How Your Thoughts Change Your Brain, Cells, And GenesEvery minute of every day, your body is physically reacting, literally changing, in response to the thoughts that run through your mind.

It’s been proven over and over again that just thinking about something causes your brain to release neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that allow it to communicate with parts of itself and your nervous system. Neurotransmitters control virtually all of your body’s functions, from hormones to digestion to feeling happy, sad, or stressed.

Studies have shown that thoughts alone can improve vision, fitness, and strength. The placebo effect, as observed with fake operations and sham drugs, for example, works because of the power of thought. Expectancies and learned associations have been shown to change brain chemistry and circuitry which results in real physiological and cognitive outcomes, such as less fatigue, lower immune system reaction, elevated hormone levels, and reduced anxiety.

In The Intention Experiment: Using Your Thoughts to Change Your Life and the World, Lynne McTaggart writes:

A sizable body of research exploring the nature of consciousness, carried on for more than thirty years in prestigious scientific institutions around the world, shows that thoughts are capable of affecting everything from the simplest machines to the most complex living beings.  This evidence suggests that human thoughts and intentions are an actual physical “something” with astonishing power to change our world. Every thought we have is tangible energy with the power to transform. A thought is not only a thing; a thought is a thing that influences other things.” (Read more)

Your Thoughts Sculpt Your Brain

Every thought you have causes neurochemical changes, some temporary and some lasting. For instance, when people consciously practice gratitude, they get a surge of rewarding neurotransmitters, like dopamine, and experience a general alerting and brightening of the mind, probably correlated with more of the neurochemical norepinephrine.

In one study, college students deeply in love were shown pictures of their sweeties, and their brains become more active in the caudate nucleus, a reward center, giving them that in-love swoon. When they stopped looking at the pictures, their reward centers went back to sleep.

What flows through your mind also sculpts your brain in permanent ways. Think of your mind as the movement of information through your nervous system, which on a physical level is all the electrical signals running back and forth, most of which are happening below your conscious awareness. As a thought travels through your brain, neurons fire together in distinctive ways based on the specific information being handled, and those patterns of neural activity actually change your neural structure.

Busy regions of the brain start making new connections with each other, and existing synapses, the connections between neurons, that experience more activity get stronger, increasingly sensitive, and start building more receptors. New synapses are also formed.

London Cab Drivers’ Brains Changed

One example of this is the well-known London cab driver studies which showed that the longer someone had been driving a taxi, the larger their hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in visual-spatial memory. Their brains literally expanded to accommodate the cognitive demands of navigating London’s tangle of streets. Research has also proven the numerous benefits of meditation for your brain and shown that meditation produces measurable changes, from altering grey matter volume to reduced activity in the “me” centers of the brain to enhanced connectivity between brain regions.

Your Thoughts Program Your Cells

A thought is an electrochemical event taking place in your nerve cells producing a cascade of physiological changes. The article, How Your Thoughts Program Your Cells, explains it this way:

There are thousands upon thousands of receptors on each cell in our body. Each receptor is specific to one peptide, or protein. When we have feelings of anger, sadness, guilt, excitement, happiness or nervousness, each separate emotion releases its own flurry of neuropeptides. Those peptides surge through the body and connect with those receptors which change the structure of each cell as a whole. Where this gets interesting is when the cells actually divide. If a cell has been exposed to a certain peptide more than others, the new cell that is produced through its division will have more of the receptor that matches with that specific peptide. Likewise, the cell will also have less receptors for peptides that its mother/sister cell was not exposed to as often.

So, if you have been bombarding your cells with peptides from negative thoughts, you are literally programming your cells to receive more of the same negative peptides in the future. What’s even worse is that you’re lessening the number of receptors of positive peptides on the cells, making yourself more inclined towards negativity.

Every cell in your body is replaced about every two months. So, the good news is, you can reprogram your pessimistic cells to be more optimistic by adopting positive thinking practices, like mindfulness and gratitude, for permanent results.

Your Thoughts Activate Your Genes

You are speaking to your genes with every thought you have. The fast-growing field of epigenetics is proving that who you are is the product of the things that happen to you in your life, which change the way your genes operate. Genes are actually switched on or off depending on your life experiences, and your genes and lifestyle form a feedback loop. Your life doesn’t alter the genes you were born with. What changes is your genetic activity, meaning the hundreds of proteins, enzymes, and other chemicals that regulate your cells.

Only about five percent of gene mutations are thought to be the direct cause of health issues. That leaves 95 percent of genes linked to disorders acting as influencers, which can be influenced one way or another, depending on life factors. Of course, many of these are beyond your control, like childhood events, but some are entirely within your control, such as diet, exercise, stress management, and emotional states. The last two factors are directly dependent on your thoughts.

Your Biology Does Not Have to Be Your Destiny

Your biology doesn’t spell your destiny, and you aren’t controlled by your genetic makeup. Instead, your genetic activity is largely determined by your thoughts, attitudes, and perceptions. Epigenetics is proving that your perceptions and thoughts control your biology, which places you in the driver’s seat. By changing your thoughts, you can influence and shape your own genetic readout.

You have a choice in determining what input your genes receive. The more positive the input, the more positive the output of your genes. Epigenetics is allowing lifestyle choices to be directly traced to the genetic level and is proving the mind-body connection irrefutable. At the same time, research into epigenetics is also emphasizing how important positive mental self-care practices are because they directly impact our physical health.

Meditation and mindfulness put you in contact with the source of the mind-body system, giving your thoughts direct access to the beneficial genetic activity which also affects how well your cells function, via the genetic activity inside the cells.

Use Your Thoughts For You

You have much more power than ever believed to influence your physical and mental realities. Your mindset is recognized by your body – right down to the genetic level, and the more you improve your mental habits, the more beneficial response you’ll get from your body. You can’t control what has happened in the past, which shaped the brain you have today, programmed your cells, and caused certain genes to switch on.

However, you do have the power in this moment and going forward to choose your perspective and behavior, which will change your brain, cells, and genes.

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  1. sassandahalf Reply

    I feel like i’m lying to myself when i try to think positively. How do I get around/past that?

    • I did too, at first. The idea is not to deny your thoughts and feelings that do arise and are real and authentic for you. That is fake and causes it’s own kind of suffering and never works. The idea is to become aware of and work with your thoughts and feelings. Take what you are thinking and mindfully explore it, the origins of it, decide if it’s true for you or is some belief you were taught in childhood, reframe it, consider the possibilities and alternatives, then decide consciously how you want to think and believe going forward. The trick is to become conscious of your thoughts, work with them, and choose how you want to think and proceed. After a while with practice, this pattern doesn’t require such conscious effort and becomes more of the go to default for your brain.

    • mojokabobo Reply

      It’s fact, thinking positively alters things for the better. There’s plenty of studies to prove it.

      Your question is better answered, if I rephrased it, “I feel like I’m lying to myself when I think 2+2=4. How do I get past that?”.

      Easy. 2+2=4. It’s fact.

    • Corinne Madias Reply

      Sass, Your comments gave me goosebumps. I know its a year later and hope you are in a better place. Its naive to think that the cells in your body dont respond to your thoughts. I had a negative mindset from childhood. An aggressive cancer in 2009 reset my compass. I beat it and and my negative thinking. I have since moved on to to an amazing and lucrative career that I credit greatly to the power of affirmations and positve thinking. People are magnetically attracted to people w good energy. You know you dont enjoy the company of those vibrating at a low energy level. Research what you need to do to raise your energy frequencies. You need to believe it. I occassionally get low and wonder if it all crash it, sort of too good to true whats happening, but I beat those dark thoughts down w reminders that I derserve success and happiness and deeply believe the universe wants it for me. Hope this provides you some peace. Be Well.

      • Corinne,

        Thank you for your positive and encouraging comments and example. I needed to read those today! 🙂 Onward!

    • Let’s say you have no money and you say “I am rich” that would feel like a lie and cause the feeling you are referring to.
      Those affirmations are best used while you are sleeping (because when U are asleep, there’s direct access to your subconscious. Almost like a hypnosis programming state)

      When you are awake, try affirmations like “being rich is possible for me” or “I am deserving, willing and open to recieve prosperity into my life” then it opens a door for your mind to explore and start focusing on new possibilities. No longer stuck in the belief of your unwanted present circumstances.

      Also something to think about, when you have noticed a car you like, you seem to notice more of them when your driving around. That’s because you have chosen to focus on it in the first place. Focus is key. Focus on what you want and create affirmations that help you be open to seeing and attracting these things into your life.

      Hope this info helps.

  2. I love this reminder Debbie of so many studies showing the link between body and mind. Really helpful for motivating me as we move into the busy holiday period where it’s easy to neglect the body (or get into various bad habits!) and get into a negative rather than a positive cycle.

    I especially love this: “You have much more power than ever believed to influence your physical and mental realities. Your mindset is recognized by your body – right down to the genetic level, and the more you improve your mental habits, the more beneficial response you’ll get from your body.”

    Wishing you a good holiday season!

    • I find this information so empowering, Ellen. And the fact that my brain never takes a break, holidays or not, helps remind me to practice healthy thinking and habits all the time Happy holidays to you!

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  8. Lovingdear Reply

    Debbie you are awesome.
    Really powerful piece.
    Keep doing what you’re doing and learning and growing because this helps me to do the same; and then there is a spill over effect on the people I know and so on and so forth. Basically you’re impacting lives.
    My partner and I will be buying your books soon and I can’t wait to see what you have in store.

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  10. Hemant Srivastava Reply

    This is just too good.We are in the driver’s seat.Our thoughts can alter our genetic structure.I am as I think and I will be as decide to think.Thank you for this amazing life lesson.

  11. This is such a treat! I can’t wait to read your book. I’m reading Joe Dispenza’s books and this sounds just as good. I, too, suffered from depression for decades and tried to take my life.

  12. ”Every thought you have causes neurochemical changes, some temporary and some lasting”

    can you explain this sentence so i can understand i naverage english ?
    i dont know what is nuerochimical and what happen when it changes


  13. Adarsh Pandey Reply

    Great Post Madam. Your posts really make me ponder about a lot of things. It gives me immense pleasure to read and really know that you work so hard so that someone from other side of the world too can feel empowered. God bless you Debbie Hampton 🙂

  14. How does this apply to OCD when you have intrusive thoughts all the time?. Can you reprogram your brain for positive healthy thinking?

  15. Hi Debbie: I suffer from severe chronic pain. Its a mind body situation so I don’t want to dwell on the pain. I do want to ask if I repeatedly say (in my head), I am pin free and do it over and over and on and on could this have an impact on my pain? There is no structural cause for said pain. I think it will positively affect me due to neuroplasticity. Let me know your thoughts.
    Donna Rubinetti

  16. Such important and powerful information. I’m deeply committed to working with my thoughts because I know the wrong ones make me suffering. This backs up that idea 100%

  17. Dr Joe Dispenza talks about this all the time Debbie. What I find fascinating is how science and spirituality, through the use of different words and phrases are saying the same thing.

  18. Thanks for the article, Debbie! Dr Norman Diodge and Dr Rick Hanson has some excellent interviews and books on the topic of neuroplasticity that are worth checking out. See youtube.

    • I agree, Joseph. They are two of the most knowledgeable around and have certainly influenced me. 🙂

  19. Do you have the references for the studies and papers you cite? That would be very helpful and greatly appreciated. Thank you.

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  22. Loved this article!
    Doing self-care is common knowledge but not common practice. I love That you share the science behind it all, because many people have to have this piece… and some people, even after reading will still want to argue and debate.
    I just washed you to ignore, that even though this was written years ago, it is still so powerful. Thank you for taking the time to write it! And you are a rockstar for replying to people’s comments for multiple years. Bravo!!!
    Keep up the amazing work!

    ❤️ Annie M Henderson

    • Thank you for your kind words and support, Annie. I would say that self-care is not that common knowledge, but it’s getting better. 🙂

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