Your brain is faster and more powerful than an actual supercomputer. It processes 70,000 thoughts each day. These thoughts bounce around your brain between 100 billion neurons. And as your neurons create and send messages, the brain is able to generate enough energy that it could power a low wattage light bulb. That’s a lot of power — all from that three-pound universe that sits inside in your head.
Our thoughts & experiences create patterns – and these patterns then get encoded in our brain. So just like with our bodies, it’s important that we are feeding our brains healthy fuel because we get out what we put in.
The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that we believe what we repeat. This is especially true of the internal dialogue that is running in the background of our mind and that heavily influences those 70,000 thoughts.
How much of what is encoded in your thoughts is actually outdated information? Or negative, pre-programmed, or inherited information? Later, I’m going to share a couple ways to help retrain your brain to use more proactive, positive thinking.
In episode 27, we explored the brain’s reticular activating system. This actively looks for daily input from your senses and matches against your interests and beliefs. If we love ice cream, our brain will be on the lookout for anything ice-cream related. It’s an ingrained search tool that sorts through all the day’s data.
Intellectually, it serves as a filtration system. Emotionally, however, it reinforces our belief system. Our brain is doing its very best to find evidence that support our needs, wants, desires, and those beliefs. This is part of its supercomputer power.
This same system works with our thoughts. For example, if we have a running cognitive commentary that tells us we’re lazy, our brain is inadvertently creating evidence that this is accurate. And the core word there is “creating.”
Our brain is a neutral information repository. It simply collects information. But when our internal belief system gets involved, that information is re-categorized to best support our inherent beliefs.
This evidence gathering can be subtle. You could be going along in your day and see someone in your periphery who is jogging. Your brain and thoughts start simmering and produce a subconscious soundtrack about why you should work out more, how you don’t do it because you’re lazy, and so on and so on. Much of this is happening subconsciously, but your mental dialogue leaves clues. And it can certainly shift your moods.
The good news is that this internal dialogue can be re-wired. Episode 7 explored the power of neuroplasticity and how we can upload improved mental software that better serves us. And this is another example.
We can learn to stop and swap the unhelpful thoughts that are on repeat in our subconscious soundtrack. The first step is simply noticing the behind-the-scenes dialogue. Some of these thoughts have been with us for decades. When you start sensing the negative hum, try interrupting the conversation and send the neurons in new, better directions.
One example of a common internal conversations is called filtering. That is when we magnify the negative aspects of a situation and filter out most of the positive. This can show up at the end of the day and you start to overlook the things that went well in the day and focus on what didn’t get done or what needs to be done tomorrow. Or you find yourself leaving an event and only focusing on what you didn’t do right or that you wish you would have said.
Years ago, I had the chance to visit part of Africa. Over the evening meal with the local community group, I witnessed their practice of sharing daily joys they experienced or that they observed in others. I brought this practice home to my young family, and we still share our daily highlights over meals – even thought they’re much taller than me now.
This was an example of a practice that became a format to follow. Repeating that practice adjusted the filters. And when that practice got shared with others, it really reinforced a positive framing of the experiences the group shared.
Another way to interrupt internal conversations is to try the ‘Yes And’ approach. Yes, that happened, And so did this. So if you’re upset about something you didn’t do during the day or at the event, follow it with an example of what you did do. Yes I didn’t respond to that email, And I had an amazing meeting with my project group.
Another example of a negative internal conversation is called personalizing. That’s when we interpret something as negative and then attribute it to ourselves as a character flaw. “I didn’t get a text back from my friend, so they must be mad at me about something.”
That dialogue can go on for quite a while. When you find yourself doing this, try using the word “Or”. Similar to Yes And, you acknowledge the initial thought and then counter with a more neutral alternative. “My friend might be upset with me Or they might be having a busy week. I’ll reach out again tomorrow.”
It sounds so simple, yet the practice of swapping thoughts creates new coding. Since so much of this is being done subconsciously, these quick verbal tools help your brain install new thoughts.
Your mental computer is a powerful machine. Like all operating systems, sometimes we need software updates. A few words can create minor adjustments – and those can go on to amplify the power of the mind.
It’s one more way that we can take care to take good care.