Change Your Thoughts; Change Your Life
Discover how you can change your thought patterns regardless of the challenges ahead

With the economy-wide recession, it has been said that things will worsen before they get better, and we are only half way through the recession. From the significant job cuts to the sharp fall of the housing market, we cannot seem to escape the avalanche of negative information about our economy and its affects.

How can we change our thoughts and feelings when so much negativity surrounds our daily lives? How can we change our perspective about a current situation when we have just lost our job, lost our savings, or our home? It is not easy; however, it is possible.

The hope is for this article to provide information to help you understand the affects of negative thought patterns, and ways to change these patterns to ultimately change your life. By learning how to shift your perspective and see all angles of a situation, you can begin to feel better, both emotionally and physically. By being accountable for what you think and how you feel, you become empowered. You can choose how you want to feel, without letting external circumstances dictate your feelings.

Do you want to start feeling empowered?

We will focus on;

• What happens in the brain when we think and feel certain emotions,
• Understanding how to become aware of detrimental thoughts and feelings,
• Shifting your perspective provides a choice to feeling better
• Techniques to help embrace the change you want to see in yourself.

The Function of the Emotional Brain – A Quick Science Lesson

There are a couple of areas in the brain which have
major functions on our emotions, our feelings and how
they are connected to our overall health and well-being.
They are interconnected and affect each other in
extraordinary ways.

The Amygdala, Neocortex and Orbitofrontal Cortex
serve as our emotional template, and these three
interconnected layers increase their level of complexity
in the brain, from instinctual self preservation to
advanced self regulation.

The Amygdala is our survival point; it is our fight or flight
response. It is vital to our survival and social functioning.
It helps us stay in tune with ourselves and others at a
nonverbal level and is considered the “low road”; the
limbic area of the brain. (Gladwell, 2005)

The limbic area allows us instinctively to assess danger and protect ourselves, whereas the Neocortex area, “high road”, gives us more flexibility, thoughtfulness and choice. (Joseph LeDoux, 1996)

The Neocortex “high road” allow us to pause and consider our options, to think before we react impulsively.
The integration of prefrontal cortex with limbic system is necessary for our emotional and relational well-being.

Part of the Neocortex is called Orbitofrontal Cortex (OFC), which serves as the brain’s emotion regulation system or the CEO of the emotional/social part of the brain (Siegel & Hartzell, 2003). It calms down the Amygdala and it allows us to choose the “high road”. This is the area in which we have the ability to change at a neural level.

The OFC is active in the process of self-awareness, response flexibility, regulation of emotion and empathy. (Siegel & Hartzell). So many of us feel that we react to “things” which happen to us; we do not think we can be responsible for our feelings and emotions, especially when we are under great stress.
But amazingly, we have the physiological capabilities to be self aware and choose the “high road”, regardless of the external experiences and circumstances we might be in. Remember the “high road” or OFC calms us down, it regulates our emotions and how we feel.

Have you met or read about someone who handled a difficult situation calmly and positively? Do you ever wonder why some people can see different angles of a situation while you might impulsively react to the same situation in a negative and critical way?

You can become the CEO of your emotions, respond with flexibility, see all dimensions of an issue, and feel empathy for your self and others in every situation you experience.

Let’s explore what happens in the body physiologically when we think certain thoughts and feel specific emotions.

How you Feel Becomes How You Think

Thoughts are real and directly affect our body. There are major interactions between the nervous and immune systems and the relationships between thoughts and emotions and health.

Our brain releases chemical signals that are transmitted to the body where they act as the messengers of a thought. The thoughts that produce the chemicals in your brain allow your body to feel exactly the way you are thinking. (Joe Dispenza, 2007)

Essentially, when you think happy, positive thoughts, your brain manufactures chemicals that make you feel joyful, happy, and positive. When you anticipate something exciting your brain makes a chemical called dopamine, which causes you to begin to feel excited. However, if you have angry, negative and insecure thoughts, your brain also produces chemicals called neuropeptides, which act in a comparable way, only you feel angry and insecure.

According to new studies in psychoneuroimmunology, our thoughts create feelings, but feelings also create thoughts. You begin to think the way you are feeling, and then feel the way you are thinking (Joe Dispenza 2007); it’s a continuous cycle and one that can lead to destruction or innovation, depending on what you think.

An example of a destructive cycle would be a person who spent much of her life in a cycle of thoughts and feelings around insecurity. Say she is about to go on a job interview, but she thinks about not being good enough or smart enough to get this particular job.

Her brain starts releasing chemicals that produce a feeling of insecurity. She is feeling the way she is thinking. During the interview, she second guesses herself, has difficulty articulating her answers, focuses on if the interviewer noticed her sweating, and ends up walking out of the interview convinced she did not get the job.

Once she starts to feel insecure, she then will begin to think the way she is feeling. Her body is now causing her to think in a cyclical pattern of negativity.

When we do not use our OFC to help regulate our emotions and choose the “high road”, we continue to function in the “low road” of fight or flight, or in the example above, destructive thinking.

How do we choose the “high road” under stress, anxiety and fear?

When we increase our level of Self-awareness, we begin to truly feel our feelings and begin to understand the thoughts behind our feelings. What are you thinking at this moment?

What triggers negative emotion? Do you carry resentment? Have you become numb? Do you live with the belief that the “glass” is half empty?

How can we break the patterns of negative thinking? The answer is in our Self-awareness.

Self-awareness is Key

Change will occur when we become aware of our thoughts, because our thoughts manifest how we behave and how we feel. Our attention to our thoughts, awareness and attitude plays a critical role in creating a positive and healthy state of being.

If you want to feel peaceful, empowered and fulfilled, you have to change entire patterns in how you think. In order to do this, you must break the patterns of detrimental thinking and feeling and replace them with beneficial thoughts and feelings.

Where do you start? It all starts with your self-awareness and willingness to change.

Physiologically, self-awareness can change your reactivity from negative to positive; by naming the emotions you feel you can calm the Amygdala. Being positive and having self-awareness are two very different things; the focus here is on self-awareness and willingness to change yourself, which will shift entire thought patterns.

By developing a deeper sense of awareness, you activate the OFC or “high road” more frequently, and become more aware of your reactions, your thoughts and your emotions.

Self-awareness is an internal process which is subtle. There is NO instant gratification here. It is a continual journey of uncovering, discovering and evaluating your awareness, your thoughts and your feelings. The act of self-awareness increases your potential for flexibility and choice.

Being aware of how your body changes at the first sign of stress will make a profound impact on how you feel. Observing your behavior can change that behavior. Observing your emotion activates your brain to release more dopamine or neuropeptides, depending on your state of being. You choose.

In order to flourish in whatever you are facing, you need the following ingredients; Self-awareness, inner confidence, awareness of your body’s reactions, the willingness to change, and lastly, action. Nothing happens without action.

Daily Techniques, Tools and Exercises Change Your Thought Patterns and Feel Better

Here are some tools which can help you start feeling better.

• Develop breathing techniques which can help when emotions become triggered in times of stress. Breathing and relaxation are powerful tools in the daily challenge of coping and overcoming stress. Notice if your breath is fast, short and shallow when you are angry, fearful or just under everyday stress, and you naturally take deeper, slower and longer breaths when you are in a peaceful and relaxed state.

• Breathe the next time you are at a stop light. Instead of talking on your cell phone or listening to music, give yourself time to breathe. It will make a true difference physically and emotionally.

• Meditation. It is the ability to quiet your mind. Try sitting alone for 5 minutes a day and relax your mind of the many thoughts and feelings which come up. Put on meditation music and concentrate your awareness on the music. Increase the time of meditation daily. You will begin to feel calm and peaceful very soon.

• Answer the following question, “When things become difficult, I tend to?”

• Make a Gratitude Journal. Keep a notebook or journal and write in it regularly. When thoughts or feelings are truly negative, refer back to all of the things which you are grateful for. It’s a great way to keep a balanced perspective.

• Say “Thank You.” The simple act of giving thanks positively affects both the recipient and you.

Business Leaders For Tomorrow (BLT) provides the building blocks for transformation to happen.
BLT believes the fundamental key to change comes from within, and learning how to change is an ongoing internal process, which requires patience, perseverance and action.

Our Leadership Training Programs teach that on a larger scale, only through conscious reflection, can a group or organization change, as we are all interconnected.

Learn more about our personal development workshops and large-scale training programs today.

You can change your life, your community and your organization now. Start today!

Lisa M. Brazelton
January 2009

• Michael Irwin, Kavita Vedhara (2005). Human Psychoneuroimmunology. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0198568841.
• Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink: The power of thinking without thinking. New York: Little, Brown.
• LeDoux, J. (1996). The emotional brain. The mysterious underpinnings of emotional life. New York: Simon and Schuster.
• Siegel, D.J. & Hartzell, M. (2003). Parenting from the inside out. New York: Penguin.
• Dispenza, J. (2007). Evolving Your Brain. The science of changing your mind. HCI

Author's Bio: 

With over 15 years of executive leadership experience and over 12 years of entrepreneurial experience, Lisa’s proven success in growing companies, identifying opportunities and transforming organizations has put her in a category of her own. She is a leading contributor to the field of human potential and facilitator of personal and organizational change.

Lisa is an accomplished corporate visionary, with insight and expertise in business and organizational design. Her strong ability to analyze operational systems, discover efficiencies, and design improvements is met with an outstanding reputation for building organizations and teams that are enthusiastic and motivated.

Lisa believes the key to success is in making a difference in people’s lives everyday. Her passion for seeing the best in others makes her a natural leader.

She considers her background in Chinese Medicine and Spiritual Life Coaching the balance necessary to create meaningful and profound life skills for the betterment of mankind.