The Power of Self-Talk & Thought for Changing Your Brain
In a recent interview with the venerable Dr. Greg Wells, we got to discussing the power of thought for changing one's brain. While to some this seems obvious, the true power of this observation cannot be overstated - and if you spend any real time thinking about it, you'll realize just how scary the implications of self-talk (and thoughts, basically), really are.
For instance, because the brain malleable in response to BOTH internal (thoughts - both conscious AND NON-conscious) and external (new people, plants, things in your environment) stimuli it changes itself NEUROANATOMICALLY in response to both.
Think about this for a second: every time you have a thought, both the conscious and unconscious kind, your brain alters itself physically. It either lays down a new neural connection or fortifies an existing one, but either way, your brain just changed in response to the thought. As you can imagine, new thoughts and stimuli have weaker connections to networks and practiced thoughts, stimuli, narratives have much more concretized connections to multiple networks.
Now imagine that the thoughts you are having are not very positive, are self-deprecating, are self-defeating, or are otherwise negative: you have recipe for disaster as far as productivity, motivation and performance goes. AND the more you think those thoughts - consciously or otherwise - the more 'true' they because from a neuroanatomical perspective. The more connections you lay down for a negative thought, as example, the easier it is for the brain to 'practice' or repeat that thought non-consciously - it becomes the 'path of least resistance' for the subconscious buzzing that is always happening in the brain.
Have you heard the adage "If you hear something enough, you start to believe it"?
If it's your own subconscious that continually repeats and reinforces an idea, even simple, fleeting self-deprecating thoughts that you allow to float can quickly become negative cognitive black-holes, growing in size, magnitude, force, and pull.
There's good news. This same process also works for positive self-talk, self-messaging, and cognitive reinforcement. If you want to reverse the negative cycle, you need consciously and conscientiously simply correct your own thinking. While this is simple, it isn't easy, and it's both energetically and psychologically draining. It also means that you are effectively constantly monitoring and policing your own semi-conscious sub-narratives running through your brain, which gets taxing after not very long.
That said, monitoring, censoring, and controlling one's own self-talk it is a very worthwhile pursuit. The more negative self-talk you can squash, and the more positive self-talk you practice, the more you neuroanatomically and neurofunctionally create a physical brain and 'headspace' that is a pleasure to live in and performs well, including increasing in motivation, productivity, happiness, satisfaction over time. While this isn't an over-night solution, it's a practice that has been shown to make the difference between not just dis-eased versus healthy brains, but those with average accomplishments over time versus those who thrive and achieve beyond their originally conceived limits.
Listen to the entire Dr. Greg & Dr. Brynn Discussion Here: www.bit.ly/DrBrynnPodcast
Don't have time to listen? Here's the transcript from the last section of the podcast where we talk about the power of positive self-talk given the neuroplastic nature of our brains:
THE POWER & POTENTIAL OF BRAIN PLASTICITY
Dr. Greg Wells: I've heard so much about neuroplasticity. I'm really excited about it because it means that at any time in our lives, we can improve our brain. No matter what has happened to us previously, we can improve our brain. Can you explain neuroplasticity and what you've discovered recently in that area?
Dr. Brynn: I think that's probably one of the scarier findings in the last 10 years. We always knew that the brain is neuroplastic. But now there is new research all the time showing just how neuroplastic you are, just how quickly you'll lay down new neural pathways, new connections for things that matter to you, things that you're interested in.
Technology has shown it, especially with youngsters who are addicted to technology or who really like technology. Video gaming is an example - video gamers. They will very quickly neuro-plastically reorient to new gaming worlds at unprecedented levels. And, of course, those games are designed to spike that neuroplastic alteration.
We used to believe, as an example, that neuroplasticity went to zero post-puberty. Starting at puberty, it effectively continually decreased until your death, at which point you likely had zero neuroplasticity left - which meant you slowly lost the ability to learn over the course of your life and gave credence to the old adage 'you can't teach an old dog new tricks'. We conceptualized that almost like collagen in your skin, you were just no longer nimble or flexible cognitively. Now, we know that to be discredited and untrue. So you are, in fact, neuroplastic throughout your life.
The truth is that neuroplasticity is the secret to all memory, all learning and all knowledge because it is the laying down of new neural connections, which form the basis of neural networks. That is how the brain holds information: permutations of neural connections that fire together as networks. Which actually is also very hopeful and encouraging, because what it also means implicitly is that your ability to learn is infinite. So, whatever you can know, given time and opportunity, you can encode.
Your brain has no limit to that, at the theoretical level. Where the limit lies is in accessing those networks and in accessing those memories. Really, knowledge is just the memory of having learned something encoded into a network for which you already have some relevance, because you won't develop necessarily an altogether new network. You'll take existing cognitive networks, existing schema, cognitive schemata, and reorient them toward new information.
What I find very ... if not alarming, hopeful and helpful, and also wildly scary is not just how fast it happens – how quickly your brain can reorient – but that it is doing it all the time, whether you know it or not. Whether you like it or not. So what that means is that, whether you like it or not, whether you know it or not, your brain is constantly changing in response to the stimuli around you.
Which means that you are not just the food you eat. We're all very used to that adage. You are not just the company you keep. We are also used to that adage, but it's more and more true. We're finding out all the time that you very quickly become, neuro-cognitively, whoever the people around you are. You are the culmination of the five people you spend the most time with. You've probably heard that research.
GW: That's true. There's actually some really good science around that. That's fascinating.
BW: You are literally laying down neural networks that mimic theirs. So, you neuro-plastically become, and you neuro-plastically develop, the same insights, ideas, polarization of thought, and perspectives as, the people you spend the most time with. That's scary.
HOW OUR BRAIN'S CHANGE IN RESPONSE TO SELF-TALK
Dr. Greg Wells: Talk to us about the link between neuroplasticity and the way that self-talk and the thoughts we think shape us.
Dr. Brynn: This topic is the thesis of one of my most popular keynotes and a thing that scares me a lot – the idea that we are the thoughts we think.
That has very potent ramifications for the self-talk that we do. You know the self-talk about your own self-worth? That you can do it, you can get through this, you're awesome, or whatever. Whatever we tell ourselves we literally become.
Or that other self-talk that you're not worthy, you're not good enough, you're not thin enough, you're not smart enough, people are going to judge you, others will think you're an idiot...those thoughts also can take hold of a person and re-wire how their brain works.
The scary part is that it means those narratives are not benign. It means that they're more powerful than we ever thought them to be before. And I think that is, for me, the scariest ramification of some of these accelerated knowables about the neuroplasticity of your brain – the fact that you can't always believe what you think. What you think becomes your reality and very literally becomes the neurons that fire together and therefore get wired together.
That scares me, I think, for both what is exogenously, extrinsically put into our brain, in so many subconscious ways through marketing and through the use of Facebook, Instagram and all of these platforms. Whether we like it or not, they signal to us, to all of us, on a continual basis that we don't have enough, we're not good enough, we're not worthy enough, we haven't reached our height yet, we haven't developed our ... whatever, our optimal selves yet.
I think that's scary because that is exogenously being put into a subconscious that, as it routes through and tries to find a narrative that feels right, will then spew forward, will put forward some damaging insights for you. Right? And I come at this from the perspective that your subconscious contains 200 billion bits of information, though you're only paying attention to some absolute infinitesimal fraction of that. So your conscious brain is doing very little of what your subconscious brain is, in fact, absorbing. And then it's your subconscious brain that often is the one that is really manufacturing the self-talk and the internal cognitive narratives that your conscious brain ends up adopting. Not the other way around.
That is such a scary truth because what it means is that whether we like it or not, whether you believe it or not, a lot of this subconscious stuff that's filtering in that 200 million bits of information going into that subconscious brain every day, is becoming your brain. It’s neuro-plastically rewiring you. I speak to groups who say, “Oh yeah, well I read The New York Times, and I'm careful." Yeah, but do you really, though? Do you also sift through Facebook for an hour a day? You can tell me anything, but what you really do with your brain is what your brain really becomes. And so we have to be very careful about what we ingest intellectually and from a visual and technological perspective.
I often joke about, and you would appreciate this Greg, if there is a scary or violent scene in a film on the television in front of your child, you'll hide your children's eyes, but you wouldn't hide your own. Right? And so we don't censor, I think, enough of what's coming into our ether, what's coming into our environment, who is coming into our environment and what we're allowing our subconscious to be adultered by, effectively. And I think that is something that is the scariest ramification for me.
GW: That’s so powerful. The idea that you become the thoughts that you think. I didn't realize it happens so quickly or so extensively. That's pretty intense.
Social Media Snippets from Article 9
Quotes from Dr. Brynn Winegard:
The scary part about neuroplasticity is that it means those narratives we all have about not being good enough are not benign. They are more powerful than we ever thought them to be before. What you think about yourself literally becomes your reality.
Our brain is taking in far more than we realize, so we have to be very careful about what we ingest intellectually and from a visual and technological perspective.