According to Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard-trained and published neuroanatomist: “Our brain is made up of cells and every ability we have is the product of those cells.” Dr. Taylor gave a wonderful TED talk entitled “The Neuroanatomical Transformation of the Teenage Brain.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzT_SBl31-s
Current scientific consensus is that the human brain is made up of neurocircuitry which consists of individual connections in the brain that are constantly being formed, removed and recreated – largely dependent on how they are used. This ongoing change in neurons, together with changes in how neurons connect to one another, is called neuroplasticity.
In other words, the brain that you had before you began reading this article is not the same brain that you have now! And it is not the same brain you will have when you’re finished reading.
You need to think of your brain as a tool. You have the ability to sharpen and improve that tool through reading and learning, through repetition and practice, and through mindfulness and meditation. Every experience you have will change the connections in and the performance of your brain.
The human mind, both conscious and unconscious, still holds enormous mystery. A great deal of our everyday experiences are controlled by our unconscious mind and happen outside of our conscious awareness.
We now know that we have the ability to influence the development of our unconscious mind and even overrule unconscious impulses through conscious decisions. We also know that the prefrontal cortex is responsible for planning and orchestrating our thoughts and actions in accordance with our goals and integrating our conscious thoughts, perceptions, and emotions.
In sum, we know that we have the ability to learn. We have the ability to increase our IQs. We have the ability to improve both our conscious and unconscious minds, and we have the ability to master a wide variety of skills.
Malcolm Gladwell studied the lives of extremely successful people. He wanted to know how they achieved success. In the book Outliers, Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Repetition and practice alter the connections in your brain and have a profound impact on your abilities and your performance. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Stephan Curry are all examples of this phenomenon.
Bolte Taylor says, “We are capable of mindfulness. We are capable of changing our thoughts and changing our brains. We have the ability to pick and choose what’s going on inside our heads.”
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present moment. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings more consciously. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to all types of experiences, thereby allowing for increased recognition of mental events in the present moment.
Mindfulness is the essence of engagement. When we are living in the present, in the moment, we are less likely to plague ourselves with fears about the future or regrets about the past.
By paying attention to what’s happening around us instead of operating on autopilot, we can reduce stress, unlock creativity, and improve our performance. We also become more alert to opportunities.
We all rely very heavily on our unconscious thoughts – we have to. Our unconscious thoughts are required to process the 11 million bits of information that impact all of our brains every second. We rely on our unconscious minds to handle our sensory perception, our memory recall, and most of our routine everyday decisions. Some scientists estimate that we are conscious of only about 5 percent of our cognitive function. The other 95 percent happens outside our conscious awareness.
That being said, we not only have the ability to control our conscious thoughts by exercising control of our conscious thoughts, but we also have the ability to influence, develop and control many of our unconscious thoughts and impulses as well.
Successful people operate on a different level than most people. They focus more intently. Those who perform at the highest levels are the most focused—the most mindful. They develop and improve their minds and their ability to perform at a higher level. They read—some voraciously. They practice—some relentlessly. They exercise control over their conscious thoughts and through their positive thoughts and activities, they are able to influence and impact the development and nature of their unconscious thoughts and impulses. In sum, they use and develop both their conscious and unconscious brains.
When we start to focus on positive thoughts, we let go of our fears and anxieties. We become more joyful and less stressed. We perform at a higher level. Even focusing on things that are painful can be beneficial by preventing us from staying in a bad relationship and helping us to understand and overcome our depression, fear or anger.
In sum, there is growing evidence that we do, in fact, have the ability to control our thoughts. We do this by experiencing life more fully, more consciously, and more mindfully as it unfolds.
You have the ability to control your thoughts. You have the ability to overcome your fears. You have the ability to improve your condition. These goals are all within reach.
In order to reach your goals, you need to begin by believing in yourself and recognizing your immense potential. You need to accept personal responsibility for changing your condition. You need to pivot and adapt to changing circumstances. You need to push forward and persevere to overcome the challenges that you face. You need to think about all of your choices and make only the right choices. You need to commit to doing that which is required to achieve your objectives. Finally, you need to take action.
All of this begins and ends with you controlling your thoughts.
In November of 2012, George J. Chanos, former Attorney General of Nevada, suffered a major heart attack. It made him reflect upon his own mortality and sharpened his focus on what’s truly important. It motivated him to prepare for the unexpected. As part of that preparation, he decided to reduce to writing what he considered life’s most important lessons. Lessons he wanted to leave his daughter and his nephew (both Millennials) in the event that he wasn’t there to deliver them personally. Lessons that he believed would help them to lead a happy, successful and meaningful life.
The 22 chapters of Seize Your Destiny are those lessons. This article is an excerpt from Chapter 1, which provides a more detailed discussion of this subject.