Thoughts are an exceptional gift, often overlooked by humanity. Now, they may not give you the power to fly, as Peter Pan told us when we were kids, but they are kind of magical. Thinking positive thoughts is often touted as a solution to nearly every problem, but have you wondered why?
What is so powerful about our ideas? How do the things you believe affect your life? Can thoughts change your reality? I think they can and there is quite a bit of science that agrees!
What makes our thoughts so powerful?
Sow a thought and reap an act;
Sow an act and reap a habit;
Sow a habit and reap a character;
Sow a character and reap a destiny. — Chinese Proverb
Neuroscience is a fascinating field of study, and I am not an expert. Still, I have learned many things about people’s behaviors from advanced behavioral management training, therapy, and reading, which has helped me understand some pivotal details.
One of those is details is a neural pathway, and it is the building block to understanding why your thoughts matter. In layman’s terms, it is precisely what it sounds like: a passage through the nervous system. These pathways physically imprint on the brain and are detectable by the naked eye.
Some are simple, like any of the body’s reflexes. They don’t require the higher centers of the brain. Others, like the reward and pain pathways, are much more complex.
According to The Human Memory, “On a daily basis, we train our brain to create a new pathway. We repeat an action over and over again until it is defined in the brain as a new pathway.”
If you always react a certain way to a stimulus, you have built a neuropathway in your brain. Think of it like this:
You always take the same route to work. You do it five days a week for months and months. Then you take a day off on a Wednesday to go to a dentist’s appointment. You get behind the wheel and start heading toward the dentist’s office, and the beginning part of your journey is the same as your work route.
Suddenly, your favorite song comes on the radio, and you turn it up. You sit at the light jamming out: left takes you to the dentist, right leads to the office. Before the light changes, your phone rings; you answer on the blue tooth and start having a lively conversation.
Your brain is listening to the music and carrying on an exchange and driving, and you turn right. You don’t realize your error until you pull in your parking space at the office and disengage the call.
How did you end up here? Your neural pathway took over. The same thing happens with more complex scenarios, like the body’s response to stress. If you had experiences where you felt abandoned as a child, then you reacted in a certain way when people would leave.
Your body felt that way every time it happened, or you relived it. If you haven’t rewired your neural pathway, you likely still feel this response when people leave.
According to Vanessa Loder, “We can reprogram our brains’ automatic response, and all it requires (this is a simple thing…but not an easy one) is a conscious effort to build new pathways.” You can build new pathways and rewire your brain by taking various routes to work. If you get upset whenever people leave, try thinking differently.
Instead of saying things like “He won’t come back,” try telling yourself, “When he gets back, we will try that new restaurant we have been meaning to try.” Make a habit of changing a specific way you behave. If you do that enough times, your first thought won’t be that people always leave me behind.
Our thoughts turn into actions, and if we don’t act like a reasonable person when people go somewhere without us, we might drive them away, which only reinforces our negative beliefs.
How do your beliefs affect your life?
Your beliefs impact your life in more ways than you suspect. Sure, most of us are aware that our religious, political, and societal beliefs shape how we behave. However, thoughts play a much more vital role in our daily lives than we give them credit for, since they are the building blocks of our beliefs.
Gloria Waite, M.A., CHT, CMS, explains how beliefs are formed:
- The thoughts that come from your experiences and your perceptions of those
- Experiences… determine what you believe.
- What you believe determines your feelings and behaviors.
- Your behavior (how you act and react) then reinforces your beliefs.
The Illusory Truth Effect is a psychological term that explains the phenomena of how you can believe a false statement if you repeat it often enough.
According to Matthew Warren, people will “find it easier to process information that we’ve encountered many times before. This creates a sense of fluency, which we then (mis)interpret as a signal that the content is true.”
While this is typically a trick used by politicians and savvy business professionals, we often fool ourselves with our thoughts. For instance, my mother and father abandoned me at a young age.
For a long time, I told myself that everyone I love leaves me. Or there must be something wrong with me because no one loves me enough to stay.
These statements are not factual when you look at the evidence. There have been plenty of other people who have loved me and have not left. However, repeatedly reciting that everyone I love leaves me convinced my brain that this was the truth.
My husband and I have been married a long time, so at some point, I stopped actively believing he was going to leave me, but when he used to go away on business or travel without me, my subconscious would yell that he would not come back.
Tensions would arise whenever these trips happened, and I had to learn to teach (and tell) myself something different. The first step was to stop telling myself that ‘everyone’ leaves because that is simply not the facts.
When we make our thoughts positive instead of negative, we can see genuine change happen. Now it will not make bad or sad things stop happening to us, but it can make better and happy things occur. You can’t think happy thoughts to fly around the world magically, but you can improve your life through positive affirmations.
“Now, think of the happiest things. It’s the same as having wings!”—Peter Pan, Disney
Can your thoughts change your reality?
I’m a writer and reader, so it is a given that I am a huge fan of words. I love how the story changes depending on which word you use or how you string them together.
Words might not be magical, but they are profound, and the ones you repeat to yourself can genuinely affect the life you live. Can positive affirmations have results that are more spectacular than flight?
Much like the Illusory Truth Effect, if we continue to encounter positive information about ourselves, we will be more apt to believe it. This belief in ourselves can:
- Increase our motivation
- Stay focused on our goals
- Change negative thought patterns into positive ones
- Enable your subconscious mind to access new beliefs
- Boost your self-confidence
By repeating positive self-affirmations, we can increase their fluency, and thereby believe that they are real. Writing or typing your affirmation engages the mind and helps connect to it on a kinaesthetic level.
What do you think?
What kinds of thoughts are you telling yourself? Are they constructive and designed to help you live better? The way we think matters because those thoughts cause us to act.
When we have the same idea and act the same way multiple times, then we create habits for ourselves. Those habits that are created define our character. Your character determines how you see yourself, what you show the world, and the destiny you create.
We are all writers because we are the authors of our stories. Think about your thoughts as the words that will appear next on the page of your life’s book. How will the belief that you are having affect how you act in the future?
These are all questions that we should ask ourselves before we let negative or self-destructive thoughts weigh us down. That is probably why Peter Pan and his friends can fly with a bit of fairy dust and happy thoughts. They are freeing themselves from the shackles of their own doubt and negativity, which all stem from ideas.
“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.”—J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan