How Your Brain, Thoughts and Habits Shape Your Life
An idea not coupled with action will never get any bigger than the brain cell it occupies.
Exploring Your Conscious Brain
There are two distinct parts of human thought. One part is the brain, and the other part is the inner mind — otherwise known as the subconscious. Both parts work together to help shape our view of reality. When congruence exists between them, there is harmony in the system, which includes the body and the emotional centers that shape how we feel from moment-to-moment. However, when congruence doesn’t exist between the brain and the inner mind, then that’s when conflicting agendas create havoc within the system, leading to emotional mayhem and self-sabotaging behavior. But more about that later. Let’s first take a closer look at the brain.
The Human Brain
The brain is at the center of the nervous system. Its role is to think, to make conscious decisions, and to create associations between past memories and present experiences. The brain does all this through the five human senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.
As information comes through these five senses, the brain interprets this data in a very specific way that is dependent upon your beliefs, values, human needs, self-concept, meta-programs, psychological rules, and perspectives. All of these elements come together to create a “thought”, which directly affects your emotional state-of-mind.
As the brain senses something familiar, it immediately interprets this information based on its reservoir of memories and past experiences. These memories are of course built upon the elements discussed above, and therefore your interpretations of reality are only “interpretations” and not facts. Your interpretations are just a version of reality that you have manufactured based on your life experiences to date. Therefore how you perceive and interpret things are as unique to you as they are to any other person.
Given all this, it appears as though your brain presents you with a very personal and biased view of reality that makes sense to you. As such, there is no right or wrong, there is only one perspective or another perspective. Therefore, everything is as it seems, and not “quite” as it seems all at the same time.
The Makeup of the Brain
The brain itself is made up of several components or parts. First, there is the middle brain. This is the part of the brain that controls emotions, sex drive, long-term memory, hormonal drives, and the immune system of the body.
Next is the left hemisphere of the brain. This is the logical part that enjoys thinking in sequential steps. It’s often preoccupied with writing, language, mathematics, reading, problem-solving and making judgments about space and time. This is essentially the analytical part of the brain that helps you make sense of the world you live in.
There is also a right hemisphere of the brain. This is the part of the brain that enjoys working with the creative elements of life. It’s often preoccupied with emotional self-expression, pattern recognition, creative artistry and musical pursuits. Its function and role is very different to the left brain, however, it’s not a separate entity, but rather one part of a whole that works together to shape how you perceive and interpret the world around you.
The final component is the Reptilian Brain. Let’s call this the Emotional Mind. This is the primitive brain that consists of the Hypothalamus, Amygdala, and other parts including the Thalamus, Basal Ganglia, Hippocampus and the Brain Stem. These areas of the brain handle many of the automatic emotional responses that are tied to fear, stress, anxiety, and worry.
In the event of a perceived emergency or an uncomfortable situation, the Hypothalamus releases neurotransmitters and hormones into the bloodstream that successfully intensify the emotional experiences within the body — leading to the fight-flight response. This is only possible because of the Amygdala, which is the storehouse of your emotional memories. The Amygdala assesses the danger of the situation based on past experience (emotional memories), and thusly helps activate the heart and other muscles of the body — readying them for action within emergency situations.
You experience an emotion as a result of the hormones that are being pumped into your bloodstream. Your emotions are therefore nothing more than chemicals passing through your body that make you feel a certain way. So whether you feel angry, sad, happy, anxious, in love, or depressed, it all comes down to the chemicals that are currently flooding your bloodstream. And what’s even more significant is that the release of these chemicals is dependent upon how you tend to interpret your experience of reality. And of course your “experience of reality” is tied to your five senses.
What makes one person feel fear, makes another person feel excitement. They are both thinking or looking at the same thing, however, they have very different interpretations of this “thing”. And it’s these different interpretations that trigger a different cocktail of chemicals that result in varying emotional experiences for both people.
Both individuals look at this “thing” and ask:
What does this mean?
How must I respond?
If a person views this “thing” as something that must be feared, then they will respond in fear. And because they are interpreting things in this way, the Emotional Mind will help them out by pumping a chemical cocktail of “fear” into their bloodstream. On the other hand, another person will view this “thing” as something that sparks their curiosity and gets them excited about life. In such a scenario, the Emotional Mind will pump out a chemical cocktail of “excitement” into their bloodstream. As such, this second person responds very differently to these events and as a result, has a very different emotional experience.
The first person who responded in fear interpreted their experience in a fearful way based on past memories. Their brain automatically asked, “What does this mean?” And when you ask a question, you often get an answer. And in this person’s case, they saw this “thing” and made sense of their current circumstances by calling upon past experiences (references) that are in some ways related to this “thing”. And based on those experiences (memories), they successfully made sense of this “thing” and responded accordingly in a fearful way.
For the second person, they too looked to their past experiences/memories and asked the same question: “What does this mean?” However, their past experiences/memories weren’t related to fear, but rather to curiosity and excitement. And as such, they responded very differently to this “thing” than the first person.
There is nothing wrong with reacting in fear. This system is simply a defense mechanism that has been built into the brain to help protect us from harm. However, the flaw in this system is that it works on autopilot. It doesn’t interpret reality based on fact, but rather based on past experience (emotional experience). And your past experience is built upon your memories. And your memories are nothing more than interpretations of what might have happened. And these interpretations are often very flawed because they are clouded by limiting beliefs, unhelpful thoughts, psychological rules, and much more that goes on at the unconscious level of awareness.
Reality isn’t how it is, it is rather how you make it out to be. And how you make it out to be BECOMES YOUR REALITY.
The brain is only guided by the programming it has received over a lifetime. It thinks and responds to the events and circumstances of your life in very specific ways because that’s how it has been trained to respond. If you want to respond a different way, then you will need to interpret things differently. And to interpret things differently you will need to dig deep into your past memories in order to unlock the references you have collected over the course of your life. However, the problem is that many of these references lie below conscious awareness. They are unconscious and tied to automatic thought patterns. And this is the sanctum of the Inner Mind.
Exploring Your Inner Mind
The Inner Mind is the part of you that controls your automatic responses, behaviors (habits), and biological functions. It is also the part of you that controls your automatic reactions to people, events, and circumstances.
One of the Inner Mind’s main roles is to ensure that your conscious decisions, behaviors, and actions are consistent with your underlying thoughts, human needs, beliefs, meta-programs, values, psychological rules, wants, intentions, emotions, and self-concept.
All of these “parts” of you are built upon a lifetime of experiences. You form beliefs, values, meta-programs, and psychological rules as a result of your responses to pain and pleasure. In other words, every experience you have had has either been a painful experience or a pleasurable experience.
When something has been pleasurable, you have associated positive emotions with that experience. However, when something has been painful, you have associated negative, limiting and unhelpful emotions with that experience. And as a result of these experiences, you have collected a wide variety of references that have gone into creating your belief systems. And these beliefs influence your values, meta-programs, self-concept, psychological rules, emotions, etc. Likewise, all these areas influence your belief systems. It’s therefore important to see this as a cycle that constantly revolves around one area always influencing all other areas.
Bringing things back to today, all those beliefs, values, psychological rules, etc, are nothing more than memories that are built upon the references you have collected. And these memories are often flawed and don’t quite represent how things used to be. The reason for this is that your memories are entangled with your beliefs, values, psychological rules, etc. Therefore what you think is a perfectly clear memory, is actually far from perfect and certainly not clear.
Your memories are only interpretations of how things used to be. These interpretations are built upon all of the above mentioned unconscious elements of your psyche (beliefs, values, rules, etc). These elements are built upon the references you created that are based on your personal experiences of pain and pleasure. And of course, your experience of pain and pleasure might very well be flawed, and as such everything you think is real, is not as real as you think it to be. It’s a flawed perspective/memory of reality that is currently influencing your daily choices and decisions.
Your Inner Mind holds everything from your past together at an unconscious level of awareness. All your references, thoughts, beliefs, values, human needs, psychological rules, meta-programs, intentions, etc, are all here sitting deep in the recesses of your Inner Mind. When they all coalesce together they come to form your interpretation of reality. Furthermore, when they all converge together (which is all of the time) they influence the daily choices and decisions you make and the actions you take. They are, therefore “together” influencing every aspect of your life. In other words, for better or worse, they are shaping your destiny. This by itself isn’t a problem, however, it does become problematic for most people because of one fatal flaw.
The Fatal Flaw
The fatal flaw for most people is that their Inner Mind often has a different agenda than the Conscious Brain. You might want to do, be, have and experience certain things on a conscious level of awareness, however, under the surface of conscious awareness is the Inner Mind that has its own agenda. And its agenda is to ensure that your Conscious Brain does things in accordance with the underlying thoughts, values, needs, beliefs, meta-programs, etc, that have already been programmed into the Inner Mind.
But what does all this mean?
You may very have all these wonderful goals that you would like to achieve. There is no doubt you want to achieve these goals given your level of passion and motivation. However, the reality is that you will NEVER achieve these goals. You will never achieve them because you won’t be able to stop yourself from indulging in self-sabotaging behavior. You may, therefore, make some good progress towards the attainment of your goals, however at one point or another you will do something or fail to do something, and this will put a stop to your efforts.
Why would this be happening?
Remember that your Inner Mind’s role is to ensure that your conscious decisions, behaviors, and actions are consistent with the way you have programmed yourself over a lifetime. And this programming goes back to your interpretations of pain and pleasure, which are based on the experiences you have had. This response to pain and pleasure has formed your beliefs, values, meta-programs, psychological rules and other unconscious elements of your psyche. These elements are now memories that function as an “aid” to help you make choices and decisions in the present moment. This is fantastic if your current choices and decisions are congruent and consistent with your underlying programming. However, problems arise if your Conscious Brain has a different agenda then what’s been programmed into your Inner Mind.
However, you have programmed yourself over a lifetime now lies within the recesses of your Inner Mind. Your Inner Mind’s task is to make sure that you act consistently with this programming. If you diverge from the path, then it’s the Inner Mind’s job to get your back on track to make sure that everything stays consistent and congruent.
Your Inner Mind doesn’t handle conflict very well. Therefore if you set a goal or task for yourself to do something that goes against the Inner Mind’s programming, then your Inner Mind will do whatever it takes to make sure that you don’t achieve that goal or take that specific action. As such, you will do something or fail to do something and will ultimately sabotage yourself in some way. Your goal will continue to be out of reach, and you will have no idea why you are making next-to-no progress.
The programming that goes into shaping your Inner Mind is a very powerful force. In fact, your Conscious Brain can do very little about it. It’s like a dog on a leash after years of obedience school. The dog will listen to everything that its owner instructs it to do. It will listen because it has been trained to respond to pain and pleasure. It knows that when it obeys that it will feel pleasure and that when it disobeys that it will experience pain. Yes, of course, the dog might have other desires and wants, however it has been conditioned to act in a certain way over a lifetime, and even though it might want to do something differently, it will stay consistent with how it has been taught to act and respond to specific commands. In a similar way, your Inner Mind is the “master” and the Conscious Brain is the “pet” that has been trained to act and respond in a very specific way to the events and circumstances of its life.
Breaking the Cycle
Now, let’s say that the dog’s owner suddenly becomes very abusive. In such instances, this turn-of-events might very well create enough pain for the dog to act differently and not follow the commands that it has been taught. This will initially be very difficult to do. It has been conditioned to act and respond in a certain way for many years. Breaking this cycle and pattern will not be easy. However, if the dog experiences enough emotional pain as a result of the abuse, it will successfully reprogram itself by resisting the commands from its owner. It might even decide that its had enough, and lash out in anger.
I realize that this is a pretty extreme example, however, it does provide some insight into what it might take to break the cycle and to reprogram your Inner Mind in ways that will help support the conscious goals and objectives you would like to achieve.
Reconditioning the Inner Mind will take a great deal of effort. You have a lifetime of experiences that have shaped who you are and what you think and believe. This doesn’t change overnight, however, you can certainly recondition your Inner Mind in a better way over time to ensure that it supports your conscious endeavors.
To recondition your Inner Mind you could use hypnotic suggestion, psychological modeling, and/or visualization. No matter what method you decide to choose, keep in mind that reconditioning comes back to the pain and pleasure principle. The dog went against its automatically conditioned responses when it experienced enough pain to make this change possible. You too must use the principles of pain and pleasure to recondition your Inner Mind in a new way. Pain and pleasure will help create new references, which will help shape your beliefs, and will subsequently influence other areas of your psyche.
Exploring Your Thoughts
You typically have 60,000+ thoughts per day. Ninety-five percent of these thoughts are known as “habitual thoughts”. These are the thoughts you consistently bring to mind every single day. Moreover, these are the thoughts that go into recreating your body and your cells. Yes, your thoughts are creating and recreating your body and cells on a daily basis. This means that you are who you are (physically and emotionally) because of the thoughts you have allowed into your mind. This also means that your health and wellbeing is tied to your thoughts. Your body, therefore, corresponds to your thoughts in much the same way as your tongue corresponds to the words you use to express yourself. But what is an actual thought?
Thoughts are impulses of information that go into creating molecules (thinking cells). These thoughts are built upon the five human senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. As such, thoughts can come in many different forms. However, thoughts most commonly manifest through sight and sound. When you picture something in your head you are at that moment creating a thought. Also when you talk to yourself you are at that moment creating a thought.
Because your thoughts are built upon the five human senses, they are therefore only interpretations of reality. Your thoughts are perspectives you have about the world you live in. These perspectives are based on your expectations. What you expect to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch, is what becomes real in your life. As such, your thoughts, for the most part, correspond to your unconscious tendencies. These tendencies include habits of mind that are built upon your beliefs, values, human needs, meta-programs, psychological rules, self-concept, and emotions. Your thoughts are therefore interpretations of the reality you have led yourself to expect. And this can either help you or hurt you, depending on how you have conditioned yourself over a lifetime.
Your thoughts create Neuro-Peptides that trigger the release of specific kinds of hormones into your bloodstream. As such, you cannot have a thought without producing a chemical cocktail in your body that leads to an emotional experience. You, therefore, experience an emotion because of an initial thought that triggered the release of a chemical within your brain, thereby creating the emotion you are currently feeling. This chemical cocktail of hormones can for instance come in the form of antidepressants, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, antibiotics, and other drugs. However, these are not artificial chemicals injected into your bloodstream by a medical professional. These are chemicals produced by your brain that result from your thoughts. These thoughts come about because of the expectations and perspectives you have chosen adopt.
Because your thoughts create your emotional experiences, they are akin to psychological anchors. You will have a thought and this will result in an emotion. This emotion manifests physically through your body when you tremble, sweat, or blush. Your thoughts are therefore psychological triggers for your emotional experiences.
The Formation of a Habit
Your psychological triggers are learned responses that have been conditioned over a lifetime. These “learned responses” have become habits-of-mind that you have adopted and taken as your own. These habits-of-mind come about as a result of neural formations/connections in the brain.
A neuron consists of an axon, a nucleus, and dendrites. When you think a thought an electrical impulse of energy is sent along the synaptic gap between neurons in your brain. These messages create dendrite synaptic protuberances (DSPs), which are formed every single time you talk, think, experience an emotion, and/or take a specific action. These DSPs are the pathways that allow information to travel from one cell to another.
Pathways are created when you have a thought. Pathways are strengthened when you have repeated thoughts about the same thing. And when the same pathway has been used many times over, thoughts cross this pathway with less effort than ever before. And that’s how your habits are formed.
Let’s use an example of a field with long grass. When you initially walk through this field there will be no evident pathway. You will need to make your own way through the field to reach your house on the other side. However, over the course of days, weeks and then months, you keep walking along the same grass within this field. And as you continue walking on this grass a clear pathway comes into view. The grass along this pathway gets worn out over time, and as a result, you are now walking on dirt that clearly outlines the path you must follow to get to your house.
In much the same way thoughts used over-and-over again create pathways in your brain. That first original thought is difficult and uncertain. It’s difficult and uncertain because there is no solid pathway for this thought to travel upon. However, as you continue using that same thought time-after-time, you will travel the same pathway. And the more times you travel this pathway the easier it is to walk this pathway because you have successfully created a “groove” for your thoughts to “walk on”.
This is how habits are formed. You have a thought, and then you undertake a specific kind of behavior. As the thought and behavior are repeated, the pathway grows more prominent in your brain. As such, the thought and behavior become easier and more effortless to indulge in. Over time, these thoughts and behaviors turn into unconscious habits. You become so proficient because of the depth and strength of this pathway that you form a habit that no longer requires any conscious attention. This is much like walking.
When you tried walking for the very first time you probably had to put a lot of conscious effort into it. However, over time the “walking” pathways in your brain strengthened, and as a result, it became much easier to walk. And then over time after repeatedly walking every single day, you became so proficient at walking that you no longer had to give it any conscious thought or attention. And that is how lifelong habits are formed — for better or worse.
Have a think about all the habits you have acquired over a lifetime. Think about your fears, phobias, limiting beliefs, and behaviors. These are all habits that began with a single thought that was repeated over time creating a strong pathway that is now difficult — but not impossible — to break.
In order to break free from one of your unhelpful habits, you will need to STOP crossing over the pathway that created this habit. And this means that you will need to start thinking in a different way. You will need to create a new habit, which requires creating new thoughts that will help you to create new pathways that you must repeatedly use over-and-over again until you establish a new habit.
This process, of course, isn’t easy. Establishing a new habit will take time. However, it’s time well spent if you desire to make positive changes in your life.
The Reticular Activation System
When you establish a habit, you call upon your Reticular Activation System (RAS). The RAS is a filter that is applied to the staggering amount of data that gets picked up by the five senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. This filter works 24/7, and it’s the only thing that keeps you from getting overwhelmed by the massive amount of stimuli passing through your sensory organs.
The RAS determines what you will consciously decide to give your attention to at any given moment in time — while filtering out the remaining data and information, which passes through into the unconscious mind.
When you establish a habit you also set-in-stone a set of beliefs, thoughts, and expectations that go into maintaining and supporting that habit. This subsequently instructs your RAS to only filter through information that is of value to help support this habit and its associating beliefs, thoughts, and expectations. In other words, your RAS will only filter through information into your conscious awareness that is aligned with the habit you are indulging in. As such, you never see the full picture. You are instead only seeing a biased view of reality that matches the personal beliefs, thoughts, and expectations that help support your habit. It’s much like peering through a keyhole. You can see the room through the keyhole, however, you never see the room in its entirety. You might for instance notice that the room looks messy, and you, therefore, assume that the entire room and the house are also messy. However, this may or may not be true.
What all this means is that not only might you be indulging in an unhelpful habit, but you wouldn’t even know about it because your RAS is filtering out everything that goes against the beliefs, thoughts, and expectations that are supporting this habit. For this very reason, unhelpful habits are very difficult to break. However, “difficult” doesn’t mean that they are impossible to break. If you originally conditioned yourself to do things a certain way, then you can certainly recondition yourself to do things another “different” way. Awareness is always the first step to change.
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