“They can be like a sun, words. They can do for the heart what light can for a field.”
—St. John of the Cross
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Change Your Thoughts, Change Your World

© 2014 by Jennifer Read Hawthorne

Abraham Lincoln once said, ”Most folks are about as happy as they want to be.”  Was he implying that, when it comes to our happiness, we actually have a choice? Apparently, yes. Research abounds on the impact of positive and negative thinking on ourselves and others, and the fact that we have the potential to transform ourselves by changing our habits of mind.

For years, it was thought that the brain was fixed and immutable—that we were stuck with what we were born with in terms of our hardware and its abilities. Then came research to show we were wrong, including Sharon Begley’s book Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, which offered ground-breaking documentation to support the idea that we can even change our brains by changing our thoughts. The results are staggering. These breakthroughs in our understanding show it is possible to “reset our happiness meter, regain the use of limbs disabled by stroke, train the mind to break cycles of depression and OCD, and reverse age-related changes in the brain.”

So where do we start? What needs to be changed about the way we think, anyway? Let’s look first at the number and nature of our thoughts. We humans, it seems, have anywhere from 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. But according to some research, as many as 98 percent of them are exactly the same as we had the day before. Talk about creatures of habit!  Even more significant, 80 percent of our thoughts are negative. This is important because of what we call the mind/body connection, psychoneuroimmunology in medical terms. You know what this is from your own experience. If you’re tired physically, it’s hard to think clearly. On the other hand, if you’ve been using your mind doing mental work all day, you’re likely to feel the effects physically, too.

Negative thoughts are particularly draining. Thoughts containing words like “never,” “should,” and “can’t,” complaints, whining or thoughts that diminish our own or another’s sense of self-worth deplete the body by producing corresponding chemicals that weaken the physiology. No wonder we’re exhausted at the end of the day!

The good news is, if you can recognize a negative or limiting thought, you can consciously choose to change it. Instead of saying, “I can’t meet this deadline,” try “I don’t know how I’m going to meet this deadline, but I know I can if I give it enough thought.” The chemicals produced by the body as a response to this kind of thought are more likely to support you in fulfilling your goal.

Pastor Will Bowen of Christ Church Unity in Kansas City knows well the power of changing the way you think. In an effort to help his congregation find a concrete way to focus on what they do want rather than what they don’t want, he created a purple bracelet and gave one to everyone at church one Sunday. Because it takes 21 days to create a new habit, the idea was for people to switch the bracelet to the other wrist if they found themselves complaining (one of the most common forms of negative thinking)—and keep switching it until they’d gone the full 21 days without a single complaint.

The “Complaint-Free World” project exploded from 250 bracelets to five million in nine months. Pastor Will receives letters daily from schools, prisons, hospitals, churches, businesses, even the Pentagon, telling him what a powerful and positive impact the bracelets are having. Families are getting closer. People’s health is improving. People are turning their lives around.

But the influence of our thoughts transcends the personal. The work of Japanese scientist Dr. Masaru Emoto has shown that our thoughts also influence the world around us. Dr. Emoto photographed frozen samples of polluted water before and after prayer was done over the water, and distilled water before and after exposure to various kinds of music, such as heavy metal and Beethoven. He also taped words to containers of distilled water such as “You make me sick; I will kill you” and  “Love and appreciation.”

The energies from beautiful words and thoughts, even if only written, created exquisite snowflake-like patterns in the water. The less uplifting energies created images of disorder and toxicity. Even a simple “thank you” produced a lovely crystalline pattern.

Since our bodies are 70% water, imagine the beauty of the subtle structures created in your body—and those around you—just by changing your thoughts. Could this form the basis of improved health and well-being?

Remember: It takes 21 days to break a habit and create a new one—not much time and a relatively small commitment. But the results can powerfully impact a person and her environment. Consider the delightful anecdote about a young woman who woke up one morning and noticed she had only three hairs on her head. “Hmmmm,” she said, “I think I’ll braid my hair today.” She did, and she had a great day.

The next morning she woke up and saw that only two hairs remained on her head. “Well,” she said, “I’m going to part my hair today.” She did, and she had a really fun day.

The following morning she awoke to only one hair on her head. “Oh,” she said, “I think I’ll wear my hair in a pony tail today.” She did, and her day was wonderful.

The next morning she awoke to find that she did not have single hair on her head. “Yea!” she said. “I don’t have to fix my hair today!”