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The Physiology of your Thoughts

It’s an accepted fact that “practice makes perfect”. The more you workout, the stronger, leaner and muscular you become. If you cook more, the taste of you food gets better. Almost all aspects of life work in that manner. Therefore success too, is a result of constant effort.

What does this have to with your thoughts?

I’m glad you asked (assuming you did :P)
The strength of your thoughts work in a similar way too. Every time you think of something, your brain release a series of chemicals and this is how you become aware of the fact that you are “thinking”. How you feel, is a result of these chemicals flowing through your brain (full disclosure, scientists are still figuring out how the brain works). Just like how your muscles get bigger and stronger as you exercise regularly, certain thought patterns and feelings also get stronger and more embedded in your head, as you think of it more.

This is essentially a self reinforcing cycle. Here’s how it works :

Essentially, you have a thought (it can be a good one or a bad one). This thought causes your brain to release certain brain chemicals. You feel something. Your brain looks for reasons around you to reinforce this thought that you had. If you find a couple of reasons, then this thought becomes a belief. Now every time this thought arises more feelings flow through you and the belief becomes stronger. It’s a powerful / viscous cycle. Funny how insulin resistance also works in a similar way.

Just as how certain foods give you a happy sensation, your thoughts too can trigger this. The way you think can profoundly affect the working of every cell in your body. Multiple polygraph test studies has shown this.

In such a study, a person is hooked up to a polygraph machine and asked a series of questions. The machine can quite accurately assess if the person in lying or not. If uncomfortable questions are asked, it’s easy to notice how the persons heart rate increases, breathing becomes a bit shallow, muscles get tensed, sweating increases etc. Isn’t it amazing how so many responses occurred in the body just because of a few questions? These questions triggered a thought process in the person (victim haha) and that causes him or her to go through these physical reactions.

We could ask you the same. Imagine back in school, if you ever flunked a test and had to let your parents know about it; how did it feel? Like the end of the world? Like the end of your world is more apt I suppose. We’ve all been there, whether it’s flunking a test, eating dessert before dinner, or breaking moms precious crockery etc. and your folks finding out would be the scariest thing right? The thought of it alone could trigger a lot of physiological responses, even if the dreaded event has not yet occurred. Such is the power of our thoughts.

So why is all this important?

Coming back to the self reinforcing cycle where thoughts become beliefs; now imagine if you have a relatively negative thought and you find enough reasons to support it. What happens then? You believe it to be true and everytime there’s a stimulus, the belief gets stronger. How many times have you done something silly and then told yourself “Oh man I’m so stupid” and then probably laughed it off? The thing is, your brain picks up on all this. The brain affirms that you are stupid because you said it so many times. It has to be true then right? Our subconscious can never tell the difference between a joke and the real thing.

While watching a horror film, why does your heart start racing when the demon arrives? It is a movie after all. The brain feels that there may be a threat and hence respond in this manner. Scary right? I mean the way our brains work, not the movie demon.

So what can you do?

Here’s the best part, just as negative thoughts get reinforced, so does positive ones. Being aware of how your brain and thoughts work, gives you immense power to change the way you think. Now you know how this works.

Affirmations, visualisation techniques, meditation and so forth are all powerful tools to help rewire the brain. If you’re reading this right now, chances are that you really want to change and improve your health, wellbeing and well, life! The challenge is to start taking action. We read and learn about how certain things are good for us but many a time fail to take the first step. Do it now! Find out the self reinforced negative thoughts that are limiting you! Break it and replace it with a more powerful positive one! You owe that to yourself.

As a start do this : Every time you catch yourself thinking of a negative thought, change it immediately with a positive one. Trust us, this works!
So if you accidentally say,
“I’m stupid”, rephrase it to “I’m actually smart at many things. I just need to improve on certain other stuff…”
Something along these lines.
You get the idea!

References :
1. Davison, G.C., Feldman, P.M. and Osborn, C.E., 1984. Articulated thoughts, irrational beliefs, and fear of negative evaluation. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 8(4), pp.349-362.

2. Wong, S.S., 2008. The relations of cognitive triad, dysfunctional attitudes, automatic thoughts, and irrational beliefs with test anxiety. Current Psychology, 27(3), pp.177-191.

3. Byrne, D. and Griffitt, W., 1966. A developmental investigation of the law of attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4(6), p.699.

4. Norem, J.K. and Chang, E.C., 2002. The positive psychology of negative thinking. Journal of clinical psychology, 58(9), pp.993-1001.


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