The Science of Thought

Every single thought – whether positive or negative – goes through the same cycle when it forms. Thoughts are basically electrical impulses, chemicals and neurons. They look like a tree with branches.

As the thoughts develop and become permanent, more branches grow and the connections become stronger. As we change our thinking, some branches go away, new ones form, the strength of the connections change, and the memories network with other thoughts. What an incredible capacity of the brain to change and rewire and grow! Spiritually, this is what we call renewing the mind.

As you think, your thoughts are activated, which in turn determines your attitude, because your attitude is all of your thoughts put together and reflects your state of mind. This attitude is formed in the chemical secretions that are released. Positive attitudes cause the secretion of the correct amount of chemicals, and negative attitudes distort the chemical secretions in a way that disrupts their natural flow. The chemicals are like little cellular signals that translate the information of your thought into a physical reality in your body and mind, creating an emotion. The combination of thoughts, emotions and resulting attitude impacts your body in a positive or negative way. This means your mind and body really are inherently linked, and this link starts with your thoughts.

As you are reading, perhaps you have some classical music playing in the background.  You might be sitting in a comfortable chair, smelling the freshly mowed lawn through an open window and savouring a piece of fruit. If you were in this idyllic setting, all five of your senses – sight, sound, smell, touch and taste – would be your contact between the external world and your internal world, thereby activating your mind.

The Doorway

As the information from your five senses pours into your brain, your brain is gathering electrical impulses through your peripheral nerves (the lines of communication between your brain and your body). These senses become the doorway into your intellect, influencing your free will and your emotions. The first step in the process, the forming of a thought and the gathering of electrical impulses, makes sense of the information coming in from your five senses.  This incoming information then travels through some astonishing brain structures that flavour, enrich and distribute the information all along the way.  The information is taken to a place where you can decide on the permanence of that data and whether it becomes part of who you are.

The most exciting fact on this journey is the brain’s ability to react to toxic versus non-toxic information and the many opportunities we have to accept or reject the incoming info. You can control the incoming information and get rid of what you don’t want before it takes root.

Once the information has entered your brain through any of your five senses, it passes a major transmitter station (the Thalamus) that monitors and processes this information. The Thalamus is the meeting point for almost all the nerves that connect the different parts of the brain. You can equate the Thalamus to an air traffic controller. There isn’t a signal from your environment that does not pass through the Thalamus. It connects the brain to the body and body to the brain. It allows the entire brain to receive large amounts of important data from the external and internal worlds all at once.

The Thalamus transmits the electrical data throughout your brain, activating existing thoughts (or nerve cells) in the outer part of the brain, the cerebral cortex, to help you understand the incoming information. This activation of existing thoughts is what I call the “breeze through the trees” stage. The nerve cells in the cerebral cortex look like trees in a forest, and the activation sweeps through like a wind, bringing the existing thoughts into consciousness. This wonderfully complex transmission of information through the cerebral cortex, alerts and activates attitude. Attitude is a state of mind (all thoughts on the trees) that influences our choices and what we say and do as a result of these choices.

If the attitude activated in the cerebral cortex is negative, then the emotional response will naturally be a negative or stressed feeling within the depths of your mind.  If the attitude is positive, the feeling will be peaceful.  The truth is your attitude will be revealed no matter how much you try to hide it. Then the activated attitude – positive or negative – is transmitted from the Thalamus down to the Hypothalamus.

The Hypothalamus is like a chemical factory where the thought-building processes happens and where the type and amount of chemicals released into the body are determined.  The Thalamus signals the Hypothalamus to chemically prepare a response to your thoughts.

The Endocrine System is a collection of glands and organs that mostly produce and regulate your hormones. The Hypothalamus is often referred to as the “brain” of the Endocrine System, controlling things like thirst, hunger, body temperature and the body’s response to your emotional life.  The Hypothalamus is like a pulsating heart responding to your emotions and thought life, greatly impacting how you function emotionally and intellectually.  

This means that if you are anxious or worried about something, the Hypothalamus responds to this anxious and worrying attitude with a flurry of stress chemicals engaging the Pituitary Gland – the master gland of the Endocrine System. The Endocrine System secretes the hormones responsible for organising the trillions of cells in your body to deal with any impending threats. Negative thoughts shift your body’s focus to protection and reduce your ability to process and think with wisdom or grow healthy thoughts.  

On the other hand, if you change your attitude and determine to apply God’s excellent advice not to worry, the Hypothalamus will cause the secretion of chemicals that facilitate the feeling of peace, and the rest of the brain will respond by secreting the correct “formula” of neurotransmitters (chemicals that transmit electrical impulses) for thought building and clear thinking. Although you may not be able to control your environment all the time, you can control how it affects your brain.   How?  Well, this incoming information is still in a temporary state.  It has not yet lodged itself into your memory or become a part of your spirit, which defines who you are.   You can choose to reject the presently–activated thoughts and the incoming information, or you can let the information make its way into your mind (soul) and your spirit, eventually subsiding in your non-conscious, which dominates who you are. 

Even though you can’t always control your circumstances, you can make fundamental choices that will help you control your reaction to your circumstances and keep toxic input out of your brain.

To help us make good choices, we have the Amygdala and Hippocampus. The Amygdala deals with the passionate, perceptual emotions attached to incoming thoughts and all the thoughts already in your head. The Hippocampus deals with memory and motivation.  Now this is where you consciously step up to centre stage, needing to make a decision whether or not these incoming thoughts will become part of who you are. 

The Amygdala, a double almond-shaped structure located in your brain, is designed to protect you from any threat to your body and mind – such as danger or stress.  It puts the passion behind the punch of memory formation by influencing the Hippocampus to pay attention to more established information.  The Amygdala deals with both positive love-based emotions like joy and happiness, as well as negative fear-based emotion like sadness, anger and jealousy.The Thalamus alerts the Amygdala of any incoming information from the five senses, so the already alerted Amygdala literally adds its “thumb print” to the incoming information – flavouring it with emotional spice. How does it do this?

The Amygdala is like a library, storing the emotional perceptions that occur each time a thought is built. In other words, every time we build a memory, we activate emotions.  The Endocrine System and the brain have to release the correct chemicals (the molecules of emotion and information) necessary for building healthy or toxic memories. 

Because the Amygdala is in constant communication with the Hypothalamus (which secretes chemicals in response to your thought life), we are able to feel our body’s reaction to our thoughts. These physical reactions (rapid heartbeat and adrenalin rushes) force us to decide whether to accept or reject the information based on how we feel physically.  To help us even more, the Amygdala has lines of communication connected to the frontal lobe, which controls reasoning, decision-making, analysing and strategising – all executive level functions. This connection enables us to balance the emotions we physically experience and react reasonably.

Here is the exciting part: we can decide at this moment to say things like: ”I choose not to think about this issue anymore,”  and those temporary thoughts will disappear.  The choice to not think about the thoughts will send them away; they simply fade. But if we don’t stop thinking about the issue, with either negative or positive thoughts, all the information including the awakened toxic or non-toxic attitude will flow into a sea horse-shaped structure called the Hippocampus and entrench themselves.

The Hippocampus is a sort of clearing house for thoughts. It classifies incoming information as having either short or long-term importance and “files” it accordingly, converting temporary thoughts into permanent thoughts that become part of who you are (a lot of this happens at night whilst you are sleeping).

To do this, the Hippocampus needs to work with the central hub of the brain – a whole group of structures that integrate all the activated memories and work with the Hippocampus to convert information into your permanent memory storage.

This is where we begin some serious reflection in order to make life-changing decisions. Ask yourself, “do I want this information to be a part of me or not?”

A good point to remember is that toxic memories create stress and the Hippocampus is extremely vulnerable to stress, as it is rich in stress hormone receptors (tiny ‘doorways’ on cells that receive chemical information) that are normally used to reinforce memories.  For these brain cells, excessive stress is like setting off a firecracker in a glass jar, causing the Hippocampus to lose cells and shrink. This affects the communication between the Hippocampus and the central hub of the brain, keeping it from building good memories.

We have to recognise how toxic thoughts in the brain can disrupt the process if we are going to understand how we are negatively affected in our mental life and behaviour. As we start to understand how a thought forms and impacts our emotions and bodies, we have two choices: we can let our thoughts become toxic and poisonous, or we can detox our negative thoughts, which will improve our emotional wholeness and even recover our physical health.

What would you prefer????
“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on Heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live.”      Deuteronomy 30:19

You have been experiencing the affects of all your thoughts your entire life and may not have even known it! For example, have you ever become ill in the wake of a difficult or traumatic event? You may not have made the connection, just chalking it up as coincidence, when it was more likely to have been the result of toxic thoughts taking their toll on your overall health. Thoughts are not only scientifically measurable, but we can verify how they affect our bodies.
We can actually feel our thoughts and emotions.

Emotions are involved in every thought we build, ever have built and ever will build. In fact, with every memory you make, you have a corresponding emotion attached to it, which is stored in your brain, and as a photocopy in your body’s cells. Emotions are attached to thoughts. These emotions are very real and link your thoughts to the reaction in your body and mind. This is called the psychosomatic network. They can surface even years after an event has occurred, when the memory of that event is recalled.

To demonstrate how this works, take a minute to focus on an upsetting recent event in your life.  As you deeply think about this event, become aware of how you are feeling and how your body is reacting to these thoughts and emotions. Rethinking and imagining the event are activating a cascade of chemicals. The more you ponder, the stronger and more vivid this cascade becomes. You may even start to become angry, frustrated or upset.  You will start reacting to the thought mentally and physically as though it were happening all over again. What you think about expands and grows, taking on a life of its own.

What you choose to think about can foster joy, peace and happiness or the complete opposite. In fact, your thoughts create changes right down to genetic levels, restructuring the cell’s makeup. Scientists have shown this restructuring is how diseases are able to take hold in the body.  On the flip side, when we choose non-toxic thinking, we step into a whole new realm of brain and body function. “Feel good” chemicals are released that make us feel peaceful and also promote healing, memory formation and deep thinking, which increases intelligence when combined together. Healthy, non-toxic thoughts help nurture and create a positive foundation in the neural networks of the mind. 

These positive thoughts strengthen positive reaction chains and release biochemicals, such as endorphins and serotonin, from the brain’s natural pharmacy.  Bathed in these positive environments, intellect flourishes, and with it, mental and physical health.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”                    Philippians 4:8
Have you ever felt discouraged, unfocused or overwhelmed? Are there unhealthy patterns in your life or your family that you just can’t seem to break? Thankfully, we are living in a time of revolution. We now have a better understanding than ever before of how our thoughts affect our emotions and bodies. The greatest joy for me as a scientist is that it all lines up with God’s precepts. Toxic thoughts are like poison, but the good news is that you can break the cycle of toxic thinking. You can reverse the affects of toxic thoughts. And once the cycle of toxic thinking has been broken, your thoughts can actually start to improve every area of your life – your relationships, your health and even your success!
A thought may seem harmless, but if it becomes toxic, even that fleeting thought can become physically, emotionally or spiritually dangerous.
Thoughts are measurable and occupy mental “real estate”. Thoughts are active; they grow and change. Thoughts influence every decision, word, action and physical reaction we make. Every time you have a thought, it is actively changing your brain and your body – for better or for worse.

There are 12 areas of toxic thoughts – I call them the “Dirty Dozen” – that can be as harmful as actual poison in our minds and bodies. Toxic thoughts don’t just creep into our minds as a result of abuse or an especially horrific trauma. Toxic thoughts affect people in all stages of life, in every part of the world, every day. Even something as small as a minor irritation can become toxic, and these thoughts need to be swept away!

The result of toxic thinking translates into stress in your body; this type of stress is far more than just a fleeting emotion.  Stress is a global term for the extreme strain on your body’s systems as a result of toxic thinking. It harms the body and the mind in a multitude of ways from patchy memory to severe mental health, immune system problems, heart problems and digestive problems. 

No system of the body is spared when stress is running rampant.  A massive body of research collectively shows that up to 80% of physical, emotional and mental health issues today could be a direct result of our thought lives. But there is hope! You can break the cycle of toxic thinking and start to build healthy patterns that bring peace to a stormy thought life.

The common wisdom of the time was that the brain is like a machine, and if a part broke, it couldn’t be repaired. It was believed that the brain was hardwired from birth with a fixed destiny to wear out with age. Adding this belief to the assumption that we were bound to a fate predetermined by our genes made the horizon of hope seem bleak.  

As you can imagine, these assumptions led to many common conclusions about the best ways to overcome the most difficult experiences, conclusions which were not based on how the brain functions. But we are no longer bound by those misperceptions. You are not a victim of biology. God has given us a design of hope: we can switch on our brains, renew our minds, change our thoughts and heal our bodies.

Medical research increasingly points to the fact that thinking and consciously controlling your thought life is one of the best ways, if not the best way, of detoxing your brain. It allows you to get rid of those toxic thoughts and emotions that can consume and control your mind.

A change in your thinking is essential to detoxing the brain. Consciously controlling your thought life means not letting thoughts rampage through your mind. It means learning to engage interactively with every single thought that you have, and to analyse it before you decide either to accept or reject it. How do you go about doing that? By ‘looking’ at your mental processes. That may sound like a strange, if not impossible, thing to do.

After all, it’s not as if you can just crack open your skull like an egg and have a look at what is going on inside your brain! It is possible, however, to look at your mental processes. In fact, it is not just possible – it is essential.

How many “could-have”, “would-have”, “should-have” statements have you made today?

How many “if onlys” were part of your inner vocabulary today?

How many times have you replayed in your head a conversation or situation that pained you, or one that hasn’t even occurred yet?

How many scenarios have you created of the
unpredictable future?

How much is speculation taking out of your day?

How passive is your mind?

How honest are you with yourself?

Are you at cross-purposes with yourself – going through the motions, but not really committed to the goal, saying one thing but meaning another?

How distorted is your thinking? Are you forming a personal identity around for example, a disease? Do you speak about “my arthritis”, “my multiple sclerosis”, “my heart problem”?

Do you ever make comments like “nothing ever goes right for me”; “everything I touch fails”; “I
always mess up”?

If you answered yes even to just one of these, your thought life needs detoxing right now.

A potential pitfall on the path towards detoxing your brain is the fact that toxic thoughts come in many guises. On the surface, a thought like “I must do well” seems positive enough. It is only when you look at it closely, and check out the feelings it generates and their effects on your body and mind, that you will be able to judge fairly and squarely if this is a thought that serves you well.

If you base your thought life on assumptions like the above, the foundations will be shaky and the edifice (your body/ mind) that you create thereafter will be highly unstable. As you think more toxic thoughts and generate more toxic emotions, that edifice will show cracks, cave in and eventually collapse altogether as burgeoning illness and disease takes hold.

Ditch bad thinking
Right off, you need to ditch unrealistic thinking and keep in mind some key principles to kick-start the process of controlling toxic thoughts:

• When you experience a fear-based emotion you will feel depressed and your thoughts will be characterised by negativity
• A negative thought linked to emotional turmoil will be distorted
• “…bringing all thoughts into captivity to Christ Jesus” 2 Cor 10:5 becomes the golden rule of safe thinking.

1.  Understand that thoughts are real and have an actual anatomy:
• Thoughts are real things. They have a structure in your brain and occupy space. Thoughts are the same as memories. Thoughts and memories look like trees and are called neurons or nerve cells. You build a double memory of everything as a mirror image of each other. This means that the memory on the left side of the brain builds from the detail to the big picture; and the memory on the right side builds from the big picture to the detail. When you put these two perspectives of thought together, you get intelligent understanding taking place.
• As information comes in from the five senses, you process it in certain structures of your brain, then you grow branches on the ‘trees’ to hold this information in long term memory. In fact, as you reading this, you are growing thoughts, because, thoughts are the result of what we hear and read and see and feel and experience. This means that whatever you grow is part of you, actual branches in your brain that create your attitude and influence your decisions.

2. Increase conscious awareness of your thoughts and how you are feeling:
• Knowledge of the anatomy of thought naturally leads into the process of actively analysing incoming information and thoughts constantly. You should never let a thought, or thoughts, roam chaotically and unchecked through your head. Examine every thought you have and ask yourself: is this good for me? Is it from God or the devil or my own confused thinking? Conscious awareness of your thinking should become like a habit; a habit takes twenty-one days to create. Make today the first day of that twenty-one…
3. Do something once you have analysed the thought:
• So, whilst technique two is developing a conscious awareness of what you are thinking about, technique three is doing something about the thought. This means making a conscious decision to actively accept the thought (if it is good for you) or reject it (if it is bad for you). This means you use your God-given ability of free will (this also has actual structural position in the brain) to do something about the thought you are consciously aware of.  Thoughts have as much control as we give them.

4. Build new memories over the old:
• This is the really exciting part in dealing with our thought life because accepting, or rejecting, the thought is changing the neural circuitry of your brain. Your brain is growing while you think and you have control over the process. Technique four happens when the brain steps in and creates a structural representation of what you have chosen to accept (adds more branches on the tree) and converts what you have chosen to reject into hot air!Let’s see how these four techniques work if you have unforgiveness in your memory trees towards someone:
• Technique one: this unforgiveness looks like a thorn tree and will hurt you – visualise the twisted bitter thorn tree
• Technique two: be consciously aware of this thought of unforgiveness – where it comes from, how long it has been there, and so on
• Technique three: ask the Holy Spirit to help you use your free will to make the wisdom decision to reject unforgiveness and forgive. Picture the unforgiveness disappearing as hot air
• Technique four: now build a new de-thorned memory to replace the thorny unforgiveness with for example, quoting Scriptures, singing a worship song, praying for the person, and so on.