You might have heard that if you want to change your life, health, and well-being, you must change your thoughts. This is true but rather deeply misunderstood. While changing our thoughts is a powerful way to change our perception, there are more complex mechanisms at play.
Much of modern psychology is built upon the belief that our thoughts dictate our reality which is partially true but what dictates our thoughts? The common answer to this question often involves our history, upbringing, mental health status, the quality of our relationships, lifestyle, and our current living conditions. Much of this logic is built upon our thought-driven perspective. We tend to believe that our thoughts are always the results of analytical processing; we receive and process a set of information, our brains engage in active analysis, and voila! A thought is born!
In reality, there are more factors at play than the simple “input + processing = thought” model. In fact, our conscious brains only process a small percentage of the incoming information, filtering through what it deems “unimportant” and often filling in details based on past experiences rather than an accurate and detailed analysis of the incoming information.
Another important detail to consider is that our pre-frontal cortex where our cognitive functions occur, as fast as it seems to us, is a slow processor of information in comparison to the more primitive parts of our brains like the limbic cortex which is tasked with threat assessment and survival.
Much of what we categorize as “negative thoughts” are indeed limbic brain responses to information it deems as a threat. Threat assessment is a complex process involving our beliefs, upbringing, and past experiences none of which are under conscious command. Our brains have an innate “Negative Bias” which means we hold on to negative memories far more often than positive ones as a basis for our survival. If we forgot past behaviors and experiences that put us in danger, we are likely to repeat them and threaten our longevity and survival.
While over time we can train our brains towards reinforcing and strengthening positive thoughts over negative ones, that process is not a cognitive one simply because our brain physiology is designed such that…