If you Google “power of thoughts,” you get a lot of results including words like “consciousness,” “swami,” “manifest,” and “unleash.” To me, these words suggest a basis not rooted securely in science and more rooted in marketing hype. I like to see the supporting science.
Well, I want you to know that the influence your thoughts have on your physical and perceptual reality is well-documented by scientific evidence. I think more articles should emphasize this point because it is the very real power we all have to change our lives. Articles without the science to back up the concept backup make it seem like “magical thinking.”
I can assure you that it’s not.
Thoughts are real, tangible, measurable things — electrical impulses. They are powerful, and you can direct and use them to help you. Unfortunately, most of us let them hurt us unknowingly. I used to but not anymore. Now, I put the power of my mind to work for me. You can too.
Let me explain – with the science to back it up.
Your Reality Is the Product of Your Unique Brain
At the most basic level, your unique reality is constructed by your unique brain. Making sense of the world and what happens is the result of your individual brain’s interpretation of the signals it receives as you go about your days interacting with your environment.
Much of what you think of as reality is really a construction of your brain.
You Do Not Experience the World Directly
In “The Neuroscience of Your Reality,” I write:
It may feel as though you have direct access to the concrete physical world through your senses, but you don’t. Your senses do not experience the world directly. When you touch something, it feels like the touch is happening in your fingers. However, it’s not. It’s happening in your brain. The same is true for all of your senses. Seeing doesn’t happen in the eyes. Hearing doesn’t take place in your ears. Smelling doesn’t happen in your nose. These are all activities of your brain.
In his book, The Brain: The Story of You, David Eagleman writes:
‘Here’s the key: the brain has no access to the world outside. Sealed within the dark, silent chamber of your skull, your brain has never directly experienced the external world, and it never will. Instead, there’s only one way that information from out there gets into the brain. … Everything you experience — every sight, sound, smell — rather than being a direct experience, is an electrochemical rendition in a dark theater.'”
This is an important distinction. It means that your brain assigns meaning to the electrical signals it receives. Its interpretation is determined by your subconscious. Each of us experiences the world subjectively as our brains interpret stimuli determined by our physical brain function, memories, beliefs, and attitudes about ourselves, others, and the world shaped by family, religion, school, culture, and life experiences past and present. These influences are typically below conscious awareness and determine how a person responds to the world, interacts in relationships, and thinks of and talks to themselves.
So, stimuli coming into your brain are neutral. Nothing is good or bad or associated with any emotions or actions — until your brain attaches those things to it. Therein lies your power to influence your reality. You can consciously direct and influence your thoughts at that point.
Here’s the Science to Prove It
In Jonah Lehrer’s book, Proust Was a Neuroscientist, he tells of experiments conducted by Frederic Brochet in 2001 at the University of Bordeaux. Appropriately enough, the experiments involved wine. In the first one, Brochet took two glasses of the exact white wine, colored one of them red with food coloring, and proceeded to get observations from 57 wine experts. The experts described the “red” wine in terms of its “jamminess” and other red wine jargon. Not one of them identified it as a white wine.
In another test, Brochet took the same medium-quality Bordeaux and served it in two different bottles. One bottle was labeled to look like a fancy, fine wine while the other was labeled to resemble a common table wine. The wine experts gave the exact same wine in different bottles very different ratings. The wine in the expensive bottle was described as “agreeable, complex, balanced, and rounded” while the identical wine with a cheap-looking label was said to be “weak, short, light, flat, and faulty.”
What these wine experiments illuminate is the omnipresence of subjectivity….Our human brain has been designed to believe itself, wired so that prejudices feel like facts, opinions are indistinguishable from the actual sensations. If we think the wine is cheap, it will taste cheap. And if we think we are tasting a Grand Cru, then we will taste a Grand Cru.”
Your Brain Is a Subjective Lens Through Which You View Your Life
He explains that the taste of wine, like everything in life, is more than the sum of our senses. What we experience is not what we literally sense. Our experiences are the interpretations of sensations by a subjective brain which factors in our unique beliefs, biases, memories, and desires every time.
In a very literal sense, your brain is a subjective lens through which you experience life.
Lehrer goes on to say that even if we could experience the wine exactly as it is, without subjectivity, we would still all taste it differently because each of our brains is unique on a cellular level and the part of the brain which interprets taste, and smell is extremely malleable. It is forever growing and pruning neurons throughout our lives.
The Work of Carol Dweck
The research of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck further illustrates the influence of our minds on our reality. Her research is the basis for an understanding of how your brain and mindset affect your reality. In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she explores the power of our beliefs, both conscious and unconscious, and how even the simplest changes can have a measurable impact on almost every aspect of life. She writes:
For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.”
Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer studied the effect of thoughts on hotel maids. Even though these women spent all day moving their bodies pushing vacuum cleaners, going up and down steps, bending, and stretching, 67 percent of them said they got no exercise. Langer told half of the maids that their activity level met the US Surgeon General’s definition of an active lifestyle. The other group did not receive similar information. Both groups just did their jobs as usual for a month.
Langer’s team measured the maids’ physical health statistics. At the beginning of the study, the findings matched the maids’ perceived lack of exercise. When measured a month later, the group that was told their job activity qualified as exercise saw a decrease in weight and waist-to-hip ratio and a ten percent drop in blood pressure. None of the maids had changed their routines. The only difference was in how one group viewed what they did. According to Langer, if you believe that you’re exercising, then your body responds as if you are.
One study showed that being told you slept well or poorly determined how people’s bodies physically responded. In the study, researchers explained the effects of REM sleep on sleep quality and told participants that average REM sleep should be around 20–25 percent of total sleep.
Participants were then divided into groups, assigned a sleep quality, fitted with sensors, and told that the researchers were monitoring vital signs and REM sleep. The monitoring was false as were the group labels. The “below-average” group was led to believe they got 16.2 percent REM sleep, while the “above-average” group was told they got 28.7 percent REM sleep.
After the results were dispensed, the researchers administered cognitive tests to the study participants assessing basic math and verbal skills. People who were told they had low-quality sleep performed worse on the tests and showed more cognitive deficits than the control and high-quality sleep groups.
Life Follows the Science
Everything in your life is similar to the wine, maid, and sleep experiments. Every situation or event, past, present, or future becomes what your brain defines it to be. In this way, your experience of reality is your own creation. Your brain even physically responds by reinforcing neural connections that coincide with your predominant, habitual thinking, a concept known as neuroplasticity. In other words, your recurrent thinking patterns physically shape your brain’s form and function which then reinforces and encourages more of the same kind of thinking.
You can’t choose your thoughts. That’s impossible. They originate in your subconscious brain which you have no control over. However, the good news is that you can consciously choose how you respond to those thoughts. There is your control. When you consciously do this, you can guide neuroplastic brain change.
This is the power you have to change your brain and life for the better. Directed neuroplasticity gives you the power to choose. I harnessed and directed neuroplasticity to recover from a brain injury and depression. I know it can be done!
Ways to Guide Your Brain
Neuroplasticity is actually an umbrella term referring to the many capabilities of your brain to reorganize itself throughout your life due to your environment, behavior, and internal experiences. Science used to believe that the brain was only changeable during certain periods in childhood. While it is true that your brain is much more plastic in the early years and capacity declines with age, plasticity happens throughout your life from birth until death.
Science has confirmed that you can access neuroplasticity for positive change in your own life in many ways at any age. Harnessing neuroplasticity in adulthood isn’t quite as simple as some people promise, but it can most definitely be accomplished under specific circumstances.
Neuroplastic change occurs in response to stimuli processed in the brain which can originate either internally or externally.