This post is dealing with the way we can change our thought patterns, the way we think. It is related to two others posts which have been published on HumanBusiness.eu, which are how can we change our beliefs and how we can change our actions. Our beliefs, the narratives that we construct about ourselves, lead to how we interpret and think about events which happen to us. This interpretation influences our behavior, our actions in that situation. The actions we take though could either strengthen or weaken the beliefs we have. Therefore, these three posts, which are part of the self-awareness phase, are interrelated and one should not be viewed without taking the other two into consideration.
How does our brain work?
Most of our brain function is unconscious; around 98 % is automatic programming. Most of these unconscious functions are good and useful, basically keeping us alive by for example controlling our breathing and our blood pressure. Imagine we would have to actively think about all these functions every second. There would be not much room for other thoughts besides surviving. This would make us humans more like animals, which are guided by instincts to search for food, reproduction and rest.
About thoughts and thought patterns
Possessing such a huge and complex brain however comes also with a downside for us humans. There are some not so useful automatic thoughts which come in the form of an inner critic. These thoughts could make us feel depressed or sad; or in response to our environment lead to anxiousness and fear. These thoughts occur from time to time, which is totally natural. Nevertheless, ideally we want to have more happy thoughts and more room to focus.
We might be wondering are we still in control of our thought patterns since so much happens unconsciously. Here is the good news. The two percent consciousness is enough to influence our unconscious thought patterns. With our logic reasoning, our free will and creativity we can access and change our thinking.
Can we increase our brain processing?
The feeling of only using two percent of our brain function consciously is troubling for some people. Imagine what would happen if we could use more than just the two percent. A scenario which has been the idea behind the movie Lucy:
But back to reality. Can we really increase the amount of our conscious brain work or can we use the two percent more effectively? Could we get more intelligent?
Plasticity of the brain
Neuroplasticity, the ability of the nervous system to change, enhances our brain to adapt to new stimuli, which is a requirement for learning and memory. Change in an organism’s behavior is the result of new experience. We are able to modify existing synapses or even create new ones in our brains.
Let’s hear Dr. Lara Boyd on the plasticity of our brains, since she is an expert for neuroscience. But be aware, that your brain will not be the same after watching this video:
Learning and education
Our brain is also able to create new synapses based on new experiences we make. Through learning we are able to expand our thought patterns by getting exposed to new knowledge. I believe that the ways our thought patterns can be shaped can vary. Imagine the brain like a muscle which is trained in a certain way over time. It can for example be formed in an analytic or creative way. Just think of a person who went to university. Most programs follow a curriculum which is created to enhance our analytical understanding, sharpening our logical reasoning and cultivating a systematic approach. In contrast to that are artists, which also undergo a training procedure. However, their approach is much more focusing on creativity, enabling them to express their thoughts through their art. This shows that education and especially how we acquire knowledge is still relevant. It also shows the effect of our environment on us.
How to access our thought patterns?
How can we make the way we think accessible? It is one thing to observe our own actions, but our own thoughts? It is more difficult, however not impossible. In the following I would like to present some techniques which prove to be helpful.
One way to access our thought patterns is through reflection. There is already a whole article published describing how to reflect. Summing it up, reflection helps us to become aware of our own thoughts and thus makes us understand in what way we reach conclusions.
Writing down thoughts about what is bothering or delighting can help us recognize not only why we feel in a certain way, but also how we reached that state. Writing can help us to make sense of negative experiences.
Observing and dealing with our own thoughts will eventually make us recognize patterns of how we think.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” – Carl Jung
Awareness and choice making
Once we are aware of our thought patterns we have the power to change them. We can choose how we make sense of things and how we form perceptions. Steering our thought patterns into new directions can be achieved by creating new cognitive connections. This method is called reframing. In general reframing connects a new thought to an experience, so that we can perceive it through a new perspective.
For example, if you have been let go of a job, I would assume that we normally see this as a negative event (unless your job did absolutely not match your expectations). However, instead of focusing on the negative, we can connect a positive thought to this experience. Thereby we could say: “Now that I do not have a job anymore, I can start my own company and finally do things in the way I imagine them.”
Try this technique a few times with negative thoughts you encounter and you will be surprised how your perspective on these events can change.
Emotions versus logic
But what about the huge amount of unconscious thought patterns? So far we have only taken a look at how our consciousness can influence the unconscious brain functions. But can it work the other way as well? And if so, how could we use our unconsciousness? Well, we might think that doesn’t make sense; that is illogical. That is, however, exactly what it is – illogical. When we come to a conclusion with our consciousness we built it on logical reasoning, analytics and putting pieces of information together.
“We have some experiences. We think them through. We develop a theory. And then finally we put two and two together. That’s the way learning works.” – Malcom Gladwell
And then there is this illogical feeling in your stomach, which gives you already an indication of what will be the right thing to do.
The gut feeling is nothing else than our unconsciousness having already evaluated the situation and signaling our consciousness the right move or how to make sense of things. It works much quicker than our logical reasoning, because it uses much more of our brain activity. That is why the most spontaneous decisions are often the best ones; the ones which we will still pursue, but only after we have overthought the situation and come to a conscious conclusion. Malcom Gladwell has brilliantly proved our ability to make sense of a situation quickly and unconsciously in his book ‘Blink – the power of thinking without thinking’.
Working with our unconsciousness
So, how could we improve the ability to listen to our gut feeling? By using the most of our brain activity, our unconsciousness. Our brain is basically a huge memory. It saves all the situations we have been into and then evaluates them super-fast. That means having been in as many diverse situations as possible increases our experience. By getting exposed to other people and different beliefs basically trains our unconsciousness. This highlights the importance of taking action and leaving our comfort zone, which could lead to challenging our beliefs by seeing the world through different eyes. In other words, the more experiences we make, the better we are able to make sense of our environment and ourselves.
The heart brain
To make it even more complex, our hearts want to have a saying in our unconscious decision making as well. The HeartMath Institute has for example found that the heart not only sends signals to the brain, but that it actually sends more signals to it than it receives from the brain. Their research shows that heart rate variability (HRV), or heart rhythm, indicates the emotional stress a person is in. That means stressful emotions like frustration or overwhelm lead to increased disorder in our brains and our nervous system. Thus, it basically affects all systems in our body. See what they are saying in their own words:
“We also observed that the heart acted as though it had a mind of its own and could significantly influence the way we perceive and respond in our daily interactions. In essence, it appeared that the heart could affect our awareness, perceptions and intelligence. Numerous studies have since shown that heart coherence is an optimal physiological state associated with increased cognitive function, self-regulatory capacity, emotional stability and resilience.”
So listen to your heart is not only a song by Roxette, but it is worth considering what it has to say.
Bringing it all together
The logical reasoning of our mind, the feeling in our body and the listening to our heart emphasize the wholeness we as humans are made of. It shows the complexity, but also the need to consider all parts equally. Only basing our decisions on one part will not bring us long term satisfaction. Therefore, it is, in my opinion, essential to become aware of our thoughts and feelings and to give them more attention. Once we are able to express them more accurately, we need to speak about them more openly. Only then we are able to understand how others are feeling and make sense of the world. If we are able to understand the frame through which they are seeing the world, we can adjust our thought patterns eventually.
What is your experience with listening to your heart and gut instead only to your brain?
If you are interested in how our unconsciousness works, I can recommend ‘Blink’ by Malcom Gladwell for further reading. You can get it at: