Do you look at your glass in life as “half empty” or “half full”? Your answer has everything to do with how healthy you are…and how healthy you could be.
On a recent trip to San Francisco I met a man Hank Keating who told me about a doctor who has studied the science of thought for twenty years and has reached some very helpful conclusions about how our thoughts affect our emotions and bodies. He sent me an article by Dr. Caroline Leaf that was published in JOY!MAGAZINE. It is full of information about how the brain can change and rewire and grow. She likens the process to renewing the mind that is spoken of in the Bible.
Twenty years ago scientists thought that the brain was hardwired from birth with a fixed destiny and that we were bound to a fate predetermined by our genes. But today there is hope. You can break the cycle of toxic thinking and reverse its affects. Once broken, you can expect to improve every area of your life, your relationships, and your health. Thoughts are measurable and influence every decision, word, action and physical reaction we make. They grow and change your brain and your body for better or worse.
All of your thoughts put together determine your attitude toward life, which, in turn, reflects your state of mind. As you think, your brain releases chemical secretions which cause either positive or negative attitudes. The chemicals “translate the information of your thought into a physical reality in your body and mind” that creates an emotion. Your mind and body are inherently linked by your thoughts. Your thoughts and emotions form your attitude which impacts your body. The impact can be either positive or negative.
Dr. Leaf writes that it is possible to retrain your brain and learn new habits. Your brain has many opportunities to reject toxic information in order to get rid of it before it becomes a part of you. I have a friend who says she was born to worry, but worry has a lasting negative effect on us. The Bible tells us it is a sin because it stops us from receiving God’s best for us. Worry distorts the natural flow of chemical secretions in a healthy mind. The interruption of this natural flow and the entrenchment of negative thoughts can lead to disease. You can learn to reject even long standing unforgiveness that is damaging your health. On the other hand, we have many opportunities to accept good information and make it a part of us, thus helping us to prevent receiving diseases.
“Negative thoughts shift your body’s focus to protection and reduce your ability to process and think with wisdom.” They lead to negative attitudes that produce stressed feelings within the depths of your mind. However, if you apply God’s advice not to worry, your brain responds by secreting chemicals that facilitate feelings of peace, positive thought building, and clear thinking. You may not be able to control your circumstances, but through good choices, you can control your reaction to your circumstances and keep toxic input from permanently settling into your brain. It is up to you. You decide which incoming thoughts will become a part of you.
A part of your brain acts like a library. It stores your emotional perceptions and communicates to your Endocrine System what chemicals to release to build either a healthy or a toxic memory. You can actually feel your body’s reaction to your thoughts and you can decide whether to keep them and mull over them or whether to reject them. If you feel a ‘warm, fuzzy’ feeling that makes you feel good all over, you can decide to think about that and a positive memory that makes you feel at peace with your world will be retained. Or you can choose not to dwell on something that makes you feel miserable and those negative thoughts will disappear and not affect your body’s health.
Have you ever had a negative emotional confrontation with someone? I have and sometimes I relive it over and over again in my mind, feeling the hurt of it over and over again. Now I know that I am building a permanent negative memory that will not only make me miserable for the present time, it will have a lasting negative effect on my health. When I feel emotionally rocked by a situation, I can decide to stop dwelling on the negative and search for happy thoughts connected with that event or the person who has hurt me or to simply put it out of my mind. The result is that my stress level will diminish. If, on the other hand, I choose to ruminate on that negative experience, the part of my brain that is vulnerable to stress will actually lose cells and shrink, affecting communication within my brain and keeping it from building good memories.
Have you or a loved one ever become ill after experiencing a traumatic event? I have been vaguely aware that I often wake up with a cold or a day of dizziness after a negative confrontation with someone. I now realize this is more than just coincidence. But I never knew my negative thoughts had such a direct affect on my health. Dr. Leaf says that toxic thoughts and emotions are directly linked to cancer and other diseases.
Toxic thoughts are like poison. They put extreme strain on your body’s systems that can result in everything from patchy memory to severe mental health, immune system problems, heart problems, and digestive problems. Research has determined that 80% of physical, emotional, and mental health issues could be the direct result of your thought lives.
What you choose to think about can restructure a cell’s makeup and create changes right down to genetic levels. This is how diseases are able to take hold of your bodies. But non-toxic, positive thinking releases feel-good chemicals that create a positive foundation in the neural networks of your mind and promote healing, memory formation and deep thinking. When these are combined together, they increase intelligence and strengthen positive reaction chains that release endorphins and serotonin into the brain environment that allows mental and physical health to flourish.
Dr. Leaf offers a four step process to detox your brain.
1. Understand that thoughts are real and have an actual anatomy. They have structure in your brain and occupy space. Thoughts are the same as memories. As information comes in from the five senses, you process it in certain structures of the brain. Thoughts are the results of what you hear and read and see and feel and experience. As you read this, you are growing thoughts that create your attitude and influence your decisions.
2. Increase conscious awareness of your thoughts and how you are feeling. Analyze incoming information and thoughts constantly. Never let a thought roam chaotically and unchecked through your head. Examine every thought and ask: is it good for me?
3. Do something once you have analyzed the thought. Make a conscious decision to actively accept the thought if it is good for you or reject the thought if it is bad for you. Thoughts have as much control as you give them.
4. Build new memories over the old. Accepting or rejecting the thought will change the neural circuitry of your brain. Your brain is growing while you think and you have control over the process.
Let’s go back to the issue of unforgiveness. It looks like a thorn tree and it will hurt you. Be consciously aware of this thought, where it comes from and how long it has been there. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you use your free will to make the wisdom decision to reject unforgiveness and forgive. Picture the unforgiveness disappearing as hot air. Now build a dethorned memory to replace the thorny unforgiveness with such things as praying for that person, quoting a favorite Scripture, or singing a worship song. You are on your way to a healthier body and mind!
Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on Heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live. –Deuteronomy 30:19
We refute arguments and theories and every [thought] that sets itself up against the knowledge of God; and we lead every thought and purpose captive into the obedience of Christ. --II Corinthians 10-5
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think on these things. –Philippians 4:8
All of the ideas in this blog are taken from “The Science of Thought” by Dr. Caroline Leaf as published in JOY!MAGAZINE. If you want to know the specific areas of the brain where all this happens or if you want to study this issue in more detail, you can explore her website and/or order her book Who Switched off My Brain at www.drleaf.com.
Barbara Hattemer, the author of the just released novel Field of Daisies (a poignant tale of hope, faith, and the determination to beat seemingly impossible odds when Alzheimer's strikes the third generation of a family), was educated at Smith College and Harvard Business School, worked for a management consulting firm before marrying and raising four children. For 15 years she fought for high community standards at home and throughout the country, giving hundreds of Radio and Television interviews and debates. Featured in Christian Herald Magazine and Focus on the Family's Citizen; recipient of Christian Herald's first James 1:22 Award, she appeared on The Today Show with Bryant Gumbel and on Dr. James Dobson's Radio Program. http://www.BarbaraHattemer.com