Friday, May 15, 2009

The power of the mind

Our brains are such powerful things. They’re powerful beyond even our wildest dreams yet most of us know so very little about them. For the most part we think of them as memory holders. They hold the memory of past experiences and knowledge we’ve gained. They’re able to take all of that and use it to guide us in our daily lives. Everything we do, read, hear, see and experience is stored there. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it because remembering things when we really need them can be challenging but still the memory is there somewhere.

The brain and the mind however are two different things. Most people believe the terms are interchangeable but they aren’t really. The brain is the organ that physically exists in our head. The mind is the intangible component of our being that directly interacts with the brain and the body. The mind is that part of us which generates thoughts, imagination and our inner dialogue. I believe it’s important to be aware of this because of all that becomes possible with that awareness.

The amazing thing about our brain, and something that not everyone knows, is that the brain doesn’t know the difference between what we experience in the world and what we imagine. Scientists have discovered that the exact same parts of the brain are active when we see or experience something as well as when we simply imagine doing something. I believe that is a key piece of information in helping us to change our lives, to grow and ultimately to evolve as an individual and collectively as a species.

Given that information think about all the data that goes into the mind. When we see violence or gore in movies, video games, in “the news” or read about it in books or newspapers, that information along with our interpretation of it gets stored in the brain. Even though we may be very conscious that “it’s just a movie” when it’s happening, the interpretation of that movie doesn’t get directly connected to that fact that it was just a movie. You may recall that fact when you focus on the movie or scene from it but the brain stores the information gathered from watching it as something you have experienced.

For example I’ve never shot and killed anyone or anything personally (and hope I never do) but unfortunately I’ve seen many movies, or video footage, where that has happened. I know this true for most everyone that has been exposed to the media that way. That means that the memory of that experience is stored in my brain somewhere (yours too) and while I’m sitting here quietly and thinking about it, I know that it’s not something that I’ve done nor want to do. However if in a crisis situation where I was holding a gun and I felt threatened or panicked, my body might react just like in the movies without me really thinking about it. I believe that is especially true for children that commit violent crimes. They haven’t developed the mental abilities to prevent that from happening. That knowledge goes a long way in explaining the level of violence and crime in our world, especially in America. How many times have you noticed yourself doing something that you’ve never done before but doing like you saw in a movie or on TV?

Once you understand the relationship between the mind and the brain, the brain and the body and the body and the mind, you can really begin to change your life. With this knowledge you might become more selective of the things you watch on TV or see at the movies. I would hope you would anyway. Also with this knowledge you might begin to monitor your thoughts and imagination more carefully as well. Beyond that though consider the possible positive implications of this knowledge. In essence, we can change the past. If we’ve had a negative traumatic experience of abuse in the past, rather than dwelling on it repeatedly “as it happened” (which just re-enforces it in our system) we can change it to be a more positive outcome. This is where the imagination comes in.

Let’s do a little exercise. Pause after each item until that you’ve completed that task then continue:
- Take a moment to check in with yourself and observe how you feel right now.
- Think about a negative experience from your past. Roll it over in your thoughts for a few minutes. Really let yourself recall it fully…the location, people involved, your age, the year…as many details as you can. Take your time with this.
- Scan your body and notice how it feels. Notice where it’s tight or tense. Notice how you feel and what your mood is just from thinking about it.
- Compare that to how you felt before you began this exercise. Note that difference and recognize that it was all brought on by your thoughts.
- Think about that experience again but imagine a different, more positive outcome. Imagine yourself handling it the way you wish you could have at the time. See yourself being confident and capable of bringing the experience to the best possible outcome for everyone involved, not in a vindictive way but rather a loving way in which the trauma did not occur at all. Really let yourself explore how that might have looked, what you might have said and done and how if it had gone that way, it might have reshaped your life. Spend as much time as you can with those thoughts.
- When you’re done notice how you’re feeling then and compare that to how you felt when you just remembered it as it happened.
From this exercise, you can see how the body reacted to what the brain perceived. Perhaps your heart rate changed, your breath became more shallow and rapid, and perhaps your palms began sweating. All of those and perhaps more were triggered by the brain and were probably the exact same things which you experienced during the original event. Just as easily, when you changed the outcome, your body moved back to a calm, relaxed place. That was all done with using the imagination to trigger experiences within the brain.

Clearly just changing the outcome in your mind won’t mean that it never happened and so you’ll be magically healed. However since we’re dealing with something which happened to you, depending upon the traumatic impact of the event, you probably developed issues from it (fears, anxiety, phobias, anger, etc.). The event is done but these issues are the residual effects of it. By changing the outcome you can begin to dislodge those effects and their impact on your body. Remember only you are holding on to your past. No one else has a vested interest in you being angry, afraid, vengeful, hurt, etc. from the experience. That’s a choice you are making to stay in that victim state. If you are able to trace the effects to the present day and then re-imagine how that all would have changed with your alternate outcome, you’ll begin to see changes in your life almost immediately. You can change your life in an instant if that’s what you choose. That is changing the past. It takes practice and focus but it is possible.

The point of that exercise is to see the power of the mind. You felt one way. You only thought about an experience and suddenly you felt another way. You changed it and felt differently again. You did that with the power of your mind and the various functions of the brain. Despite the victim mentality that most people hold in relation to their mind, we control the mind, the mind does not control us. It is powerful beyond our wildest dreams and limited only by our doubts and fears. It is our key to the brain and its power. The brain has the power to control our body and emotions.

Please choose to filter the input you receive because the brain is always active and gathering data through your senses. Try spending even just one day a week not watching the news, reading the paper, watching violent or negative movies or television, or listening to angry or sad music and watch how your body reacts and your mood shifts. I’m certain you’ll see the difference and that awareness can lead you into even more powerful uses of the body-mind connection.

Change your mind, change your life.


  1. Does mean I have to avoid Fox News?

    .... just kidding. I don't watch any TV news.

  2. Yes! Especially Fox News! Remember, even "the news" has an agenda. There are lots of things in life to focus on so notice what the news you watch chooses to focus on.