Our brains can be said to operate under the influence of three forces or sections of the mind. The first is the conscious level of thought where we deliberately respond to what is happening around us. The second part is the subconscious mind which is made up of all the stored past triggers and beliefs that drive us without our active participation in their influence.
The third is the id, which is a reference to our innate, most primal drives and urges. According to research depicted in a book written by Mark Robert Waldman and Andrew Newberg, M.D. called Words Can Change Your Brain, it is literally possible to change the structure and function of your brain simply by paying more attention to the words you use or are exposed to.
Here are some ways through which words can change your brain.
Frontal Lobe Activation
When you use positive words or are exposed to them, the frontal lobe of your brain is activated. What is special about this frontal lobe is that it is the part of your brain responsible for reasoning, logic and other aspects of rational thought.
This means that words of love and encouragement can increase the rate at which you think logically. In contrast, negative words result in the partial or complete shutting down of the frontal lobe since your brain perceives negativity as a threat to your survival. This explains why the fight or flight response kicks in and people become either defensive or aggressive in the face of negativity.
This scenario also explains why criticism rarely triggers a positive change. The reason is simple; when someone is criticized, they tend to dig in and defend whatever position they have on the subject in question rather than think about alternative ways to view the matter. Words, therefore, have the power to control which part of your brain is activated or suppressed.
Impact on Your Emotional State
The brain is the control center of everything that happens in our bodies, and one way through which this is manifested is in the way words have a direct effect on one’s emotional state.
When words are “digested” in the brain, they cause the brain to respond by releasing certain biochemicals or hormones into the bloodstream.
For example, when you achieve something and someone congratulates you, your brain produces endorphins that flood your entire body. This causes you to feel elated, and some people even develop goosebumps as a result of all those happy “things” happening inside them.
In contrast, when you hear negative words, the brain responds by instructing the body to produce stress hormones. These stress hormones drain your energy and that could explain why people immediately sit down once they are given a piece of bad news.
Another example of how adversely negative words can affect or emotional state and actions is the research findings to the effect that suicide rates are very high among people who listen to country music. If you know what topics dominate country music (love gone bad, etc.), then you can begin to understand why so many people take their own lives after listening to such music. The negative words push them off the edge emotionally.
Alterations in the Brain’s Physical Structure
Think of your brain as a city having an intricate network of roads. Your destination in that city will be largely determined by the road that you select. If you keep using a particular set of roads in that city, the other roads cease to matter to you while the ones you use to take on greater importance.
The ramifications of this situation are aptly captured by Charles Darwin who proposed the “Theory of Use and Disuse.” In simple terms, the theory explains that whatever structure (of the body) you use frequently becomes more pronounced while the ones you don’t use atrophy and disappear. He was trying to explain why humans don’t have tails, like other primates.
That theory could explain why people who emphasize certain muscle groups as they work out become ripped (six-packs and huge biceps, for example) in those areas.
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Similarly, if negative words become the dominant type of words that you use or listen to, then the pathways related to positive words will wither away (because they aren’t getting any action) while those that process negativity will become stronger.
In fact, the amygdala (the fear center) will become bigger physically and you will become a generally negative, grumpy, sad and despondent person because you have consciously or unconsciously allowed negativity to dominate you.
Another group of researchers confirmed this neuroplasticity and structural changes in the brain by comparing brain scans of cab drivers in London with those of ordinary people in the same city. The researchers found that the cab drivers had a very pronounced (call it bigger) spatial memory center (the hippocampus) in the brain when compared to the size of that same part in ordinary people.
The reason for this difference was that the cab drivers have to memorize different parts of the city and how to get there quickly, so this use of their brain results in a corresponding growth in the size of the part of the brain that processes that spatial information.
The question is, which parts of your brain are dying or becoming bigger as a result of the words you use or listen to?
It Doesn’t Stop There…
Over time, the predominant pattern of using or listening to either negative or positive words eventually alters your self-perception and the way you perceive others. It is, therefore, no mistake that journaling is encouraged as a way to transform your life for the better, especially if you maintain a gratitude journal that you add entries to on a daily basis. The positive words that you write down about what you are grateful for move your default emotional setting in a more positive direction and the people around you will soon comment about how you seem to be a happier person, and you will confirm that you are indeed happier!
The thing is, as you focus more on the positive happenings in your life, you invariably end up attracting even more positive experiences into your life. That is a classic example of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It is therefore very important for you to realize that your words can change your brain for better or worse, so choose to use only positive words whether you are speaking to yourself (self-talk or the little voices speaking in your mind) or when speaking with others since those words are also registered by your brain.
To Your Success,
Jairek Robbins & Team PCU
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