Thoughts Are Things

“Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind;

for the soul is dyed by the thoughts.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Thoughts are things” is the old adage that has been used for decades to help people understand that their thoughts are more important than they may have initially believed. It is a saying that places responsibility back onto a person and allows that person to realize that they have control over their lives – no one else.

When the phrase was coined over a century ago, there wasn’t much scientific research to substantiate the claim that “thoughts are things;” the only real evidence that existed were in the cries of those who had reached success by mastering their thoughts – the pleas to listen to what these successful people had accomplished by creating a certain mindset for themselves.

In Susan Reynolds’s article, she sheds a little more scientific light on just how important thoughts are to affecting our attitudes and daily lives.

Positive and Negative Thoughts’ Effect on the Brain

Reynolds beautifully explains how the prefrontal cortex is the nexus for all thought and reflection:

Your PFC not only regulates the signals that your neurons transmit to other brain parts and to your body, it allows you to think about and reflect upon what you are physically doing. In particular, the PFC allows you to control your emotional responses through connections to your deep limbic brain. It gives you the ability to focus on whatever you choose and to gain insight about your thinking processes. The PFC is the only part of your brain that can control your emotions and behaviors and help you focus on whatever goals you elect to pursue.

So how do positive thoughts affect the brain?

Every thought creates neurons. These neurons can either be positive neurons, which “decreases cortisol and produces serotonin” creating positive thoughts and a sense of well-being as well as improving cognition, or they can be negative, sapping the brain of positive energy and dulling its ability to analyze and think; the more negative thoughts you have, the more your brain shifts and changes to sustain those negative thoughts

So, you can see how it might be beneficial (and that’s putting it lightly!) to keep a mind full of positive thoughts and to train your brain to maintain consistent positive thoughts.

Retraining the Brain

An article written by Matthew E. May discusses the strategy used by Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, a practicing neuropsychiatrist affiliated with UCLA, to alter the mindset of individuals with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. While this process may have been designed with the OCD individual in mind, it certainly can work for anyone who is willing to rigorously work on changing their thoughts.

The steps include:

Relabeling – acknowledging and categorizing most negative thoughts as unnecessary.

Reattributing – come to an understanding as to why you are having these negative thoughts.

Refocusing – changing your negative behaviors to more positive and constructive ones.

Revaluing – after having worked on removing your negative thoughts one at a time for long enough, your mind automatically begins categorizing negative thoughts as unimportant rather than you needing to do it consciously.

I’ll leave you with an interesting, though controversial, “study” conducted by Dr. Masaru Emoto that focuses on the effects positive and negative thoughts and phrases have on the crystallization of water.

Your brain is just as important as your body (and probably more so!), so be sure to take care of it like you would anything else in your life.