In part 1 we explored why looking after our mental health was so integral to our wellbeing. In parts 2 and 3, we’ll take a look at the little actions that make a big difference when it comes to keeping a healthy state of mind.
In 1597 Sir Francis Bacon published his book “Meditationes Sacrae and Human Philosophy,” and in it coined one of the most common maxims in the English Language. It is because of Sir Francis Bacon that the phrase knowledge is power has been around for over 400 years, and it is still one of the most quoted today. But whilst the acquisition of knowledge is undoubtedly important in any endeavor, when it comes to working on our mental health it’s action that ultimately produces results.
That’s because keeping our mind healthy requires a workout in the same way as our body, just with different exercises. Instead of exercising our muscles we need to think in terms of exercising our neurons. Why? Because this is the first step in the process of having a thought.
Our neurons are where our thoughts start out as electrochemical charges, and our brain plays host to around 100 billion of them. For a thought to happen, a neuron must communicate with another by passing chemical signals containing information that you have learnt through your environment. If the same neurons were to pass the same information to each other multiple times, you would find yourself thinking the same thought over and over again and thus forming a belief or habit.
So what do we do if we find ourselves forming unhelpful, limiting or even destructive thoughts and beliefs? According to neuroscience, we need to break the neural connection that is reinforcing these thoughts. This might sound like an impossible situation, but scientists have found that we can consciously influence our neural connections, and it all happens through a process called neuroplasticity.
Each time you have a new experience (for example, if you were to visit a new city or meet a new person) your neurons make new connections to process the information your senses have taken in. This is neuroplasticity in action – the brain literally rewires itself to accommodate the new information you have learnt. And it works in reverse too. If you were to stop using a neural connection i.e. if you were to stop thinking a particular thought, that connection would break and your neurons that formally wired together would no longer do so.
So at the risk of sounding too simplistic, when it comes to changing unwanted thoughts it really is a case of mind over matter.
In reality, this is easier said than done. After all, if we could just stop thinking a thought that didn’t serve us, mental health issues wouldn’t be on the rise worldwide. But it’s important to remember that many of our thoughts and beliefs took a long time to become so strong. For example, our feelings of inadequacy didn’t happen overnight; they are the result of years of experiencing situations where we felt insecure. It takes time to create every belief we now have, and so it takes time to break them too.
But break them we can, and below you’ll find all the steps you need to take to do just that:
- Decide to change. Making a firm decision to work on your state of mind and create happier, healthier thoughts starts with your willingness to do so. In the same way you make yourself go to the gym or eat healthier foods, you need to be dedicated to working on your mental health.
- Become aware of your thoughts. The more conscious you are what passes through your mind, the better the chance you have at stopping the thoughts that don’t serve you.
- When you notice a thought creeping in that you don’t wish to have, change your focus to something more positive. This is were we exercise our neurons. We strengthen the ones we want to use by consciously signalling them into action.
- Be aware of your feelings. Each thought you have produces a corresponding feeling in your body. In the same way that being consciously aware of your thoughts will help to expose them, being consciously aware of you feelings will stop them from going under the radar and becoming an automatic response to your experiences.
- Expose your mind to new experiences. By learning new skills or making small changes to our everyday routines, we encourage our brain to use a wider range of the 100 billion neurons we each have. This, too, helps to keep them strong and healthy and stops us relying on the same neurons to produce the same thoughts that we’re used to.
- Be gentle with yourself. Changing familiar and hard-wired ways of thinking won’t happen over night and, at times, it will feel uncomfortable and unpleasant. Don’t beat yourself up for having negative thoughts and don’t think you have to get it right straight away. Learning to cultivate a healthier state of mind is a skill, so acknowledge the progress you make each day without thinking you have to master it instantly.
Take a little time each day to follow the steps above and you’ll soon begin to reap the rewards of a healthier state of mind.
Stay tuned for part 3, where we’ll be looking into the extraordinary benefits meditation can have on your way of thinking.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/71031014@N04/16530402829″>Neurones Vegetals</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>
Like what you’ve read? Help to keep me going 🙂