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Your feelings are simply the way your body communicates with you. Feelings of joy, positivity, contentment etc are messages from your body that it is doing its job (digestion, respiration, waste elimination etc) at an optimum level, which is the best way to support enduring good health. And vice versa. Stressful feelings and the chemicals they produce continued over a long time, severely impair your body’s ability to function at an optimum level. Inevitably, ill health to varying degrees will result. Any feeling other than joy, bliss, happiness, contentment, peace, satisfaction etc is a WARNING.
If we are creatures of habit and our mental associations and the emotional responses they generate become ingrained and habitual, we also have inbuilt failsafe system. Frustration, anger and hope, for example, are emotions that are meant to give us the thrust we need to break out of situations that would eventually cause us harm if we failed to change them. We now know that when we are out of our comfort zones and encountering new or unfamiliar experiences, the brain creates new neural pathways, and in some cases new neurons
(or brain cells) in order to understand and ‘map’ these new or ‘unknown’ experiences. We also know that this in turn has a reinvigorating effect on the brain, which in turn stimulates other body systems, including the immune system. In neuroscience, this is known as ‘Neuro-plasticity’. Therefore learning stimulates more than just the brain – but it needs to be experiential learning – not merely didactic.
Usually, the first step to attempting something unfamiliar is believing that trying is itself a worthwhile outcome and having a level of trust in simply engaging in something for the sake of the experience. Both of these can be linked to self-esteem. It also means the brain is less likely to engage in any extended analytical activity for weighing up the odds of likely success before any action is attempted. Simply, when we form a desire and believe in the possibility of its realisation, we get into action with very little ‘thought’ involved. The more we doubt ourselves, the more the gap between conceiving an idea and acting upon it widens. In some cases, this gap can be for years – or never. Yet, this doesn’t mean the desire disappears – instead it can become a whip that the individual uses to castigate her or himself with for failure to act.
By maintaining ourselves within the familiarity of our lives and avoiding other stimuli, the human system becomes locked down. We become little more than automatons. In neuroscience, this is known as “neuro rigidity”. It is an extremely unsatisfying state to be in as anything new or unfamiliar can be seen as a threat and to be avoided – at the peril of maintaining an alert, healthy mind and body. This has often been the fate of post industrial communities, where the very repetitive nature of their work could make them candidates for becoming neuro-rigid – with a shortened life expectancy, and exaggerated fear of new experiences. The danger of neuro-rigidity is that it can be handed down as an attitude and behaviour from one generation to the next.
The way round this dilemma is to help the individual build up a robust ‘emotional profile’, where the body supports the individual with a balanced electro-chemical response to both external influences and their own thinking responses. This requires more than an intellectual understanding of the process. Indeed, an intellectual understanding isn’t even necessary. All the subject needs to do is work on a regime focusing on feeling good, and the coaching tools are designed to make this process easy, engaging and fun.
An easy analogy is practice. To become good at something, you need to practice it. You wouldn’t pick up a musical instrument, or walk onto a tennis court for the first time and expect to be of a professional standard instantly. To get really good at it, you’d practice as often as you could. Give it your focus and time. Perhaps decide what level you are aiming for. After a while, much of your technique will become automatic. The action of repetition teaches the body to ‘memorise’ what it has to do. Skill and dexterity develop and the mind is then free to add genius and inspiration to the mix. If you’re not really interested in the subject or the process of developing your skills in it, the chances are you will lose enthusiasm quickly and give up. Many people experience this as they are making choices based on what they think they ‘should’ do, rather than on something they would particularly like to do.
Whatever you practice regularly, you get good at. The same applies to your thought and feeling processes. By thinking a thought regularly, you are practicing it. Repeated enough times, it brain reproduces the thought ‘automatically’. You have now become so good at thinking the thoughts already programmed into your brain, you hardly notice them as thoughts. You might even confuse them with ‘YOU’. Under these circumstances, we react blindly to what we are thinking, and can suffer consequences that cause us to feel very unhappy as a result.
This is where your true choice lies; to no longer continue to practice a habitual thought, once you realise it is doing you harm. If a thought and its associations are causing you to feel bad, you are having a direct impact on your heart rate, your breathing patterns and your immune system. Therefore, to persist in that thought will eventually undermine your health and vitality.
Some people describe themselves as optimists, or ‘glass half full’, others as pessimists; the ‘glass half empty’ supporters. In terms of facts and evidence, both might be able to argue their case convincingly. But the point here is not whether the person is right or wrong to think the way they do, but to examine the impact of their thinking on their feelings – which directly affect health. Feelings are the important guides here. They are letting you know the impact your thoughts are having on your body and health. A person may be able to make a winning case for seeing something in a particular way, but if it leaves them (and others) feeling bad, the victory is a pyrrhic one.
What really defines negative thinking? Is it a point of view, or the effect a point of view has on the electro-chemical/ hormonal or ‘feeling’ responses? When we start to learn the importance of how we feel and its relationship to our body’s ability to function well and maintain good health, the question becomes rather redundant. The best rule of thumb is, if thinking a certain way causes you to not feel good, then you want to make it a priority to find thoughts that bring you back to a place where you do feel good. Feeling bad and justifying why you do will not improve your health – it will certainly compromise it, seriously so if a regular habit is made of it.
Negative thinking is: unwanted thoughts and their associations regularly practiced to the point where you are so good at thinking them, they now pop automatically into your head. And along with them comes the feelings or emotions they are linked to. So if you think a lot of negative thoughts, you’ll have a hard time not feeling their negativity as well. The thoughts you choose to focus on have the effect of programming the subconscious part of your brain to steer you towards more experiences that match them too. And this is a very sobering thought! We’ll explore more of on this in the article: the Reticular Activating System.