This week I have been looked at some of the insights from neuroscience (science of the brain) in order to better understand the complexities and mechanisms involved how we think, feel and act.
Dr Joe Dispenza’s book “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One” discusses our habits, the way we think and how that impacts on our memory, past, present and future experiences, feelings and thoughts and ultimately our action.
What has become crystal clear, and much of the other neuroscience literature supports this, is that our body, mind and soul are not disparate spheres but interwoven rather seamlessly.
This means that our decision-making is highly influenced by a complex web of biological reactions, brain chemistry, the way we have stored memories and feelings based on past experiences, and how our brains and our body use those memories in directing how we think and feel:
“All the information we have been exposed to throughout our lives, in the form of knowledge and experiences, is stored in the brain’s synoptic connections” (p. 41).
We are therefore often our past as we re-live particular experiences that evoke particular thoughts and we become so familiar with those that these make up our reality and how the world is to us.
So what does this mean for how we make decisions and how can we change for the better?
The impacts of the good and bad thoughts
The book has given me hope that our brains are truly plastic meaning that they can change and keep changing regardless of age.
But it has also alerted me, and to some extent alarmed me, to understand at a much deeper and detailed level how negative thoughts cause reactions and create negative impacts even in our cells.
In other words, negative emotions and thoughts, like continuous stress the flight-or-fight mode that many of us find ourselves in constantly, actually alter the way our cells function and begin to create disease in our bodies.
If you keep thinking about same thoughts over and over again, your neurons in your brain create stronger connections between each other and cement a particular way of thinking.
The more you think in a particular way, the stronger and faster those connections become in your brain, and it becomes fairly difficult to change your way of thinking.
But the good news is that we can change our thinking, the way we behave and the way we feel if we choose to:
“Change all begins with thinking: we can immediately form new neurological connections and circuits that reflect our new thoughts” (p. 124).
This is similar as to what for example Angela Duckworth in Grit and Todd Herman in The Alter Ego Effect remind us about: visualising a future, a new state of being, and using those thoughts and images in creating progress in where we are today.
Furthermore, our brain does not always know the difference between a thought and an actual experience:
“Not only can we change our brains just by thinking differently, but when we are truly focused and single-minded, the brain does not know the difference between the internal world of the mind and what we experience in the external environment. Our thoughts can become our new experience” (p. 50).
So, to change your thoughts and eventually your state of being, you can start imagining (thinking about a future state, a future experience, a future goal) in a way that it has already happened to you.
I know for some people this sounds like too much sci-fi and out-there thinking but neuroscience has over and over again shown that our minds are our biggest weapon for both success and failure.
If we cannot imagine it, then how do we even know we have arrived?
Visioning and imagining greatness
What ties many great leaders together is their ability to see something that others don’t, and then communicate that vision to others in a compelling way.
If you think about leaders like Martin Luther King Jr or Joan of Arc, many of these leaders had some vision that drove them to make that vision a reality, and engaged others in the process.
“They all believed in a future destiny that was so real in their minds that they begun to live as if that dream was already happening. They couldn’t see, hear, taste, smell, or feel it, but they were so possessed by their dream that they acted in a way that corresponded to this potential reality in time. In other words, they behaved as if what they envisioned was already a reality” (p. 47).
I don’t need you to be “possessed” by your vision (although maybe we all should be) but you can start seeing how your vision or dream about your ideal state of being or the state of being at larger scales should drive your thinking, feeling and being.
Again, if we cannot imagine an outcome, if we cannot articulate what our ideal way of being is, we will keep following our familiar thought patterns and keep put into same kinds of situations that we always have.
Change is about actually changing; it is about attracting something new, something different that requires and demands new ways of thinking, feeling and being:
“to create something different from what you have grown accustomed to in your personal world, you have to change the way you routinely think and feel each day” (p. 40).
For Dr Dispenza, and this book, it is all about understanding how the brain works, how we actually make decisions, and then using tools, such as focused meditation, to move ourselves from thinking to being; towards a vision that brings us and others along to fulfil it.
This however means that we need to really ask ourselves key questions about how we are at the moment, what thoughts are driving us and our behaviour; a good dose of deep reflection to even understand what we need to get rid of and what to aim for.
What does this mean for climate adaptation in Australia?
I would say that very few around the world at the moment are ignorant about our fires in Australia, the political struggles in trying to make decisions, and the just out of this world consequences and suffering going on as people are losing their homes, health and biodiversity.
What we are seeing in the media is not change but the same behaviour over and over again by many politicians, sticking to the way they are used to dealing with a problem.
Yet, the outcome remains the same: we still have huge inaction on climate change, no strong policies or leaders who are willing to consider that perhaps their policy and resource allocation decisions have been outdated in a changing world.
The more you think in a certain way, the more you keep thinking it and cannot change: just like our neuronal connections in how we cement particular behaviours and patterns.
The opportunity here is however for change: countries like Australia do need to consider themselves as part of the global climate community, put in actions and policies to reduce Australia’s emissions, and contribute to a stable and possible future where our communities can adapt to these impacts.
It remains to be seen whether these kinds of events accelerate change but in order to change, we need new thoughts and new ways of thinking in order to move from new thoughts to new experiences to new state of being.
My hope is that in the aftermath of these fires, Australia does become an example of climate leadership, and we find a new state of being where we can champion also new thinking around sustainability, opportunities and a resilient and adapted future for all.