure, despite not actually changing their behaviour.

7. Look at yourself through inverted binoculars to lessen pain.

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Making a body part look smaller could actually decrease any pain you're feeling in it.

In a study published in Current Biology in 2008, ten patients with chronic pain in one arm watched their arm as they performed a variety of movements. They repeated the movements four times: once just looking at their arm normally, once while looking through binoculars with no magnification, once while looking through binoculars that made their arm look bigger, and finally while looking through inverted binoculars to make their arm look smaller.

Every time they moved their arm the pain was worse than it had been before, but when they saw their arm as smaller than it actually was, the pain was less. (It also increased when looking through normal binoculars).

8. Pretend your decaf is caffeinated and feel more alert.

No proper tea or coffee left in the house, but still need a mid-afternoon boost? Dig out the decaf and lie to yourself.

Evidence shows that decaffeinated drinks can give you all the effects of the real deal, but you have to believe that they will. A 2011 study published in the journal Appetite found increased performance on attention tests and improved mood in people who drank caffeine – or believed they had.

But if you expect to do worse on something because of caffeine, you most likely will. A 1994 study published in Psychopharmacology showed people who believed they'd drunk caffeine, and that it would give them a boost, performed better on a hand-eye coordination task than people who drank caffeine but were primed to expect worse results.

Thankfully, regular coffee-drinkers are likely to expect good results. A study published in the journal Psychological Assessment found that the more coffee you drink, the more you come to expect a pick-me-up effect.

9. Make your doodles loopy to aid creativity.

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There's some evidence that fluid drawings can help your thoughts become more fluid, too.

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology got participants to trace two different drawings, one designed to elicit fluid movements and the other would be more jerky. While tracing the drawings they completed two tasks, one analytical and one creative. In the creative task, a word association test (for example, the prompt "horse, human, drag" could be solved with the word "race"), the participants drawing fluid shapes solved more problems in the time given than those drawing boxy ones.