Something profound happened to me on that evening. Words that I heard challenged everything about my life. About how I thought. About how I viewed the world. I was a teenager, basically scared to death of life, and terrified by the world.
I had arrived and didn’t quite understand why people were pouring into the building with such great excitement. I found a seat in the crowded auditorium with thousands of people waiting to hear the voice of a highly acclaimed speaker, Norman Vincent Peale.
I had never heard him, I had never heard about him, nor had I read any of his books. All I knew was that I needed the extra bonus points that my journalism teacher offered if we attended the lecture.
I had my little notebook and pen, and was ready to capture enough thoughts to write the essay that would get me the bonus points. Little did I know that I actually wanted to write down nearly every word he said, because it touched my heart deeply. It was an awakening of sorts. It was profound to my heart and my mind!
Of course this was long before Google or YouTube, and I had no way to go back and recover the exact words.
I still have that little notebook, and this week when someone shared Peale’s last video with me, I went into my library and found the notes.
The line that I wrote, underlined, and circled was this: “We don’t understand the power of placing positive thoughts into our brains. It is responsible for happiness or sadness, success or failure, life or death.”
I did a Google search the other day hoping to find that exact quote. But here are a combination of exact quotes that represent what was transformative to me that evening:
A positive thinker does not refuse to recognize the negative; he refuses to dwell on it. Positive thinking is a form of thought which habitually looks for the best results from the worst conditions.
Thoughts and words form your mental image. And since we become what we picture, be sure your thoughts and words express prosperity and blessing rather than poverty and defeat.
Our happiness depends on the habit of mind we cultivate. So practice happy thinking every day. Cultivate the merry heart, develop the happiness habit, and life will become a continual feast.
Norman Vincent Peale has long been known as the father of positive thinking. But many believe it was just a “fluffy” way of thinking and doing life.
Over the past 20 years, brain research has revealed that his truths were actually based on the neuropsychology of our brains. No “fluff!”
I hope you will hang with me over the next few pages. My goal is to take some complicated brain function concepts and put them into language that will help you grasp and embrace the power you have in your brain.
Let’s focus on the pre-frontal cortex of your brain (PFC). I see the abbreviation today actually standing for “Power For Contentment.” After all, wouldn’t we all like to live from a place of contentment?
Your PFC is the part of your brain that is located right behind your forehead and back to about the middle of your head. Its purpose is to organize your thoughts, blend them with your beliefs and emotions, and decide on actions. It is in this region that our character and our destiny is determined.
I don’t know about you, but it makes me want to understand what goes on in there, and to take care of it as best I can!
It all begins at the level of the neuron. A neuron is a nerve cell. But for this example, let’s think of a neuron as a word.
Single words floating around in our head would probably not make us any smarter, or any wiser. But those neurons begin to attach to one another into chains that we call synapses. In my example, if a neuron is a word, a synapse is a sentence made by connecting various words.
The synapse recognizes the connection between words. For example, when we are young, we learned the word “fire.” If we get too close to the “fire,” another word is created, which could be “hot.” If we stay too close to something that is hot, we might create a new neuron, or word, that could be “burn.“ After we experience “burn,” we might develop a new neuron, or word, that could be “pain.” The neuron links give us our thought patterns.
But if the words fire, hot, burn, and pain just wander around in our brain, we may never get a significant connection.
Again the synapses connect words, and that is what gives us learning. The synapses linkage might say: “The ‘fire’ is ‘hot!’ If I get too close, I might get a ‘burn.’ That ‘burn’ could cause bad ‘pain!’“ That is an example of a factual synapsis.
But it doesn’t stop there. Your PFC will continue to work with you to develop new truths and new lessons. For example, another synapses may hook up with that synapses and it may say, “Be careful around fire.“
This is how our beliefs, our morals, and our choices are made. It only makes sense then, that we should “feed” our pre-frontal cortex carefully. Because it does not stop there. Those complicated streams of words, thoughts, and beliefs then tell our brain which neurotransmitters to release.
Neurotransmitters are simply chemicals that work in our bodies, acting as tools that allow us to chose what we say, what we do, and how we act. All taken together, this long sequence of events enables us to make decisions and choose the direction that our lives go.
Here are some factual points I would like for you to consider:
- Positive thoughts create positive synapses
- Positive synapses create healthy neurotransmitters
- Healthy neurotransmitters create happy, healthy people
On the flipside, consider this:
- Negative thoughts create negative synapses, such as fear, anger, defeat, shame, guilt.
- Negative synapses create unhealthy and toxic neurotransmitters.
- Unhealthy and toxic neurotransmitters create sad, anxious, miserable, unhealthy people.
Truly, what we think is what we become. But we are in total control of what we “feed” our PFC. We have a choice to feed it positive thoughts or negative thoughts.
The choice is yours!
Positive thoughts consist of thoughts that are:
Negative thinking includes:
- Fear or anxiety about what might happen
- Noticing others’ wrongs or flaws
- Expecting a poor outcome
What we consume through our mouths, our eyes, our ears, and our experiences determine the direction our lives will go. I’m amazed at how little attention we pay to what we “consume.”
What do we consume that could create negative thought patterns?
- Illegal Drugs
- Some prescription drugs
- Excessive amounts of refined sugar
- Watching news
- Watching argumentative debates
- Watching movies or media that create negative thinking
- Reading snarky comments on social media
- Sedentary habits
- Surrounding ourselves with pessimists and pessimism.
All of these create negative synapses that encourage bitterness, cynicism, resentment, paranoia, living life jaded, self-sabotage, and failure.
What does research say are the unwanted effects of negative thinking:
- Creates lack of focus
- Makes us less resourceful
- Limits our creative process
- Lowers self-esteem
- Hinders self-confidence
- Scores lower on grades at school
- Receives lower work evaluations
- Experiences rocky interpersonal relationships
- Die significantly sooner than people who concentrate on positive thoughts
What do we consume that could create positive thought patterns?
- Inspiring material
- Encouraging material
- Personal growth material
- Memorizing positive sayings, quotes, or scriptures
- Looking for the best in situations
- Looking for the best in others
- Looking for the silver lining in every challenge
- Drinking plenty of pure or filtered water
- Healthy foods
- An active lifestyle
- Nutritional supplements when needed
- Surrounding ourselves with optimists
What does research say are the desirable effects of positive thinking:
- Increases the growth of productive synapses
- Creates more productivity
- Makes us more aware of our effect and influence on others
- Increases our attention span
- Multiplies positive thinking
- Improves our analyzing skills
- Increases our creativity
- Intensifies our ability to focus
- Makes us able to solve problems more quickly
- Enhances our mood
- Creates the ability to have healthier relationships
- Increases immune function
- Significantly less likely to develop diseases
- More likely to become successful
- Earn higher salaries
- Have greater influence
- Longer lifespan
Positive thinking is not just “fluffed talk.” It determines our destiny.
Without knowing any of this science, I left Norman Vincent Peale’s lecture astounded, inspired, and curious. Although I would never consider myself a Doubting Thomas, I did think that there was something inherently flawed about me that might prevent this from working in my case.
But I didn’t think it would hurt to give it a try. In the same little book that I took my notes, I decided to write down something positive that happened to me every day for a month.
Nothing happened immediately. But I fulfilled my promise to myself and completed the month.
It was in February that I had attended the lecture, and I finished my month-long project of recording daily positive experiences around the mid part of March.
In May, when I received my report cards, four of my six teachers wrote in the comment section (to my parents) and said something like, “I’m not sure what has happened, but it appears Neecie has been much happier the past few months.“ None of them knew my experiment.
Recently I read about some research done at the University of North Carolina. There were five groups of students.
- One group of students was shown a film chosen to make them angry.
- The second group of students was shown a film chosen to make them feel sad.
- The third group of students was shown a neutral film.
- The fourth group was shown material chosen so as to inspire them.
- The fifth group was shown material chosen to make them laugh and feel good.
After the experiment, they asked all students to write down things such as “I would love to….”
Students in the first two groups (angry or sad films) wrote very little.
Students in the neutral group wrote some things.
Students in the last two groups who viewed film chosen to make them feel inspired, or to laugh and feel good, wrote significantly more things.
They also did some brain spectral imaging on all five groups.
The first two groups had brain activity that released cortisol, catecholamines, and adrenaline. When present in excess, all of those compounds are harmful to our health and tend to negatively impact our mental health.
The neutral group did not have any significant release of neurotransmitters or brain chemicals.
The last two groups had imaging that showed the release of serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine. These compounds are central to our healthy well-being, and for us to feel at our best.
Not only that, but months after the original film watching, those students in the last two groups (inspiring or feel-good material) reported feeling much better than the other groups, had significantly less sickness or absenteeism, and had the greatest improvement in their grades.
All of that to say this to you: if you will begin to focus on positive thoughts, fill your brain, your thoughts, your heart, with things that make you smile, things that are uplifting, then you will find that the results will increase the positive benefits exponentially over a period of time.
I want all of those benefits. I want to laugh daily, be happier than I’ve ever been, be more successful than I’ve ever been, earn a greater income than I’ve ever earned, and I want to be alive for a long time in excellent health! For me, it’s powerful to know that with God’s help, I can create all of those things. I can create those by carefully choosing daily what I consume through my eyes, my mind, my ears, my heart, and my experiences.
Positive thinking is not “fluff.” Positive thinking is a destiny driver.
I think I’m just going to take it to the limit! Because I don’t believe there are any limits to all we can do. How am I going to accomplish this? By becoming very aware of and intentional about what I feed my brain. I choose to feed it things that will drive my destiny to my desired outcome of making a difference! How about you?