The Power of Our Thoughts: How They Affect Our Bodies and Lives
Happy Sunday, how's your weekend playing out? 🌱
I'm spending mine celebrating the growth of this community. We had a record-breaking week with the most new subscribers ever (!!!) and I'm so grateful to you for doing this self-work thing alongside me.
I'm writing this as my kids and a bunch of third graders cause all kinds of chaos in my yard. I may have even jumped in on the baseball action for a sec, but there's no evidence of me diving into home base.
It's a great way to end the week, after grinding hard at training in Inner Family Systems. So many insights, so little time. During class, I've got a Notion doc open on my laptop and a Moleskin on my desk, and I'm nonstop scribbling away. Loving every minute.
The more I learn, the more I notice my coaching sessions are rooted in the topic of thoughts and mental chatter. It's been coming up more and more, and I'm recognizing just how often they're the backbone AND root cause of challenges my partners face.
I've been repeating myself so much in sessions that I figured I'd put together an email with some of the research and frameworks I keep coming back to.
So without further ado, let's dive into this week's topic...
Why do my thoughts matter so much? How do they affect my body?
Did you know that your body can't tell if your thoughts are true or false?
Whatever you're thinking, your body thinks is true and reacts accordingly.
No matter how safe you are, your body has been through all the things you've thought about — maybe an earthquake, losing your job, a loved one getting hurt, or worse.
When you really dwell in these thoughts and spin up a long and detailed story about your fear, your body perceives that as real and suffers as if it is actually happening.
This week, one of my kids had his first-ever basketball game. Understandably, he was nervous. You can imagine the kind of thoughts that were circling his brain:
"What if we lose the game?"
"What if I miss an important shot?"
"What if I don't even get to play?"
I stopped him and explained that his fears and nerves are totally normal, shared by the NBA players preparing for their playoff games, but dwelling on them means his body is basically experiencing all the consequences of losing or choking before the actual game even happens.
The same happens if we dwell on things that’ve already happened. If we spend time thinking about past situations, our body suffers through them over and over again.And what are the consequences?
What happens to our brains
Our brains are fascinating organs, and the more I learn about them, the more curious I get about how everything ties together.
I’ll give you the bad news first.
The bad is really bad
According to neuroscientists, when you're constantly thinking negative thoughts, your brain releases stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) that wreak havoc on your body. We're talking increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and even a weaker immune system.
When I was a kid, being sick meant one thing and one thing only: watching reruns of Supermarket Sweep. (Can we get a reboot of that show? But maybe at Target this time?)
But as an adult, being sick means a whole different thang. Instead of lounging on the couch with a bowl of soup and mindless TV shows, it means running around after my kids while feeling like death.
Over time, chronic stress caused by negative thoughts even contributes to serious health problems like diabetes, depression, and heart disease.
All this for thoughts about things that aren't happening.
It's all the same to our bodies, causing all the same symptoms as if the harmful events are actually happening.
Our minds and bodies are playing a game of telephone, but the message is getting all mixed up because our minds are too busy freaking out about imaginary scenarios.
Your eyes try to get your body's attention, like: “Hey guys? … uh guys? … GUYS. Everything is good out there in the real world!”
But there are ways around this, so let's move onto the good news.
The good is really good
It's not just negative thoughts that affect the body, but also positive ones. Check it out:
When we focus on positive thoughts and emotions, our brains release hormones like oxytocin and endorphins that help to reduce stress and boost our immune system. Plus, there are other perks to positive thinking — better cardiovascular function, a lower risk of chronic diseases, and improved sleep.
Who doesn't love a good night's sleep? I know I do.
(Real talk: I have a condition called POTS, so anything less than 8 hours feels like 2 hours to me and it feels like I have the flu.)
The more we practice positive thinking, the more our brains start to create pathways to those happy thoughts.
A snowball effect of good vibes. Yes please.
Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation found that just imagining exercising a muscle can help maintain muscle strength (without actually doing anything).
They split healthy young adults into three groups: the first imagined exercising their little finger muscle, the second imagined exercising their biceps, and the third did no imagination exercises.
After 12 weeks of visualization exercises, the finger muscle group increased their strength by 53% and the bicep muscle group increased their strength by 13.4%. The third group didn't show any increase in strength.
So, if positive thoughts and visualization can trigger all kinds of gains in our physical lives, how do we get there? How do we train our minds to think more positively and improve our physical health in the process?
How to edit your thoughts
Personally, I like to think of my thoughts as a big ol' Google Doc that I can edit whenever I want. An endless stream of random text that's floating up from my subconscious onto the page.
There are many ways to edit those thoughts and create a more positive, fulfilling life — strategies backed by science.
So if you're ready to start editing that Google Doc in your head, let's dive in.
Gratitude is a powerful tool that can help us focus on the positive aspects of our lives. By intentionally focusing on what we're thankful for, we can retrain our brains to see the good in every situation.
It's the typical glass half full vs. half empty question, but it actually translates to positive effects for your body.
If making my gratitude list will help me sleep better and keep depression at bay, I'm a fan.
(FYI: I've kept a gratitude list for the past 10 years, and it's one of my favorite activities of the day. No matter how tired or upset I am, listing out 3 good things is transformative.)
This sets our bodies up for a positive daily experience, full of relaxation, lowered blood pressure, and more.
Reframe Negative Thoughts
When we catch ourselves thinking negative thoughts, we can try reframing them into positive ones. For example, instead of thinking "I'll never be able to build up this new business," I can reframe it to "Every step on the path to building my business is preparing me for the next."
So much of my coaching sessions happens in this zone, reframing negative thoughts and limiting beliefs by looking at hard evidence from the past.
In that context, reframes give us the motivation to keep going. When it comes to our bodies, though, reframes mean our body can stop suffering the negative consequences of something that isn't actually happening.
Sometimes, these reframes are difficult to do on our own.
When that happens, seek support from others, like a trusted friend or family member, a supportive teammate, a mastermind group, or a professional (therapist / coach / etc) to help you edit those thoughts and give your body a break.
We need connection and support to help us overcome even the most difficult circumstances.
When you get the support you need, your body will thank you.
The feedback loop is between the brain and the body is lightening fast. Because of that, our thoughts truly do shape our lives.
The question is: will your thoughts steer your life in a positive or negative direction?
I'm not saying we remove negative thoughts — that isn't possible. Thoughts are like bubbles that float up from our subconscious. We can't stop them, but we CAN manage them. Do we make the bubbles bigger or do we pop them as soon as we spot them?
Let's choose positive thoughts and beliefs to create a brighter future for ourselves and those around us.
The strategies I shared above will help you do that.
You got this. ✌️
Alright, folks, I hope you'll report back on your findings...
Hit reply and let me know how you'll edit that Google Doc of thoughts this week.(
(Or just send me your favorite emoji. I'd love that, too.)
May you have a beautiful week ahead.
All the best vibes ✨
— Marcella ✌️
PS. Below, you'll find an invitation to our brand new Self-Work Reads book club (of sorts). To access it, just invite a friend to sign up for the newsie. Then, I'll email you my favorite books on personal and professional growth — I'll add my own notes and new books as I read them.
A penny for your thoughts
Finally, my favorite part of the newsie: where you tell me if it was valuable to you.
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Your feedback helps makes each week's send better. I appreciate you being here. ❤️🔥