Even though I have over 85 billion neurons constantly connecting & disconnecting in my brain every day, my conscious mind (the part of me that is aware of myself & the choices I make) occurs in a very tiny area of my frontal lobes. Yet, my thoughts (even a single word) have the power to change the structure & functioning of many other parts of my brain.
My brain creates its own realities. What I see as ‘reality’ does not really exist outside of my mind’s imagination. It’s a fundamental neurological fact: my senses collect information about the outside world and the brain processes it in ways to enhance my survival & fit my existing mental structures. What I see is more like a movie that bleeds light waves and inner emotional experiences into a story that is far removed from the reality that actually exists.
Consciousness is created in my brain the moment I wake up & consciously move my body. The pleasure chemical, dopamine, gets released from the motivational center deep in my ancient brain, which stimulates tiny areas in my frontal lobe that makes me aware of the outside world. If I interpret the sensations to be interesting & pleasurable I seek more…. unpleasant, then the fear & pain centers are triggered and I involuntarily retreat from the world.
Every neuron has qualities of consciousness that we attribute to human beings. A single neuron can learn & become curious… and as a result grow new connections (axons & dendrites) that allow it to send & receive more information to neighboring cells… it engages with it’s community to create new possibilities & potentials, and improves the function & quality of life for all. Likewise, it can also be traumatized… causing it to retract its axons & dendrites, become more fearful about the world, and close itself off from communication & possibility. In a single neuron I begin to understand the nature of motivation & anxiety.
Consciousness, as I experience it in daily living, can only hold about four “chunks” of information in working memory for a brief period of time. I have the illusion that I am conscious of hundreds of things at one time: colors, things moving around me, awareness of what I am striving to achieve, etc.
However, science confirms I can only be truly aware of a tiny bit of information at a time. A single word is a “chunk” of information, and it’s almost impossible to remember any sentence that has more than 7-10 words.
Try it right now: see if you can accurately recall a single sentence you’ve just read prior to this one! This has many benefits. For example: you can’t focus on a positive and negative experience or memory at the same time. So if you’re feeling pain, do something pleasurable and the sensation of pain will decrease.
My memories are not real… they are my own creation. This may seem obvious, but when dealing with negative emotions, fears, worries, and doubts, it’s essential I remember that the feeling has less to do with the present moment than I may think.
My brain has a preference to embed negative memories because an organism needs to respond to future threats faster than its conscious mind can respond. When a real emergency takes place – like someone driving their car into my lane – the consciousness in my frontal lobes is turned down so that my instinctual re-activeness can take evasive action. When people say “everything seemed to slow down,” they were experiencing the slowing of everyday consciousness as a more ancestral form of awareness took over the body’s control.
However, when there is no real threat, my brain still will respond to a negative memory as if it were a threat that was occurring in the present moment. The more I ruminate on the possibility that something awful may happen, the more my brain releases stress chemicals to prepare my body for the “fight-or-flight” response. But, then my brain sees that there’s no real threat. The result: confusion and the release of more stress neurochemicals. If I don’t interrupt this nasty problem, I’ll damage many parts of my brain. My memories, by the way, are very inaccurate, and each time they are recalled they are slightly changed. Autobiographical memories are particularly prone to this distortion.
I’ve learned a good practice is to develop a 5:1 “Positivity Ratio” if I want to build optimism and resilience to stress. Neurologically, my right pre-frontal cortex constantly generates a stream of negative thoughts and feelings. My left pre-frontal lobe is more optimistic and is designed to make decisions that improve my success at achieving goals that I desire.
Since consciousness is limited, I have a choice… I can dwell on negativity… or focus on solution-based goals… but I can’t do both at the same time. Research shows that if the ratio of positive thoughts to negative thoughts falls below 3:1, my relationships and businesses transactions are most likely to fail. The most successful couples, relationships, groups, and corporations are those where everyone involved generated more than a 5:1
Why do I have to consciously create more positive thoughts and feelings? To overcome my brain’s propensity to turn negative experiences into memories (and thus beliefs & behaviors). The great news… I can easily train my brain to interrupt negativity and generate optimistic thoughts.
My beliefs shape my reality more than my sensations, and they govern nearly every aspect of my life. My memories form the basis of my habitual behavior and they also form the foundation of my belief systems. A belief is a thought process – an assessment of the world (thoughts) and the value (feelings) placed on a behavior or ideal. The more I repeat a certain thought or feeling, the more “real” that it becomes. Because everything I believe in also has a corresponding non-belief, the brain does something odd. It rejects any information… or anyone… that interferes with that belief.
It’s a natural neurological process and it explains why human beings are so prone to prejudice. The moment we identify ourselves with one group (political, religious, social, or even a sports team) the less respect we show toward people who are members of different groups. I need to remind myself that my labels… my beliefs, my memories, even my
perceptions of the world… are not real. Instead they are arbitrary categories that my brain uses to organize the sensations coming in from an unknown world.
Pleasure is one of the most important sensations for maintaining my physical health, emotional balance, and business success. Compared to other animals, humans are the least sensual mammals on this planet… but when it comes to building self-confidence and self-esteem… I need to nurture myself.
For example… stroking my palms can eliminate performance anxiety… slowly brushing my arms decreases negative emotions… and engaging in pleasant physical activity improves my productivity. Pleasure releases dopamine… and dopamine motivates me to work harder… so, all I have to do is to slowly stretch my arms, neck and torso two or three times an hour for 10 seconds to reap this benefit.
Daydreaming and mind-wandering are essential for learning and maintaining a healthy brain. Consciousness involves a highly focused and concentrated form of attention, but the neuro-chemicals involved in hard work are quickly expended. If I take a couple of “daydreaming” breaks each hour – just closing my eyes and letting my thoughts and feelings wander to wherever they want to go – I’ll feel completely refreshed after a minute or two.
Daydreaming is an essential process for encoding new information into long-term memory, and it also stimulates the creativity circuits in my frontal lobes.
On the other side of the equation, too much stress disrupts every neural activity in my brain. It can come from intense concentration, worrying, or procrastination. I’ve learned the fastest way to interrupt it is by yawning. It lowers the hyper-activity in frontal lobe functioning.
If I combine yawning with daydreaming, slow stretching, and gentle stroking of my arms and hands, I’ll enter a very deep state of relaxation in 60 seconds or less. Once in this state… if I continuously repeat a single word that has deep value to me, I can turn on 1200 stress-reducing genes.
If I visualize my goal with clear images & emotions, it will be easier for my brain to accomplish it. And if I know what type of long-term work or project would bring me satisfaction, and I commit myself to it, I’ll build a sense of life-satisfaction that will reduce depression and anxiety….which will further propel me towards my goal… and thus create momentum & my results become exponential.
In my business, when I reflect on my inner values several times throughout the day, I eliminate most of my daily stress. When I speak slowly and briefly, I significantly influence more people on my team. And if I recall a pleasant memory, it can generate a “Mona Lisa” smile on my face that instantly triggers neurological trust.
One of the most powerful strategies I’ve come across involves creating a C.R.A.P. Board (which stands for conflicts, resistances, anxieties, and other problems) on which you list all of your weaknesses, worries, and fears. You fill up an entire page, and then you begin to gaze at your list as you focus on your deepest values and recall pleasant and loving memories from the past. In less than ten minutes, your conscious mind disconnects from the emotional memories tied to the words you wrote on your C.R.A.P. Board. Then all you have to do is post it near your workplace. Paradoxically…. don’t throw it away! If you do, your right pre-frontal cortex will start to worry about the things you put on the list!
These simple techniques & the retraining of my brain lead directly to improvements in the quality of my work, the quality of my interpersonal dialogues and the overall quality of my life. They can be used to build cooperation with others and eliminate conflicts before they even begin. They can be used to boost my immune system, helping to fight off disease and literally add additional years to my life.
Perhaps most important, I can use my thoughts to shrink parts of my brain that generate destructive emotions and to strengthen some of the newest evolutionary areas that help me to feel empathy and compassion for others. I become more generous and less greedy as I learn how to tap into the intuitive wisdom of my brain where problems can be solved with ease. It’s a gentle form of enlightenment which allows me to glimpse a deeper truth about the reality that extends beyond the consciousness of my remarkable imaginative brain!