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November 10th, 2018

We’ve all been in a funk, and chances are, we’ll get into a funk again sometime in the future.  It can be a sort of whirlpool that eats up ungodly amounts of time and is one of the choice habitats of the Netflix binge, the ice-cream topped carb overload and the perpetual groggy superficial sleep trap. 



Each one – in fact – is it’s own whirlpool and together they seem capable of aggregating into one single powerful funky whirlpool where not much happens.


More than a couple days in such a funk can create a habit.  It’s good to note that in the literature of habit formation, 3 days is the first threshold where a habit begins to dig it’s trench in our mind. 


This is how being in a funk can turn into being stuck in a RUT.


Two things are needed in this teetering situation.  First we need the circumspect mindfulness to have the wherewithal to realize what’s going on.  To go “Oh, I’m in a funk, and if I’m not careful and proactive, I could get stuck here for a very long time.”  The first, realizing one is in a funk, is not terribly difficult.  Some may even gloat about it.  The second part, about being careful and proactive, begins to probe the tricky and counter-intuitive methods for achieving a STATE CHANGE.


The whirlpool of funk is self-perpetuating.  Like most feelings, it seeks to reinforce itself, and it’s because of this feeling, doing something to counter-act and dismantle this feeling is counter-intuitive.


Hence the all too often default response we give when someone gives us good advice like going for a walk.  We say:


“I don’t feel like it.”


And that’s the whole point.  The response we give couldn’t be more idiotic, but also, it can’t be more appropriate, and emblematic of the problem.


If we can remember the last time that we found our way out of a funk, we might have good evidence for how to do it again.  Perhaps someone dragged us out of the house to a social gathering where we had more fun than we expected.  Or we went on a hike, or a bike ride.


The physical aspect of these STATE CHANGEs is important and good to investigate.  There is a chemical that our nervous system produces called Acetylcholine.  It is responsible for all of our muscular movement.  Every time you lift the remote to press play on the next Netflix episode, there’s acetylcholine signaling the muscles in your arm and hand to contract in all the intricate ways required to skip the intro.  But very little acetylcholine is required for doing this sort of activity. 


Performing a perfect deadlift at max weight, on the other hand, produces a comparatively monstrous amount of acetylcholine.


Why is this important?  Because acetylcholine doesn’t just signal muscles.  Put very simply, acetylcholine impacts many other parts of the brain.  One example is the hippocampus, which plays a crucial role in learning and memory formation.  While it’s not fully understood, and it’s treatment here is extraordinarily simplistic, it’s safe to say that acetylcholine has a positive impact on the hippocampus.  This means that movement and exercise of any kind have a good impact on learning and memory.  Generally we concentrate on the peptide groups known as endorphins to point out how exercise has a positive impact on the brain and our mood, but acetylcholine is mentioned here merely to hint at the myriad ways that we can impact our mental state with different strategies. 


For example anger can result in damaging words that have negative repercussions on an important relationship, or that anger can be funneled towards a workout with a punching bag.  Both use the angry emotion, but the effects of each strategy ramify in completely opposite directions.  One makes life worse, while the other resolves the anger while providing a workout.



The best time to experiment with State Changes to find out what works best is before we need it. We can try different things while at a normal baseline and note how different things impact our mental state, whether it be a practice session at the piano, reading a book, or a local hike or simply dropping to the floor and refusing to get up until we’ve done a hundred pushups.   A cold shower is also a particularly effective way to kick one’s own ass, mentally that is.


We might want to speculate about all the different neurotransmitters that might be involved with these different activities and simply wonder about how they can all have positive impacts on the brain in different ways.  From a strictly conceptual standpoint, it can be a comforting thought to remember that our brains and bodies are constructed with numerous pathways we can use to level-up every time we find ourselves in a funk.  Such a thought may bring just enough curiosity to the forefront of that executive brain to ask the question:  what should I try right now? 


We might want to remember that a funk loves it’s own being in a way, and doesn’t want to give up the spotlight.  It is ultimately our choice how much we want to identify with the spotlight-hogging funk, unless of course we have already implemented a steady workout routine and the steady stream of healthy chemistry simply leaves us no choice but to feel better than we normally would.


This episode references Episode 125: Rut, Episode 42: Level-Up, and Episode 183: No Choice.

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