Updated: Oct 3, 2022
“What You Think, You Become”
“The Words You Speak Become the House You Live In”
“If You Can Think It, You Can Achieve It”
Just a few of the cliche phrases we see lining the shelves of HomeGoods and sprinkled throughout our favorite coffee shops. Do we ever pause to consider these sayings or are they just trendy aphorisms meant for college dorm rooms?
I’ve been curious about the human brain recently, specifically, the mind/ body connection and how our thoughts can shape our lives. I’ve been wondering — can we really trick our brain into thinking something and therefore create it? If we tell ourselves over and over that we are millionaires, will we miraculously bring in new income streams or stumble upon an anonymous beneficiary? If I repeat to myself every morning in the mirror “You are beautiful and have clear, glowing skin” will my acne go away (pls say yes)?
The answer is, yes, kind of, to all the above (minus the beneficiary).
Neuroplasticity. Wikipedia defines it as the following:
“Neuroplasticity can be viewed as a general umbrella term that refers to the brain's ability to modify, change, and adapt both structure and function throughout life and in response to experience.”
We have the power to change the way we think and interpret our surroundings. We do this to survive our circumstance. This powerful tool can be used to our benefit, or, if ignored and denied, our detriment.
We can literally change our brains. How cool is that?
I stumbled upon this video where Dr. Rick Hanson deep-dives into what neuroplasticity is and how we can use it to our advantage. He states that the left prefrontal cortex of our brain controls our positive emotions. It also is the part of the brain that pumps the breaks on negative emotions. Essentially, we want to activate that part of the brain more in order to create happier thoughts, which sends positive messages to the brain, making us more fulfilled, self-realized human beings.
How do we do that? By focusing our *attention* on happier thoughts. Cue gratitude practices, meditation and manifestation.
By creating and sticking to a gratitude practice (journaling/prayer/affirmations, etc.) we reward the positive-related neurotransmitters in our brains, creating natural opioids & noradrenaline, which are hormones that make us happy. Dr. Hanson refers to this as the “Brightening of the Mind”.
“If we rest our attention routinely on what we resent, what we regret, our hassles, our lousy roommate, that sort of thing, we’re going to build out those neural substrates. On the other hand, if we rest our attention on the things we’re grateful for, the blessings in our life, wholesome qualities in ourselves and the world around us, the things that we get done, most of which are fairly small things, yet they’re accomplishments nonetheless, if we do that, we build up a very different neural substrate.”
AKA when you focus on the good, the good gets better. Conversely, if you are consistently thinking in a negative headspace, you will continue to attract negativity and the bad outcomes follow.
Meditation; one of my favorite topics. By sitting for a an extended period of time in silence, alone with our thoughts, we are fixing our attention on one specific task. We are continuously redirecting the monkey brain to live, feel and breathe in the present moment, while simultaneously pushing away intrusive thoughts. By doing this, all else falls away; we are training our brain to sit still and rely on our other senses. If we do this correctly, we are literally forming new neural pathways by using parts of our brain that may have been lying dormant up to this point.
Dr. Hanson stresses the benefit of regularly practicing meditation when he says “This has also been found among meditators: People who maintain some kind of regular meditative practice actually have measurably thicker brains in certain key regions.” in this article.
Bonus: it has been proven that people who routinely practice relaxation have more control over their stress response, thus making them more resilient. Love that for us.
A key concept to note with both a gratitude practice and meditation, is the importance of lowering stress levels. Why? Because when the brain is under extreme stress, it tends to shut now completely. If the brain is frozen or acting in a fight or flight response, it is producing cortisol, a stress hormone. As Dr. Tara Swart puts it in this podcast “High levels of stress (cortisol) kills brain cells.”
Dr. Hanson’s take on stress:
“On the other hand, people who routinely experience chronic stress—particularly acute, even traumatic stress—release the hormone cortisol, which literally eats away, almost like an acid bath, at the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain that’s very engaged in visual-spatial memory as well as memory for context and setting. For example, adults who have had that history of stress and have lost up to 25 percent of the volume of this critically important part of the brain are less able to form new memories.”
Last but definitely not least, manifestation. I love the idea of manifestation, or the idea that if you have the ability to think a thought, you have the ability to make that thought a reality. As Angelina Lombardo, the author of Spiritual Entrepreneur, says, in this article, “Manifesting is making everything you want to feel and experience a reality...via your thoughts, actions, beliefs, and emotions.”
The idea is that, once you get specific about what it is that you want, you ask the universe for it. This can be done in a number of ways; meditation, creating mantras, mood boards, yelling it out your window, etc., etc.
As Gabby Bernstein, the author of one of my favorite books, The Universe Has your Back, puts it “Manifesting is also known as co-creating because it’s a collaboration between you and the universe.”
Manifesting does not work by asking the universe for what you want and expecting to find it on your doorstep the following week. You have to take actionable steps towards that goal or dream. You have to put in the work and make it part of your daily routine. For example, if you want a new job, hop on LinkedIn everyday for one hour a day and network with individuals in this career field and begin mock-interviewing for that role.
An important concept to note: manifesting begins to work for us only after we first release the negative beliefs that we have about ourselves and replace them with positive ones. For example, you want to make more money but you don’t feel you deserve a six-figure paycheck. To combat this negative thought, try replacing it with a positive one that says “I am deserving of the money that I am about to receive”. You could take this a step further and physically write a check out to yourself for a specific amount (way more than you are comfortable with) keep it in your wallet and cash it in when you reach that milestone.
Oprah weighs in on the severity of negative self-talk when she says:
“Telling yourself you’re not good enough, you’re not worthy enough, you’re not smart enough, you’re not enough—it’s a tape that’s playing for a lot of people. If you’re not conscious of that, then you end up acting out of that belief system and not what you know to be the truest or want to be the truest for yourself. You don’t become what you want, because so much of wanting is about living in the space of what you don’t have.”
It is important to identify these limiting self-beliefs, get to the root of their origin and work towards flipping those ideas upside down. It is a continuous practice, a habit that must be formed and actively reinforced. I use this tool of stopping a bad thought in its tracks and replacing it with a positive one every single day. I can truly say that it has been a game- changer in terms of actively calling in abundance and change.
I want to wrap this blog post up by stressing the importance of time. None of the above are going to work unless you put in the time. This is not something that is going to happen overnight. You will need to make an effort every single day, multiple times a day. These neural pathways can take about as long to develop as it would take a grown adult to learn a new language. As Dr. Hanson puts it: “The skills we practice tend to improve. Focusing on exact tasks increases the likelihood of change.”
I can say that for myself personally, these practices have become rituals that I implement in my day-to-day life that I consistently fall back on. Sometimes I stray from these tools because I am human, but ultimately, I come back to them. I have seen such a positive change in my mental wellbeing as well as the actual, tangible things I have asked the universe for that are now a part of my life.
Disclaimer: creating a mindfulness routine is not the only way to change your brain. In fact, a lot of the time, your brain just wants you to try something new! This new thing should be challenging and rewarding. Maybe it’s time to finally learn Italian or take that cooking class you've been dying to try. There should be an intention behind this new challenge. The key is attention and repetition.
As Dr. Hanson puts it: “Use the mind to change the brain to change the mind for the better.”
Does your brain hurt yet?
If you want to go even deeper, I really enjoyed this podcast with Dr. Andrew Huberman on the subject and highly recommend listening.
Hope you enjoyed this read and maybe it put a little pep in your step like it did for me. It’s nice to know that it isn’t all downhill after 30 after all ;) Let me know if you found this post interesting and if you tried any of these tactics!