The idea that when you change your thoughts, you change your world, has been an area of interest to scientists, psychologists, philosophers and religious figures for years.

Traditionally, while most philosophers and religious figures believe that your thoughts shape your world, many scientists have taken the attitude of “Prove it to me”.

There is recent evidence at both the biological and higher cognitive levels of information processing that suggest that your experiences and your thoughts do shape your world.

Repeating and reviewing knowledge

Author Tony Buzan gives a general overview of neuronal transmission in the brain. He gives the analogy of how repeating experiences or reviewing knowledge is like cutting a path in a jungle. Recent research concerning the effects of repeated stimulation on neuronal transmission has provided insights concerning the process of learning.

Buzan also discusses the memory trace and the fact that when a memory trace fires repeatedly, resistance decreases and the probability that it will recur increases. This is another way of saying that if you keep repeating an action, you will develop a habit that may change your behaviour.

Learning and conditioning

Neuroscientist Eric Kandel and his associates (Kandel et al.; Carew et al.) have conducted extremely important research concerning learning in the sea slug, aplysia. This organism is a prime candidate in which to observe learning since the cells of its nervous system are large enough to be relatively easily observed.

Pavlovian conditioning

Kandel and his associates studied one type of learning, in particular, Pavlovian conditioning. Pavlovian conditioning refers to the pairing of a particular stimulus that results in a particular response (called the unconditioned stimulus or UCS) that by itself (i.e. alone) does not result in a response. In Pavlov’s work, he observed that meat (UCS) produced salivation in a dog (UCR). He then paired a bell (CS) with the meat. After several pairing, he observed that the bell alone would produce salivation.

Sprouts: Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning (Creative Commons License)

Kandel’s experiments

In Kandel’s experiments, a small electric shock (UCS) was delivered to the tail of the aplysia which resulted in a gill withdrawal reflex (UCR). Following this, a brief touch with a nylon bristle to the siphon of the aplysia (CS) was paired with the shock.

After repeated pairings, the touch of the nylon bristle alone produced the withdrawal reflex. Kandel was able to observe the changes at the synapse or gap between the neurons.

Comparing the occurrences of the pairings of the CS and UCS with the presentation of the CS alone, he found that, when the pairing occurred, the pre-synaptic membrane released a greater amount of calcium into the synapse. This increase in calcium resulted in the greater ease with which the next neuron fired, the decrease in resistance with repeated stimulation, and the strengthening of the association.

Kandel’s findings provide a biological explanation for changes occurring during learning and repeated exposure.

Kandel’s findings provide support that repeated stimulation does result in lowered resistance (an increase in calcium in the synapse) and a physical strengthening of the pathway or association between the neurons.

An interesting note concerns calcium and memory in the aged. If an elderly person has a deficiency of calcium, it is possible that this deficiency may be related to a decrease in performance on tasks requiring memory.

Visualization

Another major point that Buzan is making regards the power of visualization. He suggests that, when you change your thoughts, you change the pattern in your brain and you create your successes.

Modern science has recently begun a serious study of the effects of visualization on physiological states. In particular, much attention has been given to the relationship between altered states of consciousness and the physical healing process.

One report that is representative of this growing interest is Errol Korn’s article on altered states of consciousness (Korn).

In this report, Korn presented case studies of patients who have been helped by using visualization techniques. For example, An accident that left a patient paralyzed on the right side and aphasic. Korn reported that “return of memory and speech were facilitated by utilizing imagery of particular importance to the patient. He was a fairly compulsive individual with a large firearms collection and memory function was reestablished by having him repeatedly image the firearms, slowly but precisely returning to conscious memory the serial numbers”.

This study is one of a vast number of studies being reported regarding the successful use of imagery.

Books on visualization

In addition to reported case studies, several recent books, well documented, have been published describing how imagery and visualization can be successfully used to enhance one’s health and abilities. In other words, if you can change your thoughts, you can improve your health.

Ernest Rossi, PhD, has written a book The Psychobiology of Mind-Body Healing which provides the reader with detailed descriptions of how the mind affects healing at the biological level. For those interested in specific systems, he discusses, in-depth, the autonomic nervous systems, the endocrine system, the immune system, and the neuropeptide system.

A more popular book is Love, Medicine and Miracles by Bernie S. Siegel, MD. Dr Siegel has been extremely successful in treating cancer patients using techniques such as visualization.

Another interesting book is Lucid Dreaming by Steven LaBerge, PhD. Dr LaBerge is a sleep researcher and has developed a technique whereby people can learn to program their dreams to envision successful events which appear to have effects in the waking state.

These books are but a few of the scientifically based Western books dealing with the power of visualization.

Eastern cultures have successfully used visualization techniques for centuries.

A very valuable book that has more of an Eastern flavour is Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain. In this book, you will find particular techniques that can be used to help you master this powerful tool.

Articles on visualization

In addition to the books listed above, several articles have recently been published concerning the use of visualization in training and business situations.

Two articles, in particular, are What You See Is What You Get by A. D. Robinson and Accelerated Learning by Gavin Reid. These articles discuss how techniques such as guided imagery, daydreaming, and relaxation can be utilized in the workplace.

Change your thoughts

According to Buzan, brain science is one of the most exciting fields of study. The vast amount of research certainly supports his statement. Perhaps most exciting is the research attesting to the successful effect visualization can have on your life.

It is critical that you practice, master and use these techniques.

We started this post with the title “Change your thoughts and you change your world“. This quote was stated by Norman Vincent Peale, a religious leader, and not a scientist in the strict sense of the word.

However, scientists are now reporting evidence attesting to the truth of this important quote.


References

  • Buzan, T. “Thoughts Shaping.” Adapted with permission.
  • Carew, J., et al. “Differential Classical Conditioning of a Defensive Withdrawal Reflex in Aplysia.” California Science, 219, 397-400, 1993.
  • Gawain, S. Creative Visualization. Bantam Books, Toronto; 1978.
  • Kandel, E. R. & Schwartz, J. H. “Molecular Biology of Learning: Modulation of Transmitter Release.” Science, 1982, 218, pp 433-443.
  • Korn, E. R. “The Use of Altered States of Consciousness and Imagery in Physical and Pain Rehabilitation.” Journal of Mental Imagery, 1983, 7(1), 2(34).
  • LaBerge, S. Lucid Dreaming. Ballantine Books, NY, 1985.
  • Robinson, A. D. “What You See is What You Get.” Training and Development Journal, 1984, 38(5) pp 34-39.
  • Reid, G. “Accelerated Learning: Technical Training can be Fun.” Training and Development Journal, 1985, 39(9), pp 24-27.
  • Rossi, E. L. The Psychobiology of Mind-Body Healing: New Concepts of Therapeutic Hypnosis. WW Norton & Company, NY; 1986.
  • Siegal, B. S. Love, Medicine and Miracles. Harper & Row Publishers, NY; 1986.