Money really can buy you happiness … but happiness doesn't make you rich.

“The brain is not designed to seek happiness. It's designed to seek wealth or goal achievement,” says Mark Waldman, a neuroscience researcher who has changed the world’s view on how to train your brain to achieve money, happiness and success.

Considered a leading expert on spirituality, communication and the brain, Mark is on the Executive MBA faculty at Loyola Marymount University and also teaches at Holmes Institute. Mark has authored 14 books, including the national bestseller, How God Changes Your Brain, and his new book, NeuroWisdom: The New Brain Science of Money, Happiness, and Success.

Why is your brain hardwired to make you wealthy?

From the moment you wake up, the brain wants to gather as many things as it can to enrich itself. Not just food, warmth and friends, but absolutely everything that can enhance your life. But it’s how you use this knowledge and money that will bring you happiness. By doing good for others, you feel good about yourself and your life.

Research done in the past 20 years shows income predicts your degree of happiness. According to the United Nations World Happiness Report, the number one factor for happiness is the degree of spending power you have. The number two factor is the degree of social power you have, including your number of friends, your connections, and the quality of your family and social life.

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When working with people in his Neuroscience of Happiness and Wealth eight-course video class, Mark asks this seemingly simple question:

If you had a choice between being the happiest person in the world or the wealthiest person in the world, which would you choose?

More than 90 percent of participants pick happiness. However, happiness by definition is by happenstance. So everyone knows that happiness is a momentary experience of pleasure. Research has found that among people who make more than $150,000 a year, 98 percent are happy. Among the poorest people in the world, 75 percent are happy.

“What people want is not happiness,” says Mark. “They want satisfaction, and to be engaged in meaningful work. So if you are a wealthy person, imagine how you can change the world and make it a better place. At this point, if I ask people if they want to be the happiest or the wealthiest person, 90 percent change their minds and say wealthy.”

In fact, Mark has found that if you seek happiness as a goal, you'll oftentimes end up being clinically depressed.

“So one of the most extraordinary discoveries made is that if you learn how to recognize the motivational centers in the brain — what really motivates you, what your deepest passions are, what your deepest desires are — if you focus on those goals and organize them in a particular way, you'll be able to achieve those goals far more easier,” says Mark.

What about goal setting? Does it really work?

“In neuroscience, we know that your whole brain is oriented toward visualizing what it wants in the world. And then using that visualization to make that dream, that imagination, that desire, come true,” says Mark.

Researcher Gabriele Oettingen, author of Rethinking Positive Thinking, did many studies on achieving goals. Research has shown that visualization is important to achieving any goal. She created the WOOP process, which Marks finds to be effective in any type of goal setting, from finding a new job to losing weight.

The WOOP process includes four brain training steps:

  • Wish: Visualize your simple goal.
  • Outcome: Visualize what your goal will bring you.
  • Obstacle: Visualize any obstacles to achieving your goal.
  • Plan: Visualize a step-by-step plan to help you get over the obstacles to achieving your goal.

WOOP for Weight Loss

Let’s say your wish is to lose 10 pounds. But according to Mark, that might be too big of a goal. So start with the wish to lose one pound.

“You might not be able to visualize a 10-pound loss because that could take you 10 weeks or even 10 months to do,” advises Mark. “We have all failed at losing the ideal amount of weight, but we've all succeeded at losing one pound.”

Now close your eyes and visualize losing one pound. Visualize the experience of losing one pound and what you will gain from that outcome. Now imagine what obstacles will stand in your way (which for me are cake, pizza and nachos). Be clear about the obstacles and visualize how to overcome them. To lose one pound can take one to two days, so make a commitment to not eat cake for one to two days. If you write down the plan on a daily commitment sheet, you can achieve any goal that you want or desire.

The brain doesn't distinguish between achieving a big or a tiny goal, so if you savor the accomplishment of losing that one pound, you get a rush of dopamine that goes to the planning and decision-making centers of the brain. That's what gives you the neurological power to decide if you want to lose a second pound.

Hitting the Weight Loss Wall

Be aware that at 15 to 20 days into any weight loss program, Mark cautions that you're going to hit an interesting neurological barrier: The brain finally figures out that you are losing weight. Your brain will actually remodel itself to stop you from going below your highest weight.

This sounds like bad news, but you have to understand that the human brain is about 50,000 years old and there wasn't a fast food restaurant down the street when the brain developed. So it assumes once you’ve had a meal, you better eat as much as you possibly can because you are going to starve for another three to five days before you find another morsel of food.

“So our brains are designed to sabotage ourselves in losing weight,” says Mark. “We have to accept this painful fact so that we don't blame ourselves for failing. When we know that this is biologically designed to keep you as fat as possible, it's not your fault. This is a self empowering piece of neuro wisdom.”

So this explains why weight loss is one of the most difficult goals for anyone on the planet to achieve.

What can you do? Make your goals simpler by making it your goal to lose one pound at a time. When you hit this brain barrier, you may not show any weight loss for up to three weeks as the brain resists the weight loss. But happily, after three weeks the brain gives in and you begin losing weight again.

In the Neuroscience of Happiness and Wealth eight-course video class, Mark Waldman shares how to achieve any goal by tapping into your brain power. Learn how to use your brain to achieve wealth, happiness and success by clicking on the 'Practical NeuroKnowledge' image below.

Mark Waldman on The Aware Show 1.16.17