Thoughts

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.

What do You Really Think When You Capture Your Innermost Thoughts?

I heard someone say over the weekend that the average person has around 6,000 thoughts every day. My immediate thought was, “Is that all?” Allow me to explain. I have been working all year on developing the habits I need to get thoughts out of my head and become better at living from my heart. If you are a person who thinks a lot and doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable sharing your thoughts with others, like me, you know what I mean.

My wife, on the other hand, does not understand. She is very expressive and verbose and likes to discuss the twelve possible solutions to any of our current challenges, such as where to go for dinner. It makes for some frustrating interactions. Thus, my need (after over 30 years of marriage) to adjust and become more expressive.

Here is the bad news about the 6,000 thoughts that I heard. Of the 6,000 thoughts that people have each day, 4,800 of them are negative. In other words, 80% of the thoughts most people think each day are negative, and only 1,200 (or 20%) are positive. The good news is that every one of us has the ability to change our thinking. 

I am certainly not a psychologist, nor am I learned in the ways the mind works. I do know, however, things that you and I can do to help train our minds to develop the habits we need to begin thinking more positively. Like any other purpose-producing activity, developing positive habits is simple, but it’s not easy. It requires daily commitment and daily improvement. But the one thing I do know about our minds is that we can train them to do, learn, or aspire to almost anything.

As my friend Tom Ziglar says, “What you feed your mind determines your appetite.” It works both ways, of course, and our mental diet is no different than our physical diet. The more junk we eat, or the more junk we allow into our mind, the more our appetite for junk increases. And the more our desire for the “good stuff” decreases. Fortunately, this theory also works just like the good, the positive, and the powerful. Develop a diet of the things that build you up physically or mentally, and your body and mind will crave more and more.

I can’t help thinking (pun intended) about a verse from the Bible authored by the Apostle Paul which encourages us “to take every thought captive.” Initially, this may seem like a silly, if not impossible, idea. But I believe it is the beginning of starting your positive mental diet. Simply stated, I believe taking every thought captive means gaining control over what you think about yourself and your life. 

If you think about it (ok, I promise that’s the last bad dad joke), you have experienced this phenomenon your whole life. As a kid, if you watched a scary movie before bed, you likely had nightmares or woke up screaming and crying because of the images and messages you allowed into your mind. It plays out in situations throughout our life. How many times have you thought to yourself, ” don’t do this,” and that’s exactly what you end up doing?

As an avid golfer, I live this every time I play. I am looking at a shot to my target on the green with the innocuous flag flapping in the wind to show me my target. But where does my focus go to immediately? The water I have to hit the ball over to get to my target. In closing, allow me to suggest a few ideas to take your thoughts captive to get you over your water and aiming towards your targets.

First, evaluate what you are feeding your mind. What are you watching, reading, and listening to? I cannot emphasize enough the importance of feeding your mind the best. If you think you can, you will. If you think you can’t, you won’t. Don’t gloss over that last sentence. It is profoundly true. Therefore, consider what influence your inputs are having on your mindset.

Next, I cannot encourage you enough to begin practicing and perfecting the habit of journaling. I prefer good old pen and paper because I believe that when you are physically writing something on paper, it leaves a much greater subconscious impact than typing something into a computer or telephone. Whether you agree or not, don’t make it an excuse not to start. It is like exercising. You are not going to run a marathon on your first day jogging. Just start and build up to proficiency. Your first efforts will be your worst, but they will improve the longer you commit to doing it.

Finally,  I am going to suggest that you pray and/or meditate daily. Of course, as a Christian, I would encourage you to focus on the Word and the promises of God. They are vast, and they are amazing! But certainly, you do not have to be a Christian or a person of faith at all to take time to think and focus on the positives and the things you have to be grateful for in your life. I cannot recommend a better tool to improve your mindset than thinking about, praying, and then expressing gratitude. 

I would love to hear your thoughts (sorry, I couldn’t resist) on how you begin to take your thoughts captive. It is a daily endeavor that won’t be perfect, but it can perfectly begin to change the way you think. And once you begin to do that, the changes you can make within yourself, your family, and your community are as profound as your thoughts.

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.