Thinking

The Science of your Thoughts. Do you Focus on Amygdala or Neocortex?

Recently, I have been reading, listening, and learning about the neuroscience of our brains. I will explain why shortly, but before you wonder if I am committed to learning more about how I and we make decisions, or if I should just be committed, allow me to explain my recent fascination briefly with neuroscience and how it shows our potential to become better decision-makers. 

As a writer, speaker, and coach, I have become obsessed with how people think and how I can help them train their minds to think not just differently but more positively. It turns out there is much to learn here. I will say from the outset that I have nothing more than the most basic and rudimentary understanding of my topic this week. But I hope when you learn a little more about it, that like me, the topic will pique your interest and encourage you to become a better version of yourself.

So, my basic learning has shown me that there are two key components to the limbic system of your brain that control how you receive and process information and what you do with it once you have received it. Although they are very different in their activities and information processing, they are equally important in understanding how we think and how we respond.

First, let’s meet our amygdala; I’ll call her Amy for short. Good, old Amy. She is the life of the party, but she can also be Debbie Downer. She is the girl who experiences and feels all of our emotions. Unfortunately, she tends towards Debbie more often than not. She is the one who teaches us to fear any impending danger, whether real or imagined. It’s the part of your brain that, if you see a snake crawling in your path or a fin heading toward you in the ocean, tells you to run (or swim) in the opposite direction ASAP!

Amy runs the gambit of emotions covering everything from sexual pleasure to terrifying fears or traumas. The old girl is always on the lookout for emotional opportunities, and fortunately, she is somewhat regulated by her close cousin Neo, also known as the neocortex. One of Amy’s shortcomings is she can’t talk, think, or make decisions; she can only feel. On the other hand, Neo might be referred to as, well, the brains of the operation. 

The neocortex is the part of the brain that has reasoning and decision-making capabilities. It takes all of the information that Amy gives him and considers logic, truth, past circumstances, and other inputs to make the right decisions. The good news is that while Amy is a little hard to control, training Neo can be trained to grow. This introduces a term called neuroplasticity. In layman’s terms, it means you can train your brain to develop new, better systems to make decisions every day and throughout your day.

According to my hasty research, it is widely held within the medical industry that the best way to increase neuroplasticity is through meditation and/or prayer. This is something that I write, speak, and coach about every day. The second similarly agreed-upon practice is journaling, which I have written about and transformed my mindset and decision-making each day. It is also working for almost every person I have recommended it to, either in coaching or casual one-on-one conversations. 

So, at this point, your question may be, “why does all of this matter?” I will say this. If we can train our brains to worry less and focus on the truth more, how much more productive could we be in each area of our lives? How much time do you spend each day worrying about things beyond your control or wishing you could replay a past conversation or decision? What if you invested even a fraction of that time focusing on positively impacting others and yourself through your next action and interaction?

Meditation, journaling, and intentional decision-making can transform your life. I believe it because I have seen it work in my life and the lives of others. There are many other ways to grow your mind and your results. I would challenge you with the words of the Apostle Paul:

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 about such things.”

I can’t think of any better way to close this post than that! How about you?

Did you enjoy this article? If you haven’t already, please be sure to subscribe to this blog, where I post every Tuesday. You can also get additional free content by subscribing to my YouTube channel or following me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

I also invite you to review my coaching page on my website here. I have only a couple of spots left in my Personal Development Coaching Practice. Each week I offer two free strategy sessions on a first-come, first-served basis to people interested in exploring how to become a person who pursues their goals and dreams. These precious hour-long sessions prove again and again to be invaluable to those who participate. You can book these directly on my coaching page – I look forward to serving you.

The Untold Benefits of Embracing your Right to Write

Earlier this year, I decided to up my game when it comes to coaching other people. I have had an extraordinary time investing in the people I have been fortunate enough to work with over the last year. I decided that since I am asking other people to invest their time and resources with me, it was time for me to invest in myself by hiring my own coach. 

This is the best decision I have made all year. Not just because I hired a great coach, but because I am learning so much each week for and about myself that I then get to share with others. This week, I want to encourage you, no, I want to implore you to do something that my coach did with me just last week. The results in my life and my mindset in just a week have been seriously life-changing for me.

Now, I know that not everyone is wired like I am, so allow me to briefly set the stage for what I am suggesting you adopt as your next great habit. Thanks to working with my coach and studying the Enneagram, I have learned a lot about myself. For most of my adult life, I have shied away from personality assessments and psychographic evaluations. I say this only to amplify that this is all part of the journey I am on this year to become more authentic.

So, what I have learned about myself is I am a deep thinker. My mind is always jumping to ideas, thoughts, conversations, tasks, upcoming events, etc. In and of itself, this is not a bad thing. So long as I don’t allow my thoughts to prevent me from taking action. In other words, as I have heard it said many times to me over the years, I need to live less in my head and more in my heart. 

This is not to say I am not an emotional, caring, and loving person. I truly believe I am and further conclude that my family and friends would agree. However, my thinking can indeed, at times, lead me to unproductive actions. As simply as I can explain it, oftentimes, my thoughts capture so much of my attention that I feel like doing “something” or “anything” is productive. That can be true, but it isn’t always.

So, I wonder if you are like me – a thinker. Allow me to conclude this setup before moving on to say that the world needs people like us. I am not in any way saying that thinking and even planning in your mind is a bad thing. What I want to suggest to you next is a suggestion I took to heart that has not only helped me free up my mind, but it has set my ability to act every day productively since I started employing it.

My friend, I want to encourage you to start journaling, writing, putting thoughts together. You can call me old-fashioned, but I’m going to suggest using a pen and a journal or notebook. Now, my initial reaction was likely similar to yours, “Ugh, I don’t want to take time to write.” My friend, I want you to commit with me that you will try it for seven days. 

When you commit to seven days, please comment on this post or send me a message on social media and let me know the results. I predict they will shock you. If you’re not yet convinced, let me tell you I am not looking to add one more thing to your “To-Do” list. Just sit down in a fairly quiet place where you will not be disturbed and start writing. There is no magic formula, and there is no agenda. Just start with whatever comes to mind, and even if you only commit to five minutes to start, that’s fine. Many days I have started writing something and have ended up somewhere totally different than where I started. And, as I have already said, the results for me have been life-changing.

No matter where I end up, I gain at least three benefits from writing every morning. First, I have incredible clarity about what is important that I need to focus on that day. It might be a task, or it might be an emotion, but clarity comes. Second, I feel a sense of freedom for getting some of the ideas in my head onto paper. My mind is much less cluttered. And finally, I approach each day with a better mindset and a better attitude. 

So, in closing, my friend, I want to encourage you to start your day right by starting to write. Seven days is all I’m asking. I would love to hear your results, and I am willing to bet it may soon become your new favorite habit that you get better at each day.

Did you enjoy this article? If you haven’t already, please be sure to subscribe to this blog, where I post every Tuesday. You can also get additional free content by subscribing to my YouTube channel or following me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

I also invite you to review my coaching page on my website here. I have only a couple of spots left in my Personal Development Coaching Practice. Each week I offer two free strategy sessions on a first-come, first-served basis to people interested in exploring how to become a person who pursues their goals and dreams. These precious hour-long sessions prove again and again to be invaluable to those who participate. You can book these directly on my coaching page – I look forward to serving you.

Engaging in the Ability to Observe Without Evaluating

One of the detriments of our distracted, byte-sized addictions to all of the opportunities for distractions that exist in our world today is that I believe we have lost the ability to sit still for even a few seconds. Especially to sit still and think, without being distracted. I confess I struggle greatly with this.

I am neither proud of this, nor am I content to allow it to continue at the ever-increasing rate that it has overtaken my life in the past several years. I am committed to creating more margin in my life to be able to sit quietly and think. Indian-born philosopher and writer Jiddu Krishnamurti said this: “The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.” Whoa!

My handy dictionary app on my phone (my primary distraction) defines observe: To see, watch, perceive, or notice. To regard with attention, especially so as to see or learn something. Ok, let me see your hands, how many of you in the past week took time to perceive or notice something? How many in the last month regarded something with enough attention to learn something. Yeah, me either.

Let’s take it one step further. My dictionary app says this about evaluating: To determine or set the value or amount of. To judge or determine the significance, worth, or quality of. Now, this is convicting. Again, a show of hands for everyone who has not been conditioned by our world today to look at something quickly and not make a snap judgment.  Yeah, I didn’t think so. 

Here is the conundrum. Can we observe without evaluating? Of course, we can. But it takes patience, practice, and intentionality. Is there a place where you can go that makes this easier to do? Some room in your house, a coffee shop in town, or even just a favorite chair where you can sit and think with no distractions?

For me, there is no better place than outside in nature. I love being outdoors. Of course, a beautiful day doesn’t hurt, but even if the weather is less than perfect, I find that doing outside allows me to connect with myself and to connect with my Creator. It could be almost anywhere. I prefer the beach or a golf course but since I don’t get to do that every day, an early morning walk with my dog is a good substitute.

No matter where you do it, and how you do it, I believe we need to fight for our intelligence and create some margin to think, to ask ourselves questions, and to listen to the answers that come. I like to do this with God too. I have to admit, I don’t always get the answers I think I am looking for, but I rarely come away from such a session without feeling more relaxed, more clarity, and more purpose as I go through the rest of my day.

I’d love to hear from you. What practices work for you? What do you need to stop doing to create more margin to start thinking? What questions or comments do you have? I’d love you to share them below.

Did you enjoy this article? If you haven’t already, please be sure to subscribe to this blog, where I post every Tuesday. You can also get additional free content by subscribing to my YouTube channel or following me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

I also invite you to review my coaching page on my website here. I have only a couple of spots left in my Personal Development Coaching Practice. Each week I offer two free strategy sessions on a first-come, first-served basis to people interested in exploring how to become a person who pursues their goals and dreams. These precious hour-long sessions prove again and again to be invaluable to those who participate. You can book these directly on my coaching page – I look forward to serving you.

Two Questions Guaranteed to Change Your Results

Normally these posts are written in advance and published on a schedule. I heard two similar but different quotes yesterday that I had never heard before that caused me to pause that and post them instead. They are that important.

Here are the two questions I want you to ask yourself now, later, tomorrow, and every day:

“How would the person I would like to be, do the thing I am about to do?”

“Who do I most need to be in this moment?”