I love that we can change our mindset to change our lives. Because we can choose how to think and react, we can have so much control over how we want our lives to look like.
For the longest time my mind was a hot mess! I used to have a lot of anxious and fearful thoughts at one point in my life. I would fret about my health, my kids, my job, my husband’s job, our finances, friends, death, etc. I would feel dread come over me for no reason at all. Sometimes the thoughts would come one at a time, and at other times they came all smushed together and I felt helpless against them.
It was a relief to discover that I could control my thinking, rewire my brain and remain in peace-game changer! Once I got a hold of how, I got rid of the mess in my head. I also learned that mastery in this one area, could lead to mastery in other areas of my life. With the mess gone, I could focus more clearly, I could lead my life instead of being led by my thoughts and emotions. I love the fact that we can have so much power over our brain.
Mastery over your mind: Here’s how it works
Our brain works mostly on autopilot by creating highways (neural pathways) in our brains. When we focus on something with our thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviours we create these highways. Once the highway becomes well used it begins to function on autopilot. Autopilot allows us to conserve our mental energy and respond quickly to life experiences.
When we want to change something in our life, the super highway we built in our brain may no longer serve us. We will need to build a new highway (new neural pathways) to serve our new beliefs and mindset.
Example: Let’s say you want to be happier. You will have to create a new highway (neural pathway). It starts with a belief. You believe that its OK to be happy. You say to yourself that its OK to be happy. You start to feel the emotions of happiness, you start to act happy, you continue to experience happiness emotions and so on. You are happy. What happened? This new way of thinking and being has made it easier to produce feelings of happiness. And you have built a new highway (neural pathway).
The more positive emotions you have, the more neurons you use to build your new highway. Emotions and feelings are very important in this process because they act as the glue to bind you to your experiences. This emotional energy is the fuel, behind your thoughts that give power to your memories, goals, hopes, and dreams. What you focus on grows. So, if you focus on happiness it grows. If you focus on stress it grows. If you focus on anger it grows. Every thought you think and feeling you feel, strengthens the circuitry in your brain (your neural pathways).
These amazing abilities of our brain have so much potential and hope for dealing with mental health issues like depression and anxiety, for changing unhealthy habits, and for physical health.
Are you excited yet? Read these stories!
Many sports figures have coaches to help their clients become successful at their sport. Golfers like Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and others mentally prepare for their competitions by practicing their skills in their minds first. Not only do they visualize their success, but they engage all their senses to experience the competition.
Natan Sharansky, a computer specialist was accused of spying for the U.S. and spent nine years in a USSR prison. While in prison he played against himself in mental chess. He would say “I might as well use the opportunity to become the world champion!” Remarkably, in 1996, Sharansky beat world champion chess player Garry Kasparov!
Guang Yue, an exercise psychologist from Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio, was involved in a study that compared results of those who did physical exercises to the results of those who carried out virtual workouts in their heads. In the physical exercise group, finger abduction strength increased by 53%. In the group that did “mental contractions”, their finger abduction strength increased by 35% and increased to (40%) 4 weeks after the training ended.
What do these stories have in common?
These stories show the importance of the mind-body connection by linking our thoughts and emotions to actions and behaviours. Our brains are powerful tools that produce the same mental instructions as physical actions.
What the case studies above have in common is engaging as many of the five senses as possible in the visualization process. By doing this, the brain is getting trained for actual performance during visualization and building new neural pathways. Mental practices can enhance motivation, increase confidence, improve motor performance, and prime your brain for success. This practice is available to everyone, not just those in competitive fields.
These studies show that we can control what we put into our minds, and we do not have to think automatically, we can choose what we want to think about.
How do you shift your thinking? Notice-Shift-Rewire, Recognize, Refute and Rewire, or pick your own. What is important is to notice or recognize when you are beating up on yourself and stop it. Refute it or shift your thinking to something more positive. Then put in place your new message. It is simple, but not easy. It requires you to pay attention to the messages you are giving yourself and practice in rewiring your mind to the new more positive messages. It takes time and patience to build a new superhighway. Check out this video.
Coaches encourage you to engage as many of the five senses as you can in the visualization of your goal. Who are you with? Which emotions are you feeling right now? What are you wearing? Is there a smell in the air? What do you hear? What is your environment?
Sit with a straight spine when you do this. Practice at night or in the morning (just before/after sleep). Eliminate any doubts, if they come to you. Repeat this practice often. Combine with meditation or an affirmation (e.g. “I am courageous; I am strong,” or to borrow from Ali, “I am the greatest!”).
Visualization is as powerful as the real thing since you are giving brain a new reality, and it is unable to tell the difference between something real or imagined.
Meditation is a great stress reliever, and as noted above if the brain and body is stressed, new neural pathways can’t be formed. It is known to reduce stress and cortisol and boost the immune system. Taking time to pause helps our brain to grow, improve our creativity, improve our mental flexibility and make neural pathway changes.