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Harnessing the Power of Thought

“I don’t get it. My therapist keeps talking about helping me change the way I think. What good could that possibly do? I’m tired of wasting time, so pass the meds!”

The results of some fascinating and hopeful research underscore the “good it can do.” Published in the current edition of the journal NeuroImage, a team from the University of British Columbia put a new spin on the power of thought.

The Power of Thought

Before we hit the study, let’s talk about this power of thought business. Some 60 years after Sigmund Freud (Uncle Siggy) blamed inner conflicts and mothers for psych issues, the role of the power of thought in psych pathology began to be recognized.

The foundation of what became cognitive (thought) theory is the assumption that we humans are logic-based sorts. It’s no secret, we make choices based upon what makes sense to us.

And those choices – thoughts – have great influence over our emotions and behavior.

Cognitive therapy, developed by Dr. Aaron Beck, helps an individual overcome dysfunctional thinking. As a result, dysfunctional responses of emotion and behavior fall by the wayside. It works well for depression and anxiety.

Whether you know it or not, you’re likely familiar with cognitive therapy. Ever heard of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)? Maybe you’re in the midst of a course of it right now. Well, cognitive therapy is 50% of the deal.

The Study

Now that we have that settled, let’s get on with the research. Team leaders, Kalina Christoff and Graeme McCaig, summarized that we all have the ability to gain greater control over our thoughts using real-time brain feedback.

Here’s how it went down…

Participants performed tasks involving introspection. What’s that? Simply, it’s self-reflection. And it’s more complex than the average thought process. At any rate, the participants were given input that either increased or decreased introspective thought in 30-second intervals over four six-minute sessions.

Functional MRI (fMRI) was used to track real-time activity in the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex (RLPFC) as all of this high-powered thinking was going on. The RLPFC is the area of the brain involved in higher-order thought. There it is in red above.

Very cool – participants could actually see the activity in their RLPFC increase and decrease in accordance with their thought energy. The logical next step was for the participants to use the visual feedback to guide their thoughts.

It happened. And not only did it allow the participants to regulate their thoughts, they were able to focus on their mental tasks more consistently.

To validate the study results, a control group was used. They were given either very little fMRI feedback or none at all. No surprise – no improvement in brain regulation was noted.

The Implications

So what does it all mean? According to Christoff, “Just like athletes in training benefit from a coach’s guidance, feedback from our brain can help us to be more aware of our thoughts.”

She goes on to say, “Our findings suggest that the ability to control our thinking improves when we know how the corresponding area in our brain is behaving.”

Imagine this. The study introduces the possibility of being able to improve our everyday lives through fMRI-assisted technology. How? By using thought treatments – facilitated by self and/or therapist – that can positively impact – in our case – depression and anxiety.

Again, it’s all a matter of enhanced awareness and thought regulation.

Let’s Do It Now

Needless to say, it’s going to take some time for the technology detailed above to go live. But you don’t have to wait. Use the theory and principles behind it all right now.

Let’s revisit a phrase used in the study – real-time brain feedback. No doubt, fMRI technology would sure make matters easier, but the power of visualization can take you to the same place. Tell me the difference between seeing the real thing and drawing a mental picture???

Why do you suppose visualization techniques have worked so well for so long?

No room here to offer strategies and techniques. But you’re more than capable of connecting-the-dots and putting a plan together. So do it!

It’s a Wrap

It’s important to keep current on the latest developments in the emotional and mental health arena. Even if the experimental instruments aren’t ready for use, the theories and principles definitely are.

So before blowing-off your therapist’s attempts to help you change your thinking, open your mind (literally) and get to work.

Much to be discovered in the power of thought!

image credit fineartamerica.com