#1224 The Upward Spiral

And How to Get on It

The Upward Spiral by Alex Korb is a great book.

As we briefly discussed when we chatted about some parallel wisdom between that book and Tiny Habits, it’s all about “Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time.”

Basically, the neuroscience of how to get your soul right via aggregating and compounding tiny little +1 upward spiraling Optimizations!

If you or someone you love is struggling with depression, I highly recommend the book. It’s scientifically grounded yet super-easy to read, inspiring and practical. (Dan Siegel wrote the foreword and also gives it two enthusiastic thumbs up).


Alex gives us EIGHT things we can do to get on the Upward Spiral.

Here they are: exercise, decision making, sleep, habits, biofeedback, gratitude, social support, and professional help.

Today we’re going to talk about that #1 tip: EXERCISE.

Here’s Alex: “I’m sure you’ve heard a million times how good exercise is for you. Well, now it’s time to make it a million and one. Exercise is good for you. And not just for your heart and your waistline, but also for your brain—specifically, for the circuits that keep you depressed. Almost everything that depression causes can be combatted by exercise.

For example:

• Depression makes you lethargic and tired, but exercise gives you more energy and vitality.
• Depression often messes up your sleep patterns, but exercise improves your sleep, making it more restorative for your brain.
• Depression wreaks havoc on your appetite, so you either eat too little or chow down on junk food (in fact, people who eat lots of processed foods are at higher risk for depression). Exercise improves your appetite, leading to more enjoyable eating and better health.

• Depression can make it hard to concentrate, but exercise makes you mentally sharper and better at planning and decision making.
• Depression makes you… well… depressed, but exercise improves your mood. It also reduces anxiety, decreases stress, and boosts self-esteem.

• Depression usually keeps you isolated and alone, but exercise tends to bring you out into the world.

Furthermore, all of these effects make it more likely that you’ll engage in other activities and thought processes that also reverse the course of depression. For example, exercise improves sleep, which then reduces pain, improves mood, and increases energy and alertness. The reduction in pain makes you more likely to exercise and increases your enjoyment of exercise. Having more energy also makes it more likely that you’ll exercise. The take-home message is that all these cause and effects intermingle and build on each other in an upward spiral toward feeling better.”

We’ve talked about this countless times but I’m always happy to remind myself and to remind you (and your families and colleagues and clients and…) that exercise does a mind, body, and soul good!


For the million and second time: Exercise is good for you.


Let’s remember that the “upward spiral” Alex is talking about is basically the same thing we’re always talking about with aggregating and compounding tiny gains over an extended period of time. All of our little +1 Optimizations “intermingle and build on each other in an upward spiral toward feeling better.”

(Can you FEEL it?!)

Practically speaking: How’s YOUR exercise these days?

Of course, if you haven’t been moving much lately you won’t necessarily *feel* like it. That’s fine. Choose to go move your body in whatever way gives you joy for a minute (Tiny Habits for the win!) and kick start that upward spiral.


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