The Normalization Effect
How to train yourself to be a happier person
Once upon a time I lived in India for three years. Two years ago I left. Then, this week, I went back for the first time.
Coming back to India made me think about how, when I was living here, the lifestyle in India was normal to me.
The constant noise everywhere, the overwhelming smells, the air pollution, the poverty staring you in the face.
When I first moved here these things bitch slapped me into awareness. But then over time, I became desensitized to it all.
It became normal for me.
Over time as I settled in and saw the same things on a day to day basis, this gradually became my new normal. It became comfortable. Familiar.
It made me think about how we can “normalize” nearly anything in life if we practice it enough.
Do something enough times and it will eventually feel like second nature.
At first it might feel unfamiliar, uncomfortable, strange, foreign — but if we practice it enough, these feelings eventually fade into the background.
Another great example of this for me has been the Slackline.
The first time you step on a Slackline it shakes — violently. You try to stand up on it and your body doesn’t know how to react. You freeze, tighten up, and fall off. It’s such an unfamiliar and strange feeling that your body freaks out.
BUT over time as you repeatedly step onto it, your body becomes more familiar with the sensation of violently shaking. Your body starts to calm down, and you can gradually learn the movements required to stay on the line and start taking your first steps.
The more you practice, the more normal it becomes, and the more progress you can make.
This concept of “normalization” made me think about all of the other areas of my lifestyle that have become normalized over time.
All of the flights that I take, and how bouncing around the world like a ping pong ball has become normal to me.
All of the cultures I’ve lived in, and how being surrounded by foreign languages has become normal to me.
Working outside of an office, and how the feeling of being in an office suffocates me — because I have NOT normalized the feelings of being in an office.
It’s made me start asking myself the question — “is this uncomfortable for me because I genuinely don’t like it, or is it merely because I haven’t normalized it?”
Take for example spending money. For the vast majority of us, our financial lives don’t rapidly change overnight. This means that what you spend your money on, and how much you spend/save of it, and your feelings around money, will largely remain consistent for the foreseeable future.
Therefore when you go out to an expensive dinner/trip/party that is outside the norm of your current spending habits, you will probably worry about it and feel uncomfortable (I know I used to!)
Now instead I ask myself, “is this actually too expensive for me, or am I not used to spending this much?”
Most of the time when I ask myself this question I realize that I CAN afford to spend the money, I’m just not used to it.
For this reason, I’ve recently started to intentionally spend more than I am used to, in order to normalize a better quality of life for myself.
I’m more willing to spend money on things that will bring me happiness, so that spending money on things that make me happy becomes my new normal.
Building on this tangent, I’ve talked in the past about cultivating your “default” mode — aka what does your “normal” mood look like on a daily basis?
In the same way that we can normalize activities and parts of our lifestyle, we can also normalize different moods and emotions for ourselves….for good and for bad.
We can normalize depression. We can normalize anxiety. We can normalize sadness.
I genuinely believe that for many of the people who suffer from these emotions, it’s because they have accidentally NORMALIZED being depressed/anxious/sad!!!
They have consistently experienced this emotion day in day out over an extended period of time, and in doing so, made this their reality. They don’t see anything wrong with it because it’s normal. Nothing is out of the ordinary.
Take for example the founder who is always stressed out and anxious while working but claims they love what they do. This person doesn’t realize how stressed and anxious they are because this is their normal. He/she has been like this for so long that they don’t see the root cause of the problem.
But just because it’s normal, doesn’t mean it’s good for you. You may have “normalized” a sub-par style of life. You may have normalized negative emotions. You might accept that this is your reality because you don’t realize the momentum you have built for yourself.
So instead what can we do? Practice the emotions we want to experience.
We can normalize happiness. We can normalize gratitude. We can normalize patience. We can normalize love.
But it takes practice. It takes conscious effort. It takes consistency of doing the same things every day over an extended period of time.
At first this will feel strange, unfamiliar, uncomfortable even. That’s just because it’s not normal to you yet. If you keep doing it, you can normalize it.
We can normalize anything that we want to in life, both good and bad. Every day is a conscious choice of becoming aware of the habits we have normalized and either continuing to strengthen those habits, or choosing new ones instead.
Make happy your new normal. Make gratitude your new normal. Make a beautiful life where you expect magic to happen on a daily basis your new normal….because everyone deserves it, whether you have normalized it or not 😉
Originally published at Troy Erstling.