Or I should say feelings in my mind. You might already know about the research of Richard Davidson and Sharon Begley, but if you don’t, the current issue of Newsweek has an interesting article about it. Click here to read it.
Their research shows that we all have an “emotional style” that can be traced to patterns of activity in the brain, creating for each of us a unique emotional profile. Our emotional style includes the elements of resilience, outlook, self-awareness, social intuition, attention, and sensitivity to context.
Some of this is not new. We all know, for example, that different people have different emotional responses to the same event. We all know that some people are more emotional than others, and that different people have different dominant emotions. We might, for example, describe one person as being a happy person and another as being angry.
We might explain all this by saying that that’s just the way we are. We might think we have no control over our individual emotional make up, or over the fleeting, transitory feelings that we experience as we go through our days. And this is where we would be mistaken. Although it’s true that our basic, primal instincts of fight or flight are triggered in the more primitive part of our brain, the thinking part of our brain can create neural patterns that will override or temper the intense, stressful reactions of what is sometimes referred to as our “lizard” brain.
Scientists no longer see our brains as hard wired at an early age. The term “neuroplasticity” describes the brain’s life long ability to change its actual structure and function. We see this happen when someone who has suffered a brain injury is able to train other parts of the brain to take over the tasks of the injured area. The same is true for our emotional patterns.
Two forms of mental activity are especially helpful in training our brains to rewire our thinking patterns, to enhance our emotional well being. Both of these activities are techniques we’ve discussed on this blog. See the related posts listed below.
The first is cognitive behavior therapy, which is a fancy phrase for paying attention to our thoughts. Our feelings are based on underlying thoughts and beliefs. Let’s say, for example, that I left a message for you and you didn’t call me back. I might feel upset or hurt or angry. But look deeper. Underneath those feelings I will find thoughts. For example, you are being rude by ignoring my message. You think you are so important that my message doesn’t matter. You are upset with me and you’re giving me the silent treatment.
You get the idea. We often don’t examine the reactionary thoughts we have. But if we did, we might see that we are telling ourselves a story that might not be true. I don’t know why you didn’t call me back. Maybe your phone doesn’t work. Maybe you are crazy busy and will call me when you can. The point is that my feelings are based on faulty thinking. If I found out that you didn’t call back because you were in a car accident, my feelings would be very different even though the event – your not calling back – was the same. Questioning our basic assumptions can help us shift away from feelings that cause us distress.
The other mental activity highlighted in the article is meditation, especially mindfulness meditation. Meditation helps us become more self aware of our internal chatter, as we watch our thoughts come and go without getting hooked into our emotional reactions to our thoughts. Brain studies of Buddhist monks who spend a lot of time meditating show increased activity in the part of the brain that promotes well being. Through meditation, they have actually restructured their brains to increase joy.
Through these methods, and other forms of mental activity, we can strengthen the thinking part of our brain and increase the pathways to the primitive part of our brain, allowing our higher consciousness to calm our instinctive stress reactions and enhance equanimity.
Now that’s something worth thinking about!
Related posts: Feeding the Wolf; Transforming Our Feelings; The Hidden Life of Minds; The M Word
10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There) is a program to help us develop habits to grow a joyful spirit. Many of us sabotage our happiness by habits that we might not even be aware of. Identifying and changing these habits can build a reservoir of well-being to enhance our happy times and sustain us during challenging times.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Feelings on My Mind
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or... that feeling that something's around or watching? ... and you find yer cat just sitting watching you...ReplyDelete
Now that’s something worth thinking about!
good read ;)
Carolyn, Very funny!Delete
OK, I'm thinking of an appropriate comment...what first comes to mind is....oh well.ReplyDelete
The more we understand what drives us to act and think the way we do the better chance we have to modify that behavior. Simple, clear, explanation, Galen. Thanks.
Bob, True, the first step is self awareness. Then we have the opportunity to make choices. Thanks for commenting.Delete
How do you feel about cognitive dissonance that we find in others? Should this play in to the measure of happiness that we are able to experience in our own life?ReplyDelete
Collin, Oh dear, now I'm getting into cognitive terms that make my synapses sizzle. As I understand it, cognitive dissonance occurs when we hold conflicting beliefs about something. Depending on the specifics, there are many ways we can manage this. But your comment seems more focused on what we sense in others, and how that affects our own happiness. That is a big question, and it's hard to do it justice here. But my short response to your comment is that we have much more control than we think over how other people affect our happiness. As the title of Sylvia Boorstein's book says, "Happiness is an inside job." If you want to email me, I would be glad to send you some links to further reading. Thanks for your comment.Delete
The University of Michigan resently published a study that says that facts are not the most important factor concerning the opinions that people form. The 'body politic' in the country today seems to have cognitive dissonance. While I sense that your writings are aimed more at inner peace rather than generalized peace in the world, I find it difficult to isolate one from the other.Delete
Collin, I agree that it is difficult, even impossible, to isolate inner peace from world peace. However, perhaps my view is the reverse of many. I believe that true world peace begins with inner peace. Shatideva said, "We are not here to change the world. The world is here to change us." Thanks for continuing the discussion.Delete
I agree, CBT and mindfulness is the trick!ReplyDelete
Carrie, Well, they are two tricks anyway! Thanks for your comment.Delete
Wow, this was an enlightening post. I enjoy reading it and learned some new thoughts. Many years ago I read a book called: "Inner Peace Through Self-mastery". In it we were to exam our reactions to different experiences. We were to analyze those reactions to help calm down our inner self when faced with a difficult circumstance.ReplyDelete
The book taught us to use key phrases to discribe the situation such as: Imagination on Fire, Mole Heel collecting and etc.
LeAnn, Love the key phrase "Imagination on Fire!" Mole Heel collecting?? You'll have to explain that one. Hope you will! Thanks for commenting.Delete
I am glad you wrote this article today - I am experiencing a depression like none other and it reminded me that I have lots of skills for dealing with this. Also I did a fabulous book review on a book called you are Not YOUR Brain....about re framing your thinking and it is just full of incredible tools and ideas. But then again, not many folks read my review.ReplyDelete
I am thinking about stopping blogging, well I have 8 books ahead to review, after 5 years I am not getting the results I wanted to achieve and I am not able to keep pace with the changing technology
I have to look at myself clearly and I have found a spot of anger that needs rooting out and exposure....
Powerful message Thank you for sharing
Patricia, I know you have been struggling with some challenges for awhile, and my heart goes out to you. I'm sorry that your blogging has not been what you wanted it to be and that you have been dealing with other challenges as well. Thich Nhat Hanh's phrase comes to mind. "This, too." Thanks for sharing your thoughts.Delete
WOW Galen - great stuff here! It's funny you wrote this today - tomorrow my blog comes out and it's about getting out of our comfort zone and talks about explicit and implicit memories....ReplyDelete
I believe we can rewire our brain - there is anabolic and catabolic energies - the catabolic being poisonous and the anabolic being positive and good.
The brain is so powerful and the sad thing is that we only use 5% of it......when we pay attention to our thoughts we can then change our thoughts...
Nancy, The brain is an amazing piece of equipment, as is the mind that directs it! Thanks for commenting.Delete
Hi Galen! I love your outlook and it's similar to what I am writing about in my blog. Keep up the positivity love it!ReplyDelete
Lisa, Welcome! I look forward to reading more on your blog. Thanks for your comment.Delete
That we can control what we want to focus on is such a powerful thing, Galen.ReplyDelete
Corinne, Yes, it is. It gives us great freedom, but also the responsibility that goes with it! Thanks for commenting.Delete
Hello Galen, this post is really insightful. I always come away with self-reflection that feeds my soul.ReplyDelete
Cynthia, Thanks for your kind words.Delete
Great post! This is so true. How we think is the key. Meditation relaxes the mind and clears the path for better thinking. Thank you and keep up the good writes.ReplyDelete
Ann, Yes, our thinking patterns are the key. Thanks for the kind words.Delete
I have just discovered your blog, and am a new follower ~ very thought-provoking post ~ Thank you. (I've been going through something with a family member ~ an in-law ~ and have been doing a lot of self-talk about my having thought, for the past 20 years, that this person was someone she was not...so who was at fault?...not her; she is what she is...I just made her, in my mind, the person I wanted her to be...so, my fault? I'm really trying to get my head around this!)ReplyDelete
Anne, Welcome and thank for following! And thank you for sharing the perfect example from your family. I know I could relate to that, and I'm sure many others could, too. I look forward to hearing more from you.Delete
Thought provoking, Indeed, Galen. Glad I found this today. We were all born with the ability to stop the damaging effects of a negative thought-habits. We never lose this ability, although we may not use it. The fuel for taking right action is awareness and attending to what we can do for ourselves. Yes, we can remove errors of thinking from our mind through meditation and awarenes. We must not shrink away from this truth. At the end of the day, If it is to be it is up to ME: It is ME, and only ME who can raise my consciousness above the tyranny of doubting thoughts and fearful opinions.ReplyDelete
rob, I like that assurance you pointed out that we never lose the ability. Every day is an opportunity to choose. Thanks for your comment.Delete