How This Entrepreneur Overcame Depression When Self-Help Didn't Work
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
The following article is based on excerpts from Ben Angel's book, Unstoppable: A 90-Day Plan to Biohack Your Mind and Body for Success. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | IndieBound. And stay tuned for The Unstoppable Journal, the only journal of its kind based on neuroscience, psychology and biohacking to help you reach your goals. (Coming December 2019.)
In my darkest hours of depression, I had immense hatred for myself. I hated myself for not being able to do the things I loved. I hated myself for barely being able to work due to mental exhaustion, and I hated myself because I felt like a fraud. For 15 years, I'd taught and written three books on self-help, and yet, everything I taught failed. It didn't matter how healthy I ate, how much I worked out or read. I'd only ever get a quick boost of motivation before it ran out. And, worse yet, I lost the thing that mattered most: my sense of self.
I found myself asking: Why does self-help work for some, but not for others? Why do some make transformational changes, while others are left to fight alone? And why don't we take those suffering from depression seriously? If someone's arm's broken, we understand why they're in pain, but if someone's depressed, we assume they're weak. We misdiagnose excuses, procrastination and depression as causes, not symptoms. We assume it's the result of a negative attitude. This is what my doctors tried to convince me of when they just didn’t know the answers to what was wrong with me. But we couldn't have been more wrong! The truth is, just because we can't see the cause of the pain doesn't mean the pain doesn't exist.
All of the self-help work I've studied over the years perpetuates the myth that if someone's depressed, anxious or unmotivated, they just need to change their thinking. Crucial, yes, but to succeed in life, our psychology and our biology need to work in tandem. It's two sides of the same coin. When we look at peak performers, we only look at one side of the coin -- their psychology -- while overlooking the underlying biochemistry that supports and fuels that peak-performing psychology.
Our hustle-until-you-die culture expects us to do whatever it takes. The problem is we can't continue to pay a high psychological price day after day without paying a high biological one as well. We must look deeper and ask: What happens when someone is unknowingly experiencing nutritional deficiencies, hormonal changes, toxins, digestive issues or side effects from medication or inflammation? Current research tells us they would become unmotivated, depressed and fatigued, because these triggers mimic psychological disorders that we misdiagnose as a poor attitude.
We will always default back to our biochemical setpoint. If that setpoint is accustomed to being mentally and physically exhausted, no matter how much you try and think your way out of it, you'll always land right back where you began until the triggers are removed. However, you must work out what those triggers are. You can medicate with self-help all you like. You may get better momentarily, but the question is, will you get well?
We've been led to believe that to become motivated, we need to be inspired and think positively. Yet studies have shown that chronic inflammation negatively impacts motivation by reducing dopamine in the brain. Chronic inflammation caused by chronic stress grossly affects the brain's ability to stay focused and be creative. In a survey of 25,000 individuals, we uncovered that only 6 percent of people are true peak performers, in the sense that they have the mental clarity, energy and cognitive abilities to process psychological work successfully. The clincher? Fifty-three percent reported suffering from brain fog, fatigue, negative looping thoughts, procrastination and self-doubt that make it near impossible for the psychological work to stick.
Imagine trying to motivate yourself when you have intense mental exhaustion. Imagine trying to push through with willpower when you're always tired, and imagine trying to convince yourself you're OK when every step you take is like walking through mud. It's like trying to start a car without gas. It doesn't matter how much you try and turn the key; it's not going to budge, and nothing will change until you refuel it. Our environment has changed, but our thinking hasn't. It's time for a paradigm shift decades in the making.
The truth is, going after your goals is like driving up to an intersection. You need to turn right to reach them, but if you're exposed to toxins, inflammation, digestive issues, food sensitivities or side effects from medication, your primal brain will force you to turn left to rest and recover. You only have enough energy in your tank to fight against the malaise that's draining you, leaving you with less than enough stamina to go after your goals. Your brain has turned on its self-preservation mode, where it has to prioritize vital bodily functions over your goals.
In this state, you'll find yourself torn between who you are and who you could be, and until you remove the underlying triggers, your primal mind will keep forcing you to rest because it doesn't have the energy to spare to make that critical right turn necessary for a sense of neverending energy, clarity, drive and purpose. You'll feel like two different people continually fighting against yourself. This fight will only cause you to become even more emotionally and physically exhausted, just like I was.
That's why I'm tired. I'm tired of those that claim there's only one solution to this complex problem. I'm tired of people getting told to toughen up when they need help locating the root of their rut, and I'm tired of people telling others to quit making excuses. It's time to find a better way and travel down a path that's based on neuroscience, psychology and biohacking, so no stone goes left unturned and no person gets left behind. This is why, after suffering from debilitating mental fatigue, depression and anxiety, with the little energy I had, I went on a 90-day mission to biohack my way back to health and uncover what holds us back based on science, not theory. And, best of all, I finally answered the question of why self-help works for some, not for others, and it's time people learned what it is so we can end the internal torment people go through.
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