About two years ago, I gave birth to a baby boy. Shortly after, I found myself experiencing trouble giving birth to writing a book. I began believing in that much talked about “mommy brain.”

Thankfully, I’ve always loved design. If you know my books (like The Bounce Back Book), you know they’re filled with kinetic images and quirky fonts. Being the positive problem solver that I am, I began experimenting with other ways to express my creativity and began designing inspiring posters. I nicknamed them “Inspirational Flashcards” because their goal was to quickly remind people of important happiness-boosting thoughts and tools. Soon, I began receiving hundreds of emails from people thanking me for my “Inspirational Flashcards”—explaining how they truly were helping them battle depressed emotional states, even when it came to dealing with majorly challenging issues, like bipolar disorder or a loved one’s death.

I wondered: How was it possible for something as quick as a ten-second reading of a poster to change someone’s emotional state?

I discussed it with friends who also write psychologically oriented books. We all came to the same conclusion. My “Inspirational Flashcards” create what’s called a “pattern interrupt”—a psychological tool recommended by practitioners of neurolinguistic programming to help stop limiting beliefs. If you saw the movie Shallow Hal, then you saw a pattern interrupt in action in that elevator scene—albeit a humorously re-enacted example of a pattern interrupt.

If you haven’t seen Shallow Hal here’s a quickie synopsis: Tony Robbins and Jack get trapped in an elevator and begin to talk about dating. Tony speedily discovers that Jack’s character engages in a limited thought pattern—stubbornly only dating stunning women for shallow reasons. Tony helps Jack break his superficial thought pattern by surprising Jack with a clunk on his head and then shouting, “Devils come out!” Sure enough, instantly, a new mental window opens for Jack. He is now able to think about dating with a less shallow lens.

In real life, a pattern interrupt works like this: Let’s say an event happens which puts you in a grumpy mood. If you’re not careful, your negative thoughts about this one solo circumstance can create a downward spiral, where you quickly go from merely thinking “This one thing sucks” to “My whole day sucks” to “My whole life sucks” to “The world sucks” to “Distant galaxies suck.” Basically, without a pattern interrupt, a sad person can get grumpier, and an angry person can get crankier!

There’s a famous Albert Einstein quote:
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Well, Albert’s philosophy is a good explanation for why a pattern interrupt can snap you out of a negative thought loop. A pattern interrupt changes your brain’s energy state.

Here’s the neuroscientific scoop: MRIs of the brain show that every time a person thinks angry thoughts or imagines worst-case scenarios, they literally send a surge of blood flowing into brain regions associated with depression and anger, thereby refueling depression and anger. Happily, MRIs have also shown that when a person starts to think happy thoughts, they can send a surge of blood flowing into brain regions associated with happiness (the left prefrontal cortex), thereby literally refueling your positivity.

Basically, a pattern interrupt works like a “thought intervention”—creating a jiggling effect upon a person’s tightly held negative beliefs and then jumpstarting a new positive pattern of thought.

Personally, I know how hard it is to find free time in today’s uber-busy, espresso-chugging, hyperactive world. So I began wondering what other “pattern interrupts” (besides inspirational posters) might also help create happier brain neurons. Below are my go-to “Instant Happy” Tools. And please share yours below as well! Love to hear from you!


1. Do a Shower Power Meditation

Take a shower and multi-task washing away your stress and anxiety. Concentrate on the feel of the water upon your skin. Envision the power of the shower washing away your negative thoughts! Whoosh! Envision fear, regret, and anger soaping off you and swirling down the drain.

2. Send the Universe Some “Muah!”

Gratitude is often the antidote to depression. And that’s a researched fact. A study done by the University of California showed that when people took time each day to think about five things that made them happy, they increased their overall joy and improved some health issues as well. With this in mind, send five “muahs!” to the universe. Literally. Think up something you’re grateful about, then pucker up and blow the universe a kiss! Then do it again! Appreciate. Blow a kiss. Repeat. Appreciate. Blow a kiss. Repeat.

3. Sniff Your Way to a Happier Mood

Studies from the University of Miami School of Medicine report that lavender is a major olfactory happiness tool—shown to improve mood, soothe anxiety, and even help to reduce some physical pains. If you don’t have lavender around your home, grab a bottle of Vanilla Extract from your kitchen cabinet. This yummy scent is also considered a powerful aromatherapy happiness booster.

Added Bonus: Studies also show the scent of vanilla arouses men, so considered yourself forewarned!

4. Get Lit

Studies show that sitting in dark rooms can lead to darker thoughts and that, alternatively, spending time in bright light (from being outside in the sun or inside in very well-lit rooms) can create happier brain chemistry. With this in mind, the Princeton Theological Seminary recommends something called “happy light bulbs,” which is either 60- or 100-watt daylight bulbs.

5. Have Some Punch

Punch a pillow. Punch a teddy bear. Punch some dough. Get the negative energy out of your system through energetic action.

6. Do Some Heavy Petting—With a Dog or Cat

Lots of studies repeatedly show how pets are a powerful furry form of stress relief. They lower blood pressure and reduce harmful stress hormones like cortisol. Plus, hugging and playing with pets has been shown to increase happiness-inducing oxytocin. One Grimshaw study specifically showed that patients who spent a short amount of time with a dog right before undergoing an operation experienced a thirty-seven percent reduction in their anxiety levels.

7. Go Fish

A Duncan study showed that watching a fish tank for thirty minutes lowered blood pressure significantly.

8. See Your Problems from a Headstand Position

Many yoga passionistas (including celebrity yoga guru and fellow Positively Positive contributor Jennifer Pastiloff) recommend doing headstands to release stress. MRI studies even back up a headstand’s mood-boosting benefit—showing how regular headstands literally improve brain function.

9. Get Doodle Happy

Grab some magic markers and doodle lots of heart icons. Big heart doodles. Small heart doodles. Give some of the heart doodles smiley faces. The silliness of this doodling action combined with the repeated visual stimuli of seeing icons representing love will cheer you up.

Extra Feel Good Bonus: Doodle your heart icons on a plain white card and mail it to a friend/loved one with a note expressing your adoration of them.

10. Ride or Read Your Way to a Happier You

Either ride an elevator with Tony Robbins and hope you get stuck with him or look into purchasing my newest book Instant Happy—offering up a collection of “Inspirational Flashcards” that’ll give you quickie ten-second attitude makeovers! Perfect to keep in your handbag, briefcase, or la toilette for a quickie mood picker upper. (Sorry for the shameless self promotion, but I’m truly excited about my new book coming out and fully believe in its power to create happier, peppier moods!)

Karen Salmansohn is a bestselling author and designer—with over a million books sold—known for creating self-help for people who wouldn’t be caught dead doing it. She is also the founder of www.notsalmon.com—one of the U.S.’s leading websites for inspiration. Her books, which offer a range of happiness and resiliency psychology tools, have been recommended on Oprah.com—including her best selling THE BOUNCE BACK BOOK and PRINCE HARMING SYNDROME. Her newest book INSTANT HAPPY is now available from Random House. You can also connect with Karen on Twitter.