We process almost 80,000 thoughts every day. Yet, have you ever asked yourself ‘what is a thought?’
Have you ever wondered what the actual definition of a thought is?
Are you actively thinking whilst doing something or does the brain occasionally leave your life on auto-pilot? For example, it might have been a conscious decision that led you to Google ‘what is thought?’, or our subconscious brain influences our decisions more than we think.
This article will guide you in an exploration of your mind so that you can start to utilize the power of your thoughts. Here’s an overview:
- What Is A Thought?
- What Are Thoughts Made Of?
- What Happens When We Have A Thought?
- Conscious vs Unconscious Thinking
- How Your Thoughts Create Your Reality
- How To Create A New Reality
What is a thought?
Thoughts are your perceptions, ideas, and beliefs about the world. This mental cognition is the glass by which you see your existence. It acts as a filter for how you perceive the world.
We’ve all heard about “attitude,” which is often a word with a negative connotation. A ‘long-lived’ thought becomes an attitude, which can be positive or negative.
What are thoughts made of?
It may be hard to understand the definition of a thought before first actually looking at ‘what is thought?’, tangibly speaking.
Thoughts and thought processes are generated in the brain, which is composed of 100 billion nerve cells that transmit impulses through synapses. In other words, thoughts are electrochemical reactions.
What makes it difficult to track is the complexity of the reactions. The firing of neurons can range from one signal per second to 1,000 signals per second.
We humans always underestimate the capacity of our bodies. Can you imagine the number of neurotransmitters fired while reading this one line?
As you’re reading, the photons of these letters are hitting your retina. They are then detected by the light-detecting cells, which turn into an electrical signal.
This electrical signal is carried by the neurons or nerve cells and, like the domino effect, quickly spreads to neighboring neurons. Within a fraction of a second, billions of neurons are activated by this electrochemical signal without you even realizing it!
The organization of brain cells that make up who you are is constantly in flux. Forget the notion that the brain is static, rigid, and fixed. Brain cells are constantly and continually remolded and reorganized by your thoughts and experiences.
Neurologically, you are repeatedly reorganized by the endless stimuli in your world that you attend to.
Instead of imagining nerve cells as hard, solid, inflexible, tiny sticks that are assembled together to make up your brain’s grey matter, see them as dancing patterns of thin electric delicate fibers in animated webwork, connecting and disconnecting all the time.
This is much closer to the truth of who “you” are.
What happens when we have a thought?
As you’ve just learned, thoughts are made up of neurological and biochemical processes. When any neurological tissue in the brain or the body is activated, it creates the mind. From a neuroscientific understanding, the mind is the brain in action.
When you think a thought (or have a memory), a biochemical reaction begins in your brain causing the brain to release certain chemical signals. These chemical signals make your body feel exactly the way you were just thinking.
Neurons in your brain come together to form thousands of synaptic connections. Those connections then assemble into very complex, three-dimensional neurological networks. You could see learning as your brain getting an upgrade in equipment.
When you pay attention to knowledge or information and it makes sense to you, this interaction with the environment leaves biological impressions in your brain.
When you experience something new, your senses record a new story by creating new neurological pathways in your brain. This leads to even more enriched connections, upgrading your brain even more!
The more you repeat a thought, intentionally or not, the more those neurons fire and wire together creating a long-term relationship.
Therefore, where you place your attention, what you place your attention on, and for how long, ultimately define you on a neurological level.
Conscious vs unconscious thinking
Sometimes there is a catchy song stuck in your head and you can’t help but hum along. Sometimes you drive from home to work without paying conscious attention, but you still manage to take the right turns, even while being completely lost in your thoughts.
Cognitive neuroscience says that we’re only conscious of 5% of our cognitive activities. Therefore 95% of the time we are unconsciously conscious!
That means your brain has adapted your mind and body to perform certain activities without constant awareness. This is called our adaptive unconscious.
This adaptive unconscious saves us from making tedious calculations every time we make a turn and control the speed of the car simultaneously.
It is a similar concept to muscle memory. Once you learn how to cycle or swim, you can’t really forget it. And you won’t have to maintain the same level of attention as you did when you first learned it.
As Dr. Bruce Lipton explains:
“Neuroscientists have shown that most of our decisions, actions, emotions, and behavior depend on the 95% of brain activity that is beyond our conscious awareness, which means that 95% of our life comes from the programming in our subconscious mind.”
How your thoughts create your reality
There’s a ‘secret’ that all great historical and present thinkers, spiritual traditions, philosophers, and high achievers have agreed to be a universal truth.
This secret revolves around this simple idea: you are what you think.
Mark Twain wrote:
“Life consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever flowing through one’s head.”
Specifically, it can be broken down into this:
- We live in a world of thought
- Our thoughts create our experiences; thus, we experience what we think
- It is the quality of our thoughts, then, that creates the quality of our life
Every thought we experience creates a chemical reaction in the brain, triggering an emotion. As we engage with this thought, it creates a new circuit that sends a signal to the body and we react a certain way.
The more we repeat this pattern, the more it seeps into our minds and becomes a habit. A habit is a redundant set of automatic, unconscious thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that you acquire through repetition.
This is why neuroscientists say “cells that fire together wire together.”
Thoughts, in and of themselves, have no power—it’s only when we actively invest our attention into them that they begin to seem real.
And when we engage with specific thoughts, we begin to feel the emotions that were triggered by these thoughts—we enter a new emotional state which then influences how we act.
Once you’re aware that you are feeling a certain way, you generate more thoughts equal to how you were feeling, and then you release more chemicals from your brain to make you feel the way you’ve been thinking.
For example, if you regularly engage with the thought that you’re a failure and feed more attention to it, you’ll start to feel down, anxious, discouraged, and perhaps even depressed.
How does your body react to this? Maybe you sulk down, slump your shoulders, have low energy, and project no confidence.
But if you engage with more empowering thoughts, they would boost your confidence and thus trigger a more positive emotional state which will then be reflected in how your body reacts: standing up straight, upbeat, and energized.
If you keep doing the same routines over and over again that make you feel a certain way, they become a habit.
This means your body is on autopilot!
If you want to change your outside reality, you must first change your inside reality. You must change the attention of your thoughts because what you think directly influences how you feel.
How you feel directly influences how your body reacts, and how your body reacts directly influences how you behave. And your behavior defines who you are and what you experience in life.
How you think and how feel directly impacts how your body reacts, and all three influence how you behave and what actions you take.
As you keep thinking the same thoughts, producing the same emotions and performing the same actions, you continue to live by the same experiences.
As you repeatedly engage in the same thought patterns of think, feeling, and doing, these patterns encode as a blueprint in your subconscious mind.
And what does your subconscious mind do?
It runs 95% of our life on automation. This is why it’s so hard to make change happen! But it also means that all the problems we experience are nothing more than thinking problems.
How to create a new reality
So how do you change your reality? You create new patterns that create a new reality.
This isn’t something that you change overnight, this is a lifetime commitment to mindful reprogramming and growth.
It’s what neuroscientists refer to as neuroplasticity—the idea that you can rewire your brain by creating new behavioral patterns where new cells fire together and wire together.
In order for you to do this, you need to understand that you are not your thoughts, you are the thinker.
They are powerless until you decide to cling onto one of them, which then trickles into a chain. This very act makes you the thinker of your thoughts.
In other words, imagine your mind to be a farm and your thoughts to be the seeds. You can plant either good seeds (roses) or bad seeds (poison ivy). Whichever seed you choose to focus on and plant, it will then grow and multiply.
And the same happens in your mind—whichever thought you choose to focus on and plant, it will then grow and multiply.
You are the planter of the seeds.
You are the thinker of your thoughts.
Do you want your mind to flourish into a garden of roses or a farm of poison?
“You are not your thoughts, you are the thoughts you give power and attention to—you are the thinker.”Ekhart Tolle
So how do you create new behavioral patterns? You create new thought patterns. And how do you create new thought patterns?
- Increase your awareness by observing your emotions and body reactions.
- Be more conscious of what thoughts you give your attention to.
It’s what psychologists call metacognition—the idea of thinking about our thinking.
The next time you feel a strong emotion, bring your awareness to it by pausing and asking yourself:
“What’s going on in my mind right now? Why am I feeling this way?”
Practices to help change your thoughts
The act of mental rehearsal is a powerful way we can grow and mold new circuits in our brain. Neuroscience has proven that we can change our brains just by thinking differently.
Through the concept of mental rehearsal (to repeatedly imagine performing an action), the circuits in our brains can reorganize themselves to reflect our very intentions.
In one study, people who mentally rehearsed one-handed finger exercises two hours a day for five days demonstrated the same brain changes as people who physically performed the same movements.
To put this into perspective, when we are truly focused and single-minded, the brain does not distinguish between the internal world of the mind and the external environment.
So if we can change our brain just by thinking, the question lies here:
What exactly do “you” spend most of your time mentally rehearsing, thinking about, and finally demonstrating?
This type of internal processing allows us to become so involved in our dreams and internal representations that the brain will modify its wiring without having experienced the actual event.
When we change our minds independent of environmental cues and then steadfastly insist on an ideal with sustained concentration, the brain will be ahead of the actual external experience. In other words, the brain will function as if the experience has already happened.
As we embrace the very circumstances that challenge our mind, we will have put the appropriate circuits in place to allow us to behave consistently with our intentions. Simply said, the hardware will have been installed so that we can handle the challenge.
When we change our mind, our brain changes, and when we change our brain, our mind changes.
This results in a new way of thinking, feeling, and behaving in our life.
Thoughts come from the mystery of a billion neurons firing in a second. They make us feel and behave in certain ways, determining our attitude and personality all the way to the unconscious thinking that controls our day-to-day activities.
It triggers an emotion, which triggers a body reaction and drives us to act a certain way. This thought pattern creates a mental circuit in our brain, and as we repeat it, it becomes a subconscious behavioral pattern that runs on automation.
This is how your thoughts shape your reality. This is why you are what you think.
And this is why all the great minds and thinkers agree that:
We live in a world of thought. Our thoughts create our experiences; thus, we experience what we think. The quality of our thoughts creates the quality of our life.