What helps people heal? I asked in my journal a few weeks before I met my husband back in early 1998. —not so much physically, but emotionally and Spiritually…it was not the first time I’d pondered that question. I had spent two years in a PhD program in Industrial Organizational Psychology digging in to the basics of psychology and work team effectiveness. But, I wanted more, to go deeper…so I delved in to Counseling Psychology…I spent two years learning theories and training in a group Psychiatric practice…placing people in drug studies for the FDA at the same time training under a Jungian therapist….still asking…what really helps people heal…
By this time in 1998, I’d worked for several years in a well-known Psychiatric Hospital and Treatment Center….learning so much about healing….and yet, still wanting more…asking what helps people heal?
My husband introduced me to many forms of healing and in fact we own a Wellness Center together today. Through several modalities, I’ve seen people’s lives transformed. Yet, I am intrigued at this point in my life by one methodology that I’ve known about for decades. We’ve all heard the expression, “You are what you eat,” right? I’d like to talk to you today about how “You are what you think.”
Although I’d heard that our thoughts could have an impact on our lives through the power of positive thinking back in the 80s and studied cognitive behavior therapy in graduate school, it has been a subject that has evolved for me over the years. I’d like to share with you some of what I’ve learned. Maybe you’ve heard about this form of therapy or already practice this form of being aware of your thoughts now, but I invite you to listen with an open mind because I’ve found that even if we’ve heard something 1000 times, in that 1000 and first time, we can hear it in a completely new way and have that ah-ha experience. The one where you’re ready and able to apply the knowledge and make the changes that heretofore had eluded you. That’s been my recent experience with how thoughts affect our lives and that is my wish for you, today as well.
My intention today is to either educate you or remind you that our thoughts impact our feelings and our actions for better or for worse.
We have both healthy and toxic thoughts and it is possible and in fact essential that we actively choose the thoughts we allow to rent space in our brains.
Dr. Caroline Leaf is a Cognitive Neuroscientist with a PhD in Communication Pathology. She has studied and researched the Mind-Brain connection since the 1980s. She explains that the brain is part of the Physical Body and is controlled by our mind. Research is mounting for evidence of neuroplasticity—that is the ability of the brain to change. Neuro meaning brain and plastic being to change. So the old saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks…”—not true. Or that excuse you may have heard yourself use, “It’s just the way I am…” –not so true either. Research shows now that our thinking can alter genetic expression. That’s a bold assertion. We are designed to be able to change our brains, but it does take some effort. In fact, it takes a full 21 days to physically break down a thought and create a new one.
If you’re into quick fixes like I am, you may want some proof now that what I’m saying has some truth to it. Let’s try an experiment right now with how our thoughts can impact how we feel. Let me ask you this…have you ever been attacked by ANTS? No, I’m not talking about the little black or red bugs that visit you at your picnics. I’m talking about the more incessant pests called Automatic Negative Thoughts. They are cynical, gloomy thoughts that run like background noise in your head. You probably aren’t even aware that they’re there. Have you ever caught yourself in some situation and your ANT is “I can’t handle this” “I just can’t handle this”—maybe your boss is making demands you think are unreasonable, your relationship is stressful, or you’re experiencing a financial challenge. You inner chatter screams, “I can’t handle this” and your body listens. It sounds the alarm and sets off the stress response alerting all systems of the danger. Pupils dilate, blood is routed away from the stomach and to the large leg muscles and arms to more easily fight or flee. But, we can’t haul off and punch our bosses or our significant others or run from challenges…or at least we shouldn’t.
Wanna know how to squash the “I can’t handle this” ANT? You notice when you’re saying it and consciously choose the thought, “I can handle this” and I like to tack on a validating statement such as “I can handle this…even though it sucks…or I can handle this even though it’s not what I’d prefer”….this tells your body that it’s not in a state of alarm and all your systems can work more effectively. You can try this little experiment at home…say “I can’t handle this” and see how you feel…then catch yourself and say “I can handle this…even though it stinks.” And notice how you feel….
Our thoughts precede our words and actions. There are many more examples of how toxic thoughts pollute our lives. I hope that you are more aware of the impact your thoughts have on your life and the importance of taking time to notice them and choose more empowering ones to help you design your Best Life. I promise that as you do this you will live a life filled with more peace, purpose and power…and experience healing in all its forms.