The human brain has one extremely important task – survival. In fact, sometimes when we desire something – a cookie, a new pair of shoes, a glass of red wine – our brain interprets that as something we need to survive.
Have you ever found yourself obsessively thinking about a cookie you ate an hour, or five minutes, ago and you can’t stop thinking about it until you have another one? If not, you are my hero! If you have, you may be experiencing your brain protecting you by getting you what you think you need to survive.
Throughout my life I’ve read and heard some fascinating science about our brains. There are a few concepts that I’d like to share with you from what I’ve learned.
Our thoughts are not always real or based in fact. Unless we absolutely know what we’re thinking to be true, a thought is usually something that is based on a previous experience and/or what we’re anticipating, rather than what is realistic in the present moment. This concept is something that I understand and have had examples to prove it’s validity. And, yet, this can be tough for me to process.
Here’s an example from my life of a thought not being real: I’m in line and someone is starting to edge in front of me. My first thought is that this person is cutting in front of me. This person may be looking at their phone or thinking about something entirely different and not paying attention to their place in line. When I realistically look at the situation and ask myself if my thought is true, it is not. My brain is doing an excellent job protecting me by anticipating what could happen.
Byron Katie who wrote, Loving What Is, helps people look at their thoughts with what she calls “The Work” in four easy questions: 1)Is it true? 2)Can you absolutely know it’s true? 3)How do you react – what happens – when you believe this thought? 4)Who would you be without the thought?
By asking yourself these four questions, you can identify if your thought is real or your imagination. This video is a great example of Katie talking a crowd through “The Work” around the thought that you need more money. Katie also has an app called The Work App that has helped me quickly identify if one of my thoughts is real or not.
By knowing our thoughts are not always based in reality, we can develop more control over what we believe. I recently did a guided meditation using an app called Simple Habit where I was asked to picture myself in a negative situation, thinking a negative thought. After doing that, I was asked to think of myself in a positive situation, thinking a positive thought. I was then asked which felt better. The positive situation and positive thought felt amazingly better, of course! This exercise encourages me to move my brain to embracing the positive over the negative.
To protect us and our survival, our brain does a good job creating stories for us. To experiment with this, write down a few items that you’d like to envision yourself doing if absolutely anything was possible. Dream big when writing this list. After doing this, come back to your reality and ask yourself what’s preventing you from doing these things. Is your brain telling you a story about yourself that isn’t actually true? Rob Bell does an excellent job explaining the stories our brains tell us in Episode 7 of his podcast called “Changing the Tapes”.
The more we push our brains to think about the positive and what we’re grateful for, we can create new neuro pathways and, essentially, train our brains to see and create more good in our lives. This is a powerful teaching and one that I am consistently working on in my human beingness.
I am certainly not an expert in the field of neuroscience. Like many of you, I am a curious student. Teresa Aubele, who has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience, explains brain neuroplasticity and how it can help you simply in an article she wrote in Psychology Today called “Plastic is Fantastic…for Your Brain”.
What I’m sharing with you in this post is from articles and books I’ve read, including podcasts I’ve listened to, over several years. I am sharing my interpretation of what I’ve learned. You may have a different life experience that has led you to believe differently. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.