Can you physically change your brain with your thoughts? It would appear so.
Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist and New York Times best-selling author, believes that we can use our minds to make gradual physical changes in our brains to transform the mind for the better.
Studies have shown that people who discipline themselves through meditation and prayer frequently have a measurably larger neocortex in the pre-frontal regions of the brain, the area responsible for concentration. As a result, these people are more able to concentrate and pay attention.
If you struggle with attention deficit disorder, should you really try praying more? Yes. While meditation and prayer may not solve all of your concentration problems, it will certainly help.
But that’s not all. There is more.
Dr. Hanson states that if one does not discipline their thinking for the better, outside negative forces such as fear, worry, stress, work pressure, and other people will master you. They will shape your mind, thus your life.
The human brain has a tendency to focus on the negative. Hanson calls it an “evolutionary design flaw” of humanity. This negativity bias allows negative experiences to stick to the brain like Velcro, while positive experiences pass through rather quickly. Bummer, huh?
To compensate against this, Hanson highlights the importance of taking in good thoughts and experiences, savoring them and allowing them to sink in.
Through this process he believes one can hardwire their brain for happiness. It’s even possible to use the mind and imagination for embracing possible positive outcomes and finding peace in the present.
So, you can change the brain with your thoughts after all.
Doesn’t that sound consistent with what Paul says:
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2 NLT
Mastery over your thoughts is critical to the life of faith.
And it’s worth pointing out that for Paul it’s not an “evolutionary design flaw” that has our minds in the gutter, instead it’s the curse of Adam and “the flesh” resulting from the fall (Rom 5:12; 8:1-17). We must intentionally repent of it.
Dr. Hanson is right, but Paul said it first.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 NIV
That’s from the Apostle Paul, the ancient neuropsychologist.
Greater Faith Via the Imagination
Is it any wonder that Jesus added “mind” in the greatest commandment to love God with our whole being (Mk 12:30)? Notice that it wasn’t mentioned in the original decree (Deut 6:5). What’s Jesus saying?
While Hebrews had a more holistic understanding of the head and heart than their Greek contemporaries, Jesus makes it a point to specify the mind. Why? Because the head is the control center of our lives.
Jesus knew that the mind is the way to great faith, or depleted faith.
I submit to you that our imagination (seeing things with our mind) is a powerful gift from God. It is most unfortunate that we’ve believed it to be something that we should leave behind with childhood.
In doing this, we deny the very practical use of our imagination that is clearly at work every day, whether we’re aware of it or not. But we’re not told to leave it behind, we’re called to let the Lord have it for the working out of greater faith.
Let’s be honest, often our “seeing” is of negative outcomes and fear-based worries about things that never come to pass, or that we’ve used to replay destructive images and hurtful conversations in our head, robbing us of peace.
That’s a misuse of the mind and imagination.
But the people of God are called to use the imagination to touch the divine, to rise above the primal instincts and embrace God’s gift of seeing Christ in the middle of all things—what it looks like when God gets his way.
This is what “faith” is all about.
Our success in the area of rewiring the brain, gaining control over our thoughts with the help of the Spirit, will lock or unlock the door to greater faith. For it’s bad thinking and a poor imagination that makes us unable to believe and trust the God who does the spectacular.
Therefore, let’s use our imagination for envisioning a better future.
Lord, let the Kingdom come in our relationships, in our disappointments and pain, and see where Christ stands victorious in the future, calling us forward into a life full of glorious possibilities. Amen.
D.D. Flowers, 2015.