“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”Buddha
I admit, the title is a hint obnoxious.
Almost sounds like I have it all figured out. But that’s far from the truth.
I, like all of us in this world, are learning and practicing this thing we call life every day. But what I can do is share what I’ve learned along the way so that others may glean from it what’s useful for themselves.
And what I have learned is that our thoughts are mega powerful based on my own experience.
This is my truth, but you don’t have to take my word for it.
Stay with me and you’ll see why….
Your Thoughts Create Your Reality
The Stanford Mind and Body Lab have shown that through the power of our mind, we can think ourselves into :
- losing weight
- living longer lives
- feeling more satiated
- elevating our blood pressure
- feeling less pain and shorter stays at the hospital after surgery
“Our minds aren’t passive observers, simply perceiving reality as it is. Our minds actually change reality,” said Alia Crum, a professor of psychology and director of the Stanford Mind and Body Lab.
There are mini “miracles” that magically occur every day across the world just through the power of the mind.
Do you want to experience one right now?
OK. I want you to imagine that you’re looking at a fruit basket in front of you. Pick out the biggest, juiciest looking lemon from the basket. Next, reach for a cutting board and cut the lemon in wedges. As you do so, you see the lemon juice run out underneath the cutting board. You take one wedge of lemon and hold it up to your nose and smell the refreshing fragrant citrus oil scent. You then stick the fleshy part of the lemon into your mouth… then give the juicy pulp a nice squeeze with your mouth. As you’re imagining this, your mouth, if like mine is producing saliva and your muscles around your face may be contracting and perhaps you may have even swallowed the imaginary juice.
Now, why did this happen? Your physical reality didn’t change one bit, but your physiology or your body responded like there was a new stimulus in your environment – the lemon.
The why is the power of your mind.
You’ve just experienced your ability to shift your reality using your mind. This also happens when you have nightmares and wake up with your heart pounding and body in cold sweat. Perhaps thinking about the death of a loved one or pet can move you to tears. Maybe worrying about the presentation or project due date in the future makes your stomach turn or drop. Or remembering the time you were wronged by someone, makes your throat tighten. And thinking about someone you miss deeply, you feel your chest ache and cave.
All of these examples show us our thoughts alone can change our physiology.
Your Thoughts Can Change Your Life
If we generate 60,000-70,000 thoughts per day (Laboratory of Neuroimaging at UCLA), consider all the thoughts that you live with and entertain within a week and throughout a lifetime!
If we actively seek and engage in positive, empowering, kind, generous and compassionate thoughts – that’s what’s amplified in our lives. That’s the message that our body receives at a cellular level through our physiological responses.
If we live in a cycle of negative and disempowering thoughts – it will be amplified in the same way in our lives and into our bodies.
This simple idea is based on the fact that our minds and bodies are connected. What we think about affects our physiology and the sensations in our bodies affect our thoughts. This feedback loop creates amplification. The more positive we think, the more positive we feel, the more positive we think, the the positive we feel, etc. And the opposite is also true.
To add on, humans pick up and are effected by the energy from those around us. So what we think and feel, we put out into the world and impact those with whom we interact, which creates our reality. So our previous feedback loop is more like the more positive we think, the more positive we feel, the more positive our environment responds to us, the more positive we think, the more positive we feel, the more positive our environment responds to us, etc.
Not only do our thoughts impact the people around us, research consistently shows that our thoughts impact our health. Experts like Dr. Stephen Porges, Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk and Dr. Gabor Mate, warn us against negative or unhelpful thought patterns where in the long term, can create disease in the body and pathology in the mind.
So our final modified model is really the more positive we think, the more positive we feel, the more positive our our environment responds to us, all of which makes us healthier. Each experience is connected and impacts the other experience. Just like pulling on a thread of spider web will impact the rest of the web.
If a simple thought of a lemon can change your physiology, consider how the following thoughts might impact your body:
- I’m not good enough
- I’m stupid
- I don’t deserve this/that
- I am not wanted/loved
- The world is dangerous
- I am not safe
- Work is killing me
- I hate…
- I regret…
- Sorry (some of us say sorry way too much – even when we’re not in the wrong!)
- I’m lazy
- I’m ugly
- I’m fat
“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”Oscar Wilde
How Do You Master Your thoughts?
OK, so you might be thinking, “if it were that easy, wouldn’t we all be thinking positive thoughts and feeling awesome and living great lives?”
Well, what if this mindset shift is simple, but not so easy?
It’s not easy for you, and for the majority of us for one primary reason: most of our thoughts are automatic or beneath our awareness. Because we are dealing with the subconscious or unconscious, it’s difficult to flip the script when we’re oblivious to a) we’re working from a script b) what that script says.
This is one reason why working with a coach can be tremendously helpful, so that what’s beneath your awareness can be brought to the forefront. This empowers you to make deliberate decisions and changes if you wish, rather than continue to operate in auto-pilot, and keep wondering why you can’t seem to make the progress you want.
If you’re not working with a coach, here’s how you can start on your own:
- Notice your thoughts – When we notice and become the observer of our thoughts, we immediate elevate our consciousness and are no longer unwitting participants of automatic thoughts and behaviors.
- Meet your thoughts with curiosity and kindness – Sometimes we actually feel ashamed or appalled by our thoughts. That’s ok – we all do this because we’re human. Rather than push your uncomfortable thoughts away, meet your thoughts with curiosity and kindness. For example, if you find that you’re feeling bored, or defiant or irritated, you might say to yourself, “hmm, that’s interesting, I wonder why I’m feeling this way,” rather than, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way because of x, y, z”.
- Notice what the people you spend time with talk about and say about you – sometimes the thoughts we live with aren’t even our own. As Oscar Wilde was once quoted, “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” Our brain is like a sponge that soaks up our environment. When we soak up garbage, our brain generates more garbage. Notice the conversations around you, and the comments directed at you. Do you like the information that your brain is absorbing in these conversations? And yes, if you watch a lot of ads and reality tv – all of that is also getting absorbed. Read this to find out what you should do with toxic people in your life.
- Reframe your thoughts. Instead of “I’m so lazy” meet your thought with kindness. In this example, maybe it’s more accurate to say “I need rest before I can complete this” or “How can I be inspired more” or “How can I find some motivation to complete this?”
- Practice – Reframing your thoughts might feel awkward or fake or exhausting at first, but like any new muscle we are strengthening, over time, it will get easier and at some point, it will become second nature. What we practice grows. Neuroplasticity means that our brain has the ability to always learn new things, evolve and grow – if we train it. So the saying “old dogs can’t learn new tricks” doesn’t apply here.
The goal of mastering our thoughts is to see our thoughts with clarity so that we can choose our actions wisely.
For example, if we meet the thought “the world is dangerous” with curiosity, we might discover that we’re truly in an unsafe environment and can choose to change our situation. Or conversely we might discover that this is an over generalization based on one previous experience or something that we inherited passively from our family of origin.
Choosing empowering and positive thoughts doesn’t mean to ignore our problems or the reality of life. It means to be conscious of the thoughts looping in our brain and disrupt unhelpful patterns or tuning into an important message.
Positive thinking also means that we choose to think about the solutions to our problems more positively. Using our creativity and intuition to generate better solutions and endless opportunities to create and live a life we love.