Everything you need to know about how the mind works
My intention in writing this article is to explain the power of the human mind, to show the strong holistic connection between the mind and the body. Mind and body, we are driven by expectations, courage and strength. Unfortunately, we are also driven by pressure, fear and sickness.
The human mind influences health and plays a lead role in physical illness, making us sick, helping us recover, and enabling us to live well or compelling us to live poorly. We have known this much from the time of the ancient Greeks. We knew it, but we failed to use it for a long time.
The purpose of this work is to demonstrate the triumph of the mind and belief over the body, and to show that scientists are aware of it. The ability of the mind to produce healing changes, they know, and so will you very shortly, depend on the emotional state, which can influence physical health for better or worse.
In reading this article, you will learn more about the mind, and about epigenetics, a fascinating new scientific approach to the influence of the mind over the genes. You will find an explanation of the placebo effect, and other examples of the power of the mind–body connection.
This is not just about the chemistry of the human mind; it is also about positive thinking. I hope you will learn that positive thinking is not mere belief that “everything is good”. It is the process of creating positive thoughts and clearing the mind of confusion, preparing the mind to meet any difficulty, and looking for only the good in any situation.
This work is an illustration of the mind–love connection. Whatever you do for yourself or for others, do it with love. Whenever you do something with love, your mind opens and everything changes.
I am writing this with great respect for the most influential, the most exceptional and amazing miracle in the whole universe: the human mind.
What is the mind?
Speak your mind, keep things in mind and follow your mind. I hope you do not mind my asking you for a definition of the mind. But never mind if you do!
What is my point?
My point is the many meanings of “mind”: it can be a noun, an adjective, a verb, an opinion or a sentiment. It means intellectual power or mental ability, mental and physical behaviour, individual consciousness, collective conscious and unconscious processes, healthy or sick mental states.
For me, the mind is the power and energy of human nature manifested in thoughts, perceptions and emotions.
For hundreds of years, the mind has been a subject of interest in psychology, medicine, biology and religion. Studying the mind is studying something we cannot see, feel, touch, taste or measure, but still we cannot deny its existence. We pretend we know everything about the mind, but still we do not know where the mind is located. Never mind!
We cannot see or touch the soul, the spirit or love; it does not mean they do not exist. We cannot see a magnetic field or gravitational force, but nobody questions magnetism or gravity.
We are aware of our minds, thoughts and emotions as part of invisible human life. With great respect for the invisible human world, we move now to the next chapter.
Conscious and subconscious minds
We have two minds: the conscious mind and the subconscious mind.
The conscious mind is your thinking mind, which includes aspirations, goals and ambitions. It represents you, and you have power over it. Your desires, ideas and creativity come from your conscious mind. Whatever you want or wish comes from your conscious mind. The conscious mind represents you.
The subconscious mind is the habit mind. It is a “recording device”, logging your life’s experiences from the time you were a child. You had no power over the subconscious mind when you were recording those experiences. Since day one, you have taped the behaviour, feelings, moods and attitudes of your parents, family members, peers and the social environment around you. The subconscious mind represents others.
Whatever you learn and experience in life, especially in your first six years, is in your subconscious mind. It is a natural process of growing up. Whatever you saw, heard and learned from your parents, peers and teachers from the time you were born is simply a process of encoding your core belief system and subconscious program. Unfortunately, many programs are negative and suppressive. You want to feel and act positively while running the negative subconscious program of others!
The next paradox is that your mind cannot tell the difference between a real and an imagined experience. Whatever you tell your mind, repeating it over and over again, your mind will accept as reality. Remember this when you say to yourself, “Oh, how stupid I am.” The mind will create reality according to your self-talk.
When you imagine any event, positive or negative, or any goal, your mind will accept that imagination as reality. The mind will try to manifest your imagination into reality. Your mind will not ask you, “Do you believe in it?” or “Is it true or false?” or “Is it your imagination or reality?” Your mind will trust you and not question your thoughts.
Now you know why it is so important to keep an optimistic mind, and why visualisation and imagination work, one way or another. Whether you have positive thoughts or negative, your mind is there to manifest your way of thinking with no questions asked.
If you believe “This event broke my heart and upset my mind,” you are simply… wrong. Your mindset, way of seeing the event, perception and attitude created your emotional response, not the external event. Each person has a different mental structure. My mental structure (my mind) is different from yours; therefore we see the same situation differently.
Here is another paradoxical fact about the mind: The same pleasant or unpleasant episode is not the same for you as for me. You choose your perception and I choose mine. The consequences are different for each of us. This is the connection between the mind and the perceptions.
Is this possible? Yes, it is; sometimes we have cognitive distortion.
Cognitive distortion simply means that our thoughts and our way of thinking sometimes misrepresent the facts. This is true and well-known. Your mental filter chooses how you feel. This filter will enhance any detail to prove that things are as you perceive them, negative or positive, but mostly negative. It sounds strange, but any kind of behaviour is a conscious choice.
The next paradox is this: You, yourself, will see the same event differently the next day. Why? You have chosen a different mental filter. Yes, you change your mental filter every time you process your thoughts.
Now you have an explanation as to why some days are so bad, boring or disturbing for you. Your perceptions, emotions and states of mind are direct results of your mental processing system that day. Do not blame the weather, the event, the company, the other person or the government. Your emotions are a direct response to your environment, based on your invisible inner human world.
The human mind is a most powerful computer, recording everything on its “hard drive”, retrieving any stored information when it is needed.
The mind is in charge of your success or failure, and you already know why. If you cannot remember, this is the answer: Your success or failure is attached to your inner invisible world (your thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, expectations and attitudes). How can you be successful if you are running an unsuccessful program stored in your SCM, always complaining and fearful and confined to a narrow comfort zone? Change your mind if you want to change your “bad luck”.
Your mind needs action. When you are fearful, stuck in a rut or feeling down, step forward and do something about the situation. Do not feel sorry for yourself (“poor me”), and do not complain to others. Self-pity never worked for anyone; only action does. Your bad luck is in direct correlation to your willingness to act.
Your action, in any uncomfortable situation, will activate your inner forces and motivation when you need them most. “Safety is riskier than you believe,” is how a friend once put it in a conversation about the mind–action connection.
Go after what you want in life, for it will give you a boost and help calm your mind. Even if you do not get what you want, do not be disappointed. In an inexplicable way, your attempt will give you the feeling of fulfillment you need.
Your life is based on your thoughts, feelings, perceptions… simply on your mind.
Your mind will determine who is the real champion in the game called Life. How you play the game depends on the constitution of your mind much more than on anything else.
The mind is the best healing machine
I knew I would have a tough time finding all the facts I needed to prove the above statement to those who wish not to believe in it. Everything started when a friend of mine received an email in which the writer claimed the human body–mind connection is “the world’s most perfect healing machine”.
Friend: Do you believe in this?
Me: Yes, I do.
Friend: I’m not so sure how to interpret it. I don’t know all the facts. Can we discuss it?
Me: I can try to show you how everything works. Here are a few facts.
The human body has intelligence and the ability to heal itself. The healing force is in each of us, waiting to help us whenever we need it. Unfortunately, sometimes this healing force goes unused. We need to pay attention to it. We need to concentrate on the symptoms that our healing machine is showing us. The human mind can do unbelievable things that we simply can’t predict or understand. Sometimes, what we really need is to believe and have hope and understanding.
Friend: Are you saying we don’t need medication?
Me: I didn’t mean exactly that. What I mean is that hope, belief and trust are equally as important as medication. To heal any malfunction in the body, we need to believe in our own ability to help ourselves and to put our trust in the person who is helping us.
I know it sounds silly, but by way of the medical symptoms we experience, the mind–body connection is trying to tell us something about ourselves. We need to understand this and to follow the body’s messages as our own guide to the healing process.
Friend: But where are the facts to prove it?
Me: The very first fact is that the body receives signals from the mind. As we know, attitude is a huge contributor to health. We know for sure that distortion in mental health weakens human life. What we can see is that pessimism and depression, or any mood disorder, contribute to chronic diseases and weaken the immune system. What and how we think has a huge impact on health. A healthy mind means a healthy physical body.
Friend: What else?
Me: I believe you are familiar with the expression homeostasis, which actually means “an actively maintained metabolic equilibrium” in an organism. I need to clarify the term equilibrium: If everything is in balance, an organism is in a state of homeostasis, or, more precisely, in equilibrium—a stable situation. If not, the organism is more or less in trouble. There are a great many complex biological mechanisms in the human organism, helping the body to keep the physiological process always level.
The human body dislikes change. It needs standard ranges for body temperature, blood pressure and heart rate. It needs standard ranges of acidity in the blood and urine. In the human body at any given time, many biological mechanisms are working together to keep it in homeostasis. Biological mechanisms heal the body every second of life. This process of maintaining homeostasis is a good way to explain why our body is the best healing machine.
When, for various reasons, human protection systems cannot do their work properly, they need a little help from the outside—from medications or medical procedures.
Friend: Is it our immune system that is actually our healing machine?
Me: The immune system is part of our healing and protecting machine. When an infection is present in the body, as in food poisoning, a head cold or a wound, the immune system immediately starts working to protect the body from harm. If the body has a strong immune system, it will probably overcome this outside invasion. If not, the body needs help from other resources. The mind can increase and boost the immune system.
Friend: Exactly what is involved in this?
Me: It is everything we have said so far. Some of the body’s healing power involves the immune system, the process of homeostasis and the mind–body connection. The human body is an almost perfect system. So, yes, the mind–body connection is the best healing machine. But don’t forget we could experience the opposite effect if we don’t know how to use the power of our minds.
The mind creates results
It was the day after another friend lost his job. “I failed,” he said. Of course, he was down, upset, unsure of what to do. He was in shock.
“What makes success or failure, anyway? How does everything work?” he asked.
“I have learned something related to the answer. It is not a clarification of why you lost your job. It is an explanation of how we create our core belief system. This is a very complicated subject and I will need your full attention.”
He agreed. After all, he had nothing else to do…
This chapter is dedicated to my friend who lost his job.
As you know, a result can be positive or negative. Even a negative result is still a result, because you learned the hard way that something simply does not work. A result is a product of actions. Well-prepared actions lead to success and positive results. Speaking of actions, timing is very important. If actions are done in a timely manner, you can expect a good result. Unfortunately, sometimes people act too late or too early, and the result is negative.
Who is in charge of action? To answer this question, I need to say, “It depends on your feelings.” Your feelings determine action. Feelings are your frame of mind, and a direct result of your thoughts. Any feeling begins with a thought. If your thoughts are uncomfortable to you, your feelings will be the same. Thoughts and the internal state are the cause of feelings, not experience. How you see, think and feel is very personal and depends on many things. Regarding the same event, different people feel differently, and that is okay. Different attitude (thoughts and feelings) –> different frame of mind –> different actions. Attitude is everything, but it depends on your core belief system. As I said earlier, your whole life experience is actually a process of encoding and starts in childhood.
Quality of life depends on many things, but most definitely on thoughts. Everything starts with a single thought. That thought can be a positive one or a negative, and spark your way of thinking.
The mind, thoughts and ways of thinking influence life, and there is no doubt about that. Why do people say, “Attitude is everything”? They know attitude will determine how you interpret any event in life. Your interpretation of the event is more crucial than the real facts. Any decision is a direct result of attitude. Whether you like or dislike yourself is a result of your attitude. What creates attitude? As I said, attitude is very important, and you need to understand that it is the result of your core system of beliefs. The process of thinking shapes that system. If you have positive thoughts and positively deemed experiences in life, your core system of beliefs will be positive, and if negative and negatively deemed, then negative. Your core system of beliefs, generally speaking, is your life experience. If your perception of any event, or any person, or even of yourself is good, your core belief about it/him/you will be good. If your perception of any of these things is bad, your core belief about it will be equally bad, and that is the problem. It is a problem for this reason: If your core belief about an event or person (including yourself) is negative, no matter how things turn out, you are likely to put a negative spin on it/him/you.
Why is the core system of beliefs so important? It is important for many reasons, including your level of expectation. There is strong correlation between your core system of beliefs and your expectations. Expectations are very tricky. Expectations that are too low or too high could ruin your life. Choose your level of expectation carefully. Pay attention to how high and how realistic your expectations are. They will determine your attitude.
Healing comes from your beliefs, and thus you must find the healing force within yourself first. In fact, healing comes from a transformed perception of yourself when you seek to understand what those emotions are trying to tell you. If you have a positive thought and belief system, and realistic expectations, including good attitudes and behaviour, your performance will be good. Understandably, a good performance will produce a good result.
To this point we have covered the chain of what creates results in life: a single thought, a way of thinking, a core system of beliefs, expectations, attitudes, behaviour, performance and results, which are actually different forms of an inner invisible world—your mind. In short, it is your mind that creates your life, for better or worse. As you can see, what creates results is a very complex machine. I hope the explanations I have provided in this chapter will help you better understand the ways in which a result-oriented mind is the best answer to my friend’s very simple question: What makes success or failure? With positive results arising from the performance of your mind, your quality of life has no choice but to be exceptional.
The mind–body connection
I had an opportunity recently to speak about the mind–body connection before a group of people. At the beginning of the presentation, I asked my audience, “Do you believe in the mind–body connection?”
“Yes,” was the answer of sixty percent of the attendees.
When I asked, “Do you know how the mind–body connection works?” only forty percent answered in the affirmative.
My third question was: “Do you believe you can protect yourself from the negative impact of the mind–body connection by changing your perceptions and behaviour?
Thirty percent of the people in the group said, “Yes.”
Generally speaking, people believe in the mind–body connection, but do not know how it actually works, which is not a bad thing. The bad thing is that only thirty percent of the attendees believed in the possibility of changing their mental approach. In everyday life, seventy percent of these people strongly believe in the statement that they cannot change their mental nature (the mind). How wrong they are! If you belong to that seventy percent, please take a little time and read this chapter. Maybe you will change your way of thinking about thinking.
How the mind–body connection works
There is no doubt that the state of mind influences health. For many years, we have known about interactions between the mind (the nervous system) and the body (the immune system) along with the effects of these interactions on disease. The mind, by producing biochemical changes in the body, is involved in each step of protection and recovery from sickness. The human brain and the human immune system work together, signalling each other along the same pathways.
It is a proven fact that the immune system is a target of signals from the brain and the endocrine system. Therefore, life experiences, behaviour, and ways of thinking and believing have a huge impact on the body, and vice versa. There are messengers that literally transmit happiness, joy and positive feelings, and there are messengers that literally transmit fear, stress, anxiety and worry. In essence, the immune system is listening to your mental talk. When you are happy, your body is happy. When you are angry, your body is angry. Communication between the brain and the body is carried out via chemicals on the molecular level. This is a two-way route. Chemicals produced by the brain (again, the nervous system) send signals to the body (again, the immune system) and, at the same time, chemicals from the immune system communicate with the nervous system. The same signals affect behaviour and stress responses. The connection is purely biochemical.
Have you heard about neurotransmitters?
I am sure you have, but I should remind you that neurotransmitters are chemicals that regulate signals between neurons, which conduct nerve impulses, and cells. Some of the most “popular” neurotransmitters are acetylcholine, norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin. Any disturbance of communication between the brain and the immune system results in disease. It could be autoimmune, inflammatory or infectious, or a mood disorder.
Not just that, the state of mind influences how well an organism resists infectious/inflammatory disease. Recovery depends on the state of the mind. Some people simply can see no link between their anger, resentment, worries, anxiety, jealousy or perfectionism and their headache, stomach ache, back pain, head cold or stiff shoulders. Only for some people does the link between their emotions and their health become apparent.
The link between emotions, state of mind, attitude and health
What we have learned so far in the field of human health is that unhappy, sad, angry, pessimistic or depressed people are more often sick than others, and with more chronic diseases. Some diseases are psychosomatic, or partly psychosomatic, which means the illness comes from the mind or from a mental or personality disturbance, and not from a physically dysfunctional organ or system. To put it another way, you are sick because of your mind–body connection, not because of any organic dysfunction.
The link between the mind and health is the immune system and one gland in the human body that is watching your thoughts. That small gland, known as the thymus and located behind the breastbone, plays a very important role in the immunological defence system. As a part of the immune system, the thymus produces white blood cells—in particular, lymphocytes, called T-cells. These cells are the most powerful tool in the fight against disease and infection. One of the many possible ways to become ill is via troubled thoughts: Worry/depression/fear/anxiety/anger leads to stress. Distressing emotions produce distressing results in the body. Stress hormones can change immune cell behaviour and the activity of the immune system. As we know, this is a two-way street: Behaviour can change immune function, and immune response can modulate behaviour. Bodily reaction comes instinctively, automatically and spontaneously to commands from the autonomic nervous system (the brain).
Each distressing emotion produces a very powerful hormone called cortisol. Cortisol suppresses the immune system, which is the human body’s protection against illness. Stress shrinks the production of the T-cells in the thymus. Fewer T-cells means a weaker immune system. A weak immune system means any attack on the body (exposure to infection, for instance) becomes disease.
Interestingly, in each human body there is one specific organ or system that is its weak point. In medical terminology it is Locus minoris resistentiae, meaning “the place of least resistance to microorganisms” (MedicineNet.com). Your weak point could be your immune system, your stomach, your neck, your back or your shoulders: whatever bothers you most often. If you have more problems with one particular organ or system, think about your emotions.
How to calm your mind
Relax your mind through meditation, yoga, tai chi, hypnosis or abdominal breathing, and your body will be thankful to you and reward you with good health.
Control your mood and behaviour, because anger, anxiety, fear and depression affect the immune system itself. Failure to stop being an obsessive “what if” thinker, or a depressed, angry or anxious person, leads to chronic tension in the mind and makes you physically sick. When you are loving and thankful, with no jealousy or resentment, your mind will make you well.
Slow your everyday rhythm, exercise at least five times per week, find an engrossing hobby and pay attention to your diet. If you want good health and a strong immune system, then be positive, joyful and optimistic. This, again, is a fact that has been known for many years, but obviously not by everyone. Being a physically healthy person is the result of being a person with a positive attitude and a positive mental health outlook—and vice versa.