You Are What You Think!
In order to alter behaviors, it helps to understand what makes you act the way you do. It’s the internal thoughts in your head that convince you to take your next action; not the food, or drug, cigarette, or item that’s external to you. (More on the specifics of brain chemicals and choices in the next newsletter and How The Brain Works blog.)
Many believe they are stuck in unhealthy or negative cycles forever. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Your thought patterns aren’t hard wired. Your brain has the ability to adapt and change; it’s called neuroplasticity. Learning how your mind works will give you the power and ability to use your brain to control your brain.
Think of the brain as a superhighway with neurotransmitters racing up and down lanes carrying information to different parts of the mind and body. The more the same message travels along a path, the more permanent that pathway becomes. And the brain loves the most used route. For many, if not most people, genetics and these strong neural pathways are the reasons why their brains are keeping them choosing a familiar unhealthy choice rather than a healthy one another part of them wants. A pattern for the undesired choice has literally been formed in the brain.
The good news is…the brain can learn new patterns. There are simple processes that can introduce a desired change or new pattern to the brain, giving the brain the experience of the choice you’ve been longing for or trying so hard to switch to. You can even learn how to teach the brain when it wants to go to the old choice, choose this new one instead. There is a simple exercise for redirecting the brain out of a craving; into a alternative pleasurable healthy experience. Once the brain has experienced the new neural pathway it is simply a matter of practicing the new way of thinking.
Keep checking our newsletters and blogs for more information on neuroplasticity, how your brain works, and making the changes you want. Schedule an NLP or Hypnosis session to experience using your own brain to create the changes you want.
“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” – Old Zen Proverb
One form of self-care that has been shown not only to reduce stress and anxiety, but to actually help you become more productive, is meditation. Studies have found that meditation can increase gray matter in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with learning and memory as well as decrease gray matter in the amygdala, the area associated with stress and anxiety. Furthermore, meditation has been shown to reduce blood pressure and increase attention span. So yes, while meditation may take time out of your day, it can ultimately save you time in the long run if you are able to complete your work with greater focus and efficiency.
Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to beginning and maintaining a meditation practice is time. Many people claim that their days are already so jam packed with obligations that they cannot imagine trying to squeeze in another activity “just to sit there” when they could be checking off items on their to-do list or spending time with family instead. However, as expert consultant Alan Weiss notes, time is a not a resource issue, it is a priority issue. In a world in which technology easily keeps you connected to others, this connection can also create an overwhelming sense of urgency to respond and a higher demand for productivity than in the past. It is important to remember that making time to take care of yourself can not only help you to better manage your obligations, but it can help you to create better relationships with others. As they say, you need to put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others.
One of the most recent, and most exciting, research studies published on meditation was led by Dr. David Creswell, director of the Health and Human Performance Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University. Creswell’s study recruited 25 unemployed men and women seeking work and experiencing high levels of stress. The researchers drew blood from the participants and gave them brain scans prior to the start of the study. Half of the subjects were trained in mindfulness meditation, while the other half were taught a fake form of mindfulness meditation which focused on relaxation and distracting the self. The mindfulness meditation group was taught to focus on inner bodily sensations, both pleasant and unpleasant, while the sham group was encouraged to talk amongst themselves and ignore their bodies, focusing attention outward. This training took place over a period of three days and all participants reported feeling better able to cope with the stress of unemployment. However, the participants’ brain scans and blood results after the intervention told a different story.
The brains of those whom completed the real mindfulness meditation training showed an increase in functional connectivity between resting state default mode network and areas important for attention and executive control, namely the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. In other words, when the brain was in a resting state (not focused on a specific task), there was increase communication between the “resting” part of the brain and areas related to executive control and attention. Improved executive control can help your brain to manage stress and in turn, help reduce inflammation, a common reaction to stress. Perhaps the most incredible part of the study is that 4 months later, blood levels of a marker of unhealthy inflammation (interleukin-6) were much lower in the mindfulness meditation group than in the fake group, despite the fact that few of them were still meditating. So, what does this mean for you? Prioritizing time for a self-care practice, such as meditation, can produce long-term benefits to help you focus, deal with stress more effectively, and improve overall health.
Bergman, P. (2012, October 12). If you’re too busy to meditate, read this. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2012/10/if-youre-too-busy-to-meditate.html
Bhanoo, S.N. (2011, January 28). How meditation may change the brain. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/28/how-meditation-may-change-the-brain/
Creswell, D.J. et al (2016). Alterations in resting-state functional connectivity link mindfulness meditation with reduced interleukin-6: A randomized controlled trial. Biological Psychiatry, 80 (1) doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2016.01.008
Rabin, R.C. (2015, November 10). Ask well: The health benefits of meditation. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/11/10/ask-well-the-health-benefits-of-meditation/
Weiss, A. (2009). Getting started in consulting. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Your brain works the same way any physical muscle does. If you want to make a certain muscle do something different, you want two things to happen: muscle fibers to increase in size and, muscle to use energy better. You need increased blood flow to the muscle and you need changes in the structure of the muscle cells – so it will use energy better. If you want to do this with your bicep you lift something heavy until you reach a point that feels difficult for you…it is new, beyond your comfort zone. Then you rest and the muscle says something like, “I had to do something today that was a little beyond my comfort zone. So, I’m going to remodel myself to make it easier. I’m going to predict that i’m going to have to do this again.” Then changes begin: the muscle cells get bigger and the muscle changes in a way that allows it to get more blood flow.