The Science of Beliefs

Beliefs

A belief is an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof. They are inward convictions, a feeling of certainty about what something means. They are rooted deeply within our psyche. A belief is both mental and emotional.

A personal belief is something you personally hold to be true. You can acquire a belief that is based on scientific facts, personal experience, what you heard from others or what you think is true because it is convenient or makes you feel better.

Our beliefs create our own reality. They create our thoughts and activate our emotions. They influence our behaviors in our daily life. They also create our expectations. What we believe strongly can even affect our bodies’ wellbeing.

Mass beliefs can create world events this refers to norms, attitudes, and opinions held by the general public. For example, political beliefs or cultural beliefs.

Our beliefs are basically the guiding principles in life that provide direction and meaning in life. They are a preset, organized filters to our perceptions of the world either external or internal.

Negative beliefs

I have discovered that our beliefs create intricate thought and emotional patterns. According to the estimates from the University of Michigan, the average person has over 40 000 thoughts a day and 70% of those thoughts are negative and repetitive. Those repetitive thoughts have a specific thinking pattern that is unique to each individual since we are unique. This negative “chit-chat” is destructive to our self-worth and prohibits us to love ourselves completely. More often than not, we tend to avoid self-reflection because of the unpleasant feelings we are harboring. Since we believe in our negative thoughts, we feel confronted in acknowledging them. We fear to get “stuck” in the negative feelings therefore, we create defense mechanisms protecting us from feeling them. Even though we try to protect ourselves, these negative thoughts and emotions do not disappear. They are ever-present within our psyche causing havoc. They can cause mental illnesses, diseases, relationship problems, addictions, etc.

Epigenetics

The new science of epigenetics is the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than the alteration of the genetic code itself.  The biological mechanisms that will switch genes on and off. The cells in our body are fundamental working units of every human being. All the instructions required to direct their activities are contained within the chemical deoxyribonucleic acid, also known as DNA. In human DNA there are four fundamental types of bases that comprise DNA-adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine. The order of these bases is what determines our life instructions. Within the 3 billion bases, there are about 20,000 genes. Genes are specific sequences of bases that provide instructions on how to make important proteins-complex molecules that trigger various biological actions to carry out life functions. What this means is that DNA gives important instructions for various functional proteins to be produced inside the cell.

Epigenetics affects how genes are read by cells, and subsequently whether the cell should produce relevant proteins. Epigenetics is what determines a cell’s specialization (skin cell, blood cell, hair cell, etc.) as a fetus develops into a baby through gene expression (active) or silencing (dormant); and nurture: environmental stimuli can also cause genes to be turned off or turned on.

Our environmental stimuli are created by our beliefs. What we eat, where we live, who we interact with, when we sleep, how we exercise, who we love, even aging. Every choice we make about our life is influenced by our belief system. These choices can eventually cause chemical modifications around the genes that will turn those genes on or off over time.  

We are all unique individuals with each of our own preferences and characteristics. The different combinations of genes that are turned on or off is what makes each one of us unique. Furthermore, there have been indications that some epigenetics changes can be inherited. Since beliefs are choices, we can theoretically influence our genes towards a healthy state.

In conclusion, the science has shattered the Central Dogma of molecular biology, proving that determinism- the belief that your genes control your health- is false. We actually have a great amount of control over how our genetic traits are expressed, by changing our thoughts and altering our diet and our environment. In 1988, the experiments of John Cairns demonstrated even primitive organisms can evolve “consciously”, as DNA changes in response to its environment. The cells “consciousness” lies in its membrane, which contains receptors that pick up various environmental signals. This mechanism controls the “reading” of the genes inside the cell. The work of Dr. Bruce Lipton and other epigenetics researchers show that the “environmental signals” also include thoughts and emotions- both of which have been shown to directly affect DNA expression. Epigenetics science reveals that you are an extension of your environment, which includes everything from your thoughts and belief systems. We have tremendous power to shape and direct our physical health. 

 

The Science of the Heart

The HeartMath Institute has conducted research on how our heart influences our brain. Most of us have been taught in school that the heart is constantly responding to “orders” sent by the brain in the form of neural signals. However, it is not as commonly know that the heart actually sends more signals to the brain that the brain sends to the heart! These heart signals have a significant effect on the brain function- influencing emotional processing as well as higher cognitive faculties such as attention, perception, memory, and problem-solving.

HeartMath research has demonstrated that different patterns of heart activity (which accompany different emotional states) have distinct effects on cognitive and emotional function. During stress and negative emotions, when the heart rhythm pattern is erratic and disordered, the corresponding pattern of neural signals traveling from the heart to the brain inhibits higher cognitive functions. This limits our ability to think clearly, remember, learn, reason, and make effective decisions. Research at the institute has shown that one of the most powerful factors that affect our heart’s changing rhythm is our feelings and emotions.

In contrast, the more ordered and stable the pattern of the heart’s input to the brain during positive emotional states has the opposite effect- it facilitates cognitive function and reinforces positive feelings and emotional stability. This means that learning to generate increased heart rhythm coherence, by sustaining positive emotions, not only benefits the entire body, but also profoundly affects how we perceive, think, feel and perform.

The Science of Emotions

A new study from a team of Finnish researchers has mapped emotions to where most people feel them in their own bodies. What turned out is that most of us feel our emotions in similar places. Feelings are a funny thing. Love and heartache both happen inside our heads, but they’re felt in very different places. Excitement and fear are two very different emotions, but they feel nearly identical. What is complicated is that feelings are subjective- it’s hard to know if other people feel things the same way we do.

 

Neuroscientist Lauri Nummenmaa of the University of Turku in Finland and a team of three other Finnish researchers have been working on the science of emotions since at least 2014 when they published a smaller body map showing where 14 “basic” and “nonbasic” emotions were felt in the body. In their new study in 2015, they examined 100 different feelings. Those feelings fell into seven categories: cognition, like thinking and reasoning; sensation and perception, like seeing and hearing; homeostatic states, meaning bodily functions like hunger and thirst; physiological processes, like sleeping and breathing; feelings associated with illnesses, likes coughing and fever; and feelings associated with psychiatric disorders, like depression and anxiety.  

Some of the locations were unsurprising: hunger was felt in the stomach, thirst in the throat, reasoning and recollection in the head. But others were more surprising, even if they made sense intuitively. The positive emotions of gratefulness and togetherness and the negative emotions of guilt and despair all looked remarkably similar, with feelings mapped primarily in the heart, followed by the head and stomach. Still, even when some feeling appeared similar, each one was unique when it came to precisely where and how intensely they happened. Most importantly, even those feelings we think are all in our head still create sensations in the rest of our body. Our human mind is strongly embodied.

 

Neuroplasticity (brain rewiring)

Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change continuously. Our brain can reorganize itself, both physically and functionally, throughout our life due to our environment, behavior, thinking, and emotions.

Dr. Sarah McKay, neuroscientist, say: “Plasticity dial back ‘ON’ in adulthood when specific conditions that enable or trigger plasticity are met. ‘What recent research has shown is that under the right circumstances, the power of brain plasticity can help adults minds grow. Although certain brain machinery tends to decline with age, there are steps people can take to tap into plasticity and reinvigorate that machinery,’ explains Merzenich. These circumstances include focused attention, determination, hard work and maintaining overall brain health.”

According to Dr. Michael Merzenich, a leading pioneer in brain plasticity research and co-founder of Posit Science, he lists ten core principles necessary for the remodeling of our brain to take place;

  1. Change is mostly limited to those situations in which the brain is in the mood for it. If you are alert, on the ball, engaged, motivated, ready for action, the brain releases the neurochemicals necessary to enable brain change. When disengaged, inattentive, distracted, or doing something without thinking that requires no real effort, your neuroplastic switches are “off.”
  2. The harder you try, the more you’re motivated, the more alert you are, and the better the potential outcome, the bigger the brain change.
  3. What actually changes in the brain are the strengths of the connections of neurons that are engaged together, moment by moment, in time. The more something is practiced, the more connections are changes and made to include all elements of the experience (sensory info, movement, cognitive patterns).
  4. Learning-driven changes in connections increase cell-to-cell cooperation which is crucial for increasing reliability. Merzenich explains this by asking you to imagine the sound of a football stadium full of fans all clapping at random versus the same people clapping in unison. He explains, “The more powerfully coordinated your nerve cell teams are, the more powerful and more reliable their behavioral productions.”
  5. The brain also strengthens its connections between teams of neurons representing separate moments of successive things that reliably occur in serial time. This allows your brain to predict what happens next and have continuous “associative flow”. Without this ability, your stream of consciousness would be reduced to “a series of separate, stagnations puddles,” explain Merzenich.
  6. Initial changes are temporary. Your brain first records the change, then determines whether it should make the change permanent or not. It only becomes permanent if your brain judges the experience to be fascination or novel enough of if the behavior outcome is important, good or bad.
  7. The brain is changed by internal rehearsal in the same ways and involving precisely the same processes that control changes achieved through interactions with the external world. According to Merzinech, “You don’t have to move and inch to drive positive plastic change in your brain. Your internal representations of things recalled from memory work just fine for progressive brain plasticity-based learning”.
  8. As you learn a new skill, your brain takes note of and remembers the good attempts, while discarding the not-so-good tries. Then, it recalls the last good pass, makes incremental adjustments, and progressively improves.
  9. Every movement of learning provides a moment of opportunity for the brain to stabilize- and reduce the disruptive power of- potentially interfering backgrounds or “noise.”
  10. Brain plasticity is a two-way street; it is just as easy to generate negative changes as it is positive ones. You have a “use it or lose it” brain. It’s almost as easy to drive changes that impair memory and physical and mental abilities as it is to improve these things. Merzenich says that older people are absolute masters at encouraging plastic brain change in the wrong direction.

 

When negative beliefs have been identified and understood, it is possible to retrain the brain to think otherwise, towards positive thoughts. The client must first have awareness of their negative thinking patterns and every time they notice their negative “chit-chat” they can focus their attention in a different direction. This is work and it demands that the client take responsibility for their progress. It is their mind after all. Every small step is important. The key is consistency and repetition. The client must value the change for the brain to make those changes.

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