What would you LIKE to think? The Biology of Thoughts, Part II
In my blog article, What are you REALLY Thinking? The Biology of Thoughts, Part I, (you can click here to read it), I talk about how the survival part of your brain has a tremendous influence on your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Most of the 95% of the subconscious thoughts that occupy your brain essentially keep you in “fear mode” much of the time.
My “Biology of Thoughts” chart (see below) illustrates the journey of our thoughts.
My previous blog focused on the bottom row concepts, and I offered some steps to help you interrupt fear-based thinking. In this article, we will explore the upper part of the chart, which starts with “Pleasant/Happy.” Sounds promising already, doesn’t it?
Once you are aware that your survival brain is trying to keep you safe but not always in a helpful way, you can use this new information to see how you are approaching situations in your life. From there, you can shift a problem or stressful situation by focusing on happy and pleasant thoughts. Let’s see what effects this focus can produce.
Rewiring your brain to think more positively
Research by the National Science Foundation found that the average person has up to about 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those thousands of thoughts, more than 90% were exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before!
What this means is that your brain has developed habits of thinking over your lifetime. And as we now know, most of those habits put you on the survival-thinking path instead of the happy-thriving path.
This is why you want positive change; to make great choices and feel happy in your life, yet you probably wonder why you cannot make those things happen. The reason is that it takes time to shift those thoughts that have taken so long to develop in your brain — but it’s possible, and you can do it!
By shifting your fear-based, negative thoughts to pleasant, positive, and happy ones, you are rewiring your brain to develop new habits of thinking. In turn, your brain shifts its signals to the body to produce “happy” hormones. This is the next step on the chart called “Serotonin/Dopamine.”
Happy hormones? Yes, please!
When it comes to hormones, your body responds to your thoughts. Fear-based thinking signals your body to produce cortisol and adrenaline to prepare you to fight or flee danger, even if it’s perceived danger, making it more difficult to think clearly and make good decisions. Stress hormones can be harmful to your body too. In the same way — and with the opposite effect — your thoughts can signal your brain to send out what are known as “happy” hormones, which have you feeling a higher level of calm, wellbeing, motivation, and even joy.
The four main happy hormones are:
- Serotonin: stabilizes mood, increases feelings of wellbeing
- Dopamine: increases pleasure and motivation; the brain’s “reward system”
- Endorphins: help reduce stress and feelings of pain
- Oxytocin: known as the “chemical of love,” helps boost happiness as well as our immune system
These chemicals are all produced naturally in your body and are stimulated by your behaviors and your thoughts.
Here are just a few of the happy-producing behaviors you can welcome into your life: exercise, healthy eating, walking in nature, playing with a pet, getting enough sleep, hugging your family, achieving positive goals, playing games, listening to music, and laughing.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? However, especially if you are steeped in stress and worry, you don’t allow yourself to take the time for these uplifting activities. This is why I wrote my best-selling book, Brain Makeover: A Weekly Guide to a Happier, Healthier, and More Abundant Life, now in its second edition. It’s an interactive guide to help people create positive ways of thinking and being for lasting change.
While your behaviors are very important, if your thoughts are stuck in survival mode, the effect of your behavior will be overshadowed by fear, stress, and worry. So, my focus here is on your thoughts, and the next box of the chart is “Calm/Relaxed.”
How can you practice shifting your thoughts to bring you more calm and clarity?
When you rehearse, imagine, or talk to yourself about something, either positive or negative, for just 18 seconds, it gets stored in your long-term memory.
So, what if you focused on appreciation, gratitude, positive experiences, successes, and self-praise for at least 18 seconds? What do you think you would be wiring in your brain?
Recent research has validated that what you put our attention on is what shows up. Let’s say you play golf or like to cook: The more you put attention, effort, and practice on those activities, the better you will get at doing them and the more reward and pleasure they’ll bring. They become positive habits. It’s the same with your thinking.
The more aware you are of your thoughts, the more you will be able to get your brain on board to feel calm, relaxed, and much more — to feel inspired, motivated, and attracting the things you really want to have and experience.
Try this 4-Step Exercise: Think, Appreciate, and Imagine
- Think of something in an area of your life that you want to improve, for example, your health, a relationship, or abundance.
- To have a healthier body, appreciate the parts that function well. For relationships, it might be having gratitude for the satisfying aspects. For more abundance, it might be appreciating all that you already have.
- Now take 18 seconds to imagine one thing that you want: Imagine your whole body being healthier; imagine the other parts of your relationship functioning well; imagine what it would feel like to have what you want more of.
- Write down what you imagined each day. (Example: Today I imagined _____.)
Try it for the next seven days. Focus on ONE aspect of your life that you’d like to improve. Appreciate what’s working or what you already have, then spend 18 seconds imagining what you desire. Next, write down what you imagined each day…
It will change your brain!
If you continue a practice like this, you’ll notice a shift in the way you think. It will become easier and easier to focus on appreciation, gratitude, positive experiences, and successes. You’ll spend less and less time worrying about the future, stressing about situations, and experiencing fear that blocks you from making decisions.
You will find yourself in the last step in the chart — ACT — spending more time making great choices, taking deliberate actions, and reaping the benefits of happier thinking.
Your thoughts will be happier, and so will your life experience.