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Science for the Journey
Volume 1.03

photo of orange butterfly on hot pink bougainvilla bractsDoes 'positive thinking' actually work?
How can I change my thoughts to feel better?  

Thanks for joining me once again as we learn another way to use science for your journey to peace and wellness. 

Thoughts really do create one's reality and determine how we feel.  This month, we're looking at what neuroscience shows us about how to guide our thoughts from those that are troublesome to those that will make us feel better.  Check out Thought Transformation below. 

I will be doing another live workshop in the Los Angeles area on October 20th. Click for more information and to register.

To your journey,

Alicia Ruelaz Maher, M.D.


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Upcoming Events:

Serenity Now!
Maximize your Mental Power to Manifest Peace and Happiness 
It is possible to be happy, to manifest what you desire.  But, you can't create a new experience with the same brain that created this one.
·        ~ Learn how to rewire your brain towards your desired reality.
·        ~ Practice techniques of East and West to quickly implement these changes

When: October 20th, 7-9pm
Where: The Gateway - A Portal for Growth and Wellness
11674 Gateway Blvd, Suites C&D,
West LA, CA 90064

More information and to register...


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graphic of neuronThought Transformation ~ Guiding our Thoughts To Feel Better

"I am good enough, I'm smart enough and gosh darn it, people like me."

If only it were that simple. If only we could just state new thoughts and feel better.

According to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, our thoughts create our feelings. So, it would follow that choosing positive thoughts, such as the ones above, would lead to a positive mood. Unfortunately, I've seen too many people try to convince themselves to believe something more positive, only to continue to feel awful.

So, how can we feel better? If changing our thoughts is the key to changing our mood and leading us into the reality we want to experience, why doesn't 'positive thinking' seem to help?

Let's delve into the brain to see what's occurring. The picture with this article is that of a neuron, the individual cells that together make up the brain. There is the body of the neuron that produces messages that then travel down the tail-like end to send that message to another neuron. In this way, the neurons communicate with one another. Something that occurs in your life is noticed by certain neurons which communicate to others down a particular pathway causing you to have certain thoughts or reactions. For example, a negative experience with another person may travel down a particular pathway to the thought that "no one likes me".

Notice the little spines around the body of the neuron. These are called dendrites. These dendrites branch out to receive those messages sent by other neurons. An exciting realization about these dendrites is that they are much more changeable than we had previously imagined. It was once thought that the brain developed throughout childhood and that, by the time we became adults, our brains were pretty much unchangeable. Now, we know that isn't true. The dendrites can continue to adapt and change throughout our lives.

It may help to compare what occurs with the dendrites to muscles. Your body sends its resources to whichever muscles you use the most. Those muscles that are exercised become bigger and stronger and easier to do things with. Those muscles that are not used will become smaller, weaker and harder for you to utilize. Something similar occurs with the dendrites. The more we use a particular sequence, or pathway, of neurons, the more resources are directed into maintaining the dendrites of those neurons. This increases the likelihood that future experiences will activate this pathway, leading to habitual responses and patterns of thinking. There are infinite possibilities for connections with other neurons, but if we haven't been using them, the dendrites shrink down so that these other pathways aren't readily available.

So what does this have to do with trying to replace our negative beliefs with more positive ones in order to feel better? Can't we just think something new and the dendrites for the new pathway will grow so that we react and feel differently? The answer is- yes and no. New thoughts are necessary, but not sufficient, to trigger the development of a new pathway. Unless there are feelings, or belief, associated with the new thought, the brain's resources will not go towards building new pathways. This is why, if you have feelings behind your belief that "no one likes you" the pathway related to that belief will be pretty strong. If you tell yourself "everyone thinks I'm great" and you don't feel it, there won't be enough of a stimulus to create a new pathway. No matter how many times you think it, the old belief is still dominant and your mood remains the same.

Thankfully, we can guide our thoughts towards ones that make us feel better. But, the key is to do this in steps, consistent with what we feel, as opposed to giant leaps that we don't believe. Your positive thoughts don't have to be as dramatic as your negative thoughts to replace them, they just have to be felt as strongly.

One method I've found helpful is to look at the emotions as part of a spectrum. Imagine how you want to feel and then think of the opposite. For example, let's say that you want to experience happiness and you consider despair to be the opposite of happiness. Now, you have a spectrum of your possible emotions. You can visualize this process using the scale at the bottom of this newsletter. Despair would fall under the number 1 on the spectrum and happiness would fall under the number 10.

Once you have the emotional spectrum, it's time to look at your thoughts and see where they would fall. Continuing with the example of "no one likes me", this might be very close to 1. "Everyone thinks I'm great" might be a really good thought, even a number 10, but if you truly believe the number 1 level thought, it is not possible that you would simultaneously believe a number 10 level thought.

Luckily, you don't need to. You don't have to go from "no one likes me" to "everyone thinks I'm great" to move yourself from despair to happiness. You just have to find something slightly more positive that you believe as much, such as "my neighbor likes me". The belief that your neighbor likes you would be closer to happiness than to despair. Maybe only a little bit, but that's all that is required. So maybe "my neighbor likes me" is at a level 3. If you believe that your neighbor likes you, you can't simultaneously believe that no one does. You've just given yourself evidence that the belief that no one likes you isn't true. If you can feel that belief, then you can try for another belief that will move you even closer to happiness.

This little exercise helps us to see where our mental energy is and to start moving it towards what we desire. Each time you notice yourself thinking the level 1 statement, you can remind yourself of the truth of the level 3 statement you created, until you automatically go to that thought when a 'despair trigger' occurs. From that point, you can continue to find thoughts higher up the spectrum, until you've reached thoughts consistent with your desired emotion. With practice of this step-by-step process, you can take 'positive thinking' from a nice idea to yet another powerful tool on your journey.

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Thought Transformation Scale

Thought Transformation Scale hows sad and happy faces

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