Emotions are powerful. They are the basis for our connections to others and essential for our innate survival mechanisms. Emotions allow us to experience joy, happiness, compassion and empathy. They allow us to bond. Emotions bypass logic, but when regulated well, contribute to self-care, productivity and healthy relationships. However, when emotions inappropriately overwhelm logic, they can reduce a person’s ability to anticipate consequences, cause irrational reactions and get us into trouble.
Often, it’s hard to let go of past painful events. People often talk about their past when they’re feeling bad because it’s their negative emotions that connect them to the memories of their past. Going over and over these thoughts keeps you in the past; not just mentally, but emotionally and physically. It makes it nearly impossible to change your reality.
How Emotions Affect the Body
You think 60,000 to 70,000 thoughts every day and 90% of those thoughts are the same as the day before. Habit. If it’s true that your thoughts have an impact on what your future will be like, and almost all of your thoughts are the same as yesterday, then it makes sense that your life isn’t going to change much at all. Why is this? According to Dr Joe Dispenza, the same thoughts lead to the same choices, and the same choices lead to the same behaviours, which leads to the same experiences and the same emotions. Those familiar emotions then influence the same thoughts and we begin the cycle again.
Your thoughts and emotions trigger hormonal secretions, for example happiness sends a wave of endorphins, while worry floods the body with stress hormones. Your brain doesn’t know whether an event causing an emotional reaction is happening now, or is just a thought about a past (or future) event. So even if you’re just thinking about a painful event from the past, it will still have a physical effect on your body.
So imagine if you’re stuck in a pattern of negative thoughts about the past like I was. I was in an abusive relationship with an alcoholic during 2018 to early 2020. Now despite all the pain he put me through, there was love there, but one day he disappeared. Well “coincidently” a few days after I told him he needed to stop this bad behaviour, he dumped me over Facebook and I haven’t seen him since.
This was traumatic, mainly because I don’t know why, and that’s the difficult part, no answers. This caused a lot of negative thoughts and unanswered questions that I went over and over in my mind for months and months. This caused me to go further back in time and beat myself up about red flags I ignored and why I allowed this monster into my life in the first place.
Can Emotions Make You Sick?
Being stuck in negative thought patterns like this had a physiological effect on my body. My constant thoughts about this relationship caused ongoing stress to my body. My thoughts would be triggering my brain to believe that I was still in these bad situations, even though it was all in my head. But the brain doesn’t know this. It just does what it’s supposed to do. It believes I am under stress so it releases stress hormones.
Stress hormones are useful and they keep us alive when there’s a REAL danger present. I’m not going to use the tiger example, everyone uses that. Lets go with spiders, they cause me stress! You know how you react when you walk through a spider web? You start jumping around like a maniac, hitting yourself in an attempt to get a possible spider off your body, screaming at your friend to check your back immediately! I guess this example is only relevant to those of us who are petrified of spiders.
Anyway, that surge of energy when under stress is useful in dangerous situations. Fear and stress shut down your immune system, reduce digestion and constrict blood vessels in the torso so that blood flow increases to the arms and legs, where it’s needed to defend or run. Fight or flight. This means that the digestive system had minimal blood flow as it’s not needed during times of stress and the immune system isn’t defending against pathogens as effectively. The brain also ceases to use conscious reasoning, and focuses on pure automatic reaction as this is much faster and necessary in dangerous situations.
Now all of this is very effective at saving our lives and the body recovers just fine from short bursts of stress with adequate recovery time. However, when stress becomes chronic, which it can from ongoing negative thinking, worry, and any perceived modern-day stress, the body remains in this fight or flight response which it isn’t designed to do.
Remaining in this chronic state of stress can lead to illness. The immune and digestive systems are much less effective in this state, opportunistic pathogens may take advantage, digestive issues may arise due to poor blood flow, and the body will remain in a state of inflammation which is the beginning of many diseases.
It’s easy to overlook thoughts as a potential cause of disease, but it can begin there if you allow negative though patterns to control your life. Of course, there are countless other mechanisms that contribute to disease, it becomes like a snowball effect as one leads to the other.
Getting Out of Negative Thought Patterns
Just like drugs, emotions can become additive. In emotional addiction you become “hooked” on feeling a familiar way, or automatically responding to the powerful emotional pull. Emotional addiction leaves you at the mercy of feelings provoked by circumstances that can be either real or imaginary, and your perceptions of these events. Overwhelming emotions easily cloud judgement and may cause you to react like a loony towards loved ones. But rather than reacting to impulses, you can stop and make sensible decisions.
I believe I was, or still am addicted to my negative emotions from my past relationship. I look at the logic of it all and it makes no sense to continue to allow some nut from my past to influence my present and future. Yet I so easily get caught up in it all. The answer is very simple, yet not so simple to put into action. It’s the answer I knew all along, but I didn’t want to hear it; and it takes work and persistence.
I’m sure you’ve already heard it before. It’s called a few things, mindfulness, or staying present, or remaining in the now. And despite how long I battled this idea, it actually does work. It takes time, practice and patience, and I’m nowhere near a professional at it! But every time I notice my thoughts going back into that negative space of my past, I say “Where are you Nikky?” Which makes me laugh at myself, here I go again. Then I realise I need to come back to now and focus on what I’m doing now. Suddenly you realise how much time you spend in the past!
When you do bring yourself back to the present, you have reclaimed the energy that you have been wasting on events that don’t exist anymore. This energy can go into what’s important to you now. What you want to achieve and change to create a better future for yourself. New thoughts. If we go back to Dr Joe's example but in a positive way, different thoughts lead to different choices, and different choices lead to different behaviours; resulting in new experiences and sparkling new emotions!
I have no idea how long this process takes. But persistence does work, it’s how the subconscious mind learns. But remember, you will fail many times; I have failed more than I have succeeded so far by getting caught up in the drama. But every time you notice your thoughts in that negative space and you bring yourself out of it, that’s a victory and you deserve chocolate! I mean you deserve to congratulate yourself.
Our beliefs are one of the most important factors that shape our behaviour. Our beliefs are what impact our thoughts and actions, and we’re often not even aware of how they affect us. Because our beliefs are stored in our subconscious, they are like little automatic programs that control our actions, thoughts and emotions. The majority of our beliefs are formed during childhood and usually come from the adults who had the most influence over us at the time, such as parents, caregivers, teachers and authority figures.
I had a dream recently where a sentence came to me that I couldn’t get out of my head, “You are what you believe and you believe what you are”. Cool, ok. I am what I believe, makes sense really. If I believe I can’t do something then I'll struggle to do it. Or if I believe I have a big nose, then I’ll perceive myself as having a big nose, even if I don't. We’ve all been there. Maybe not the nose thing, I don’t think I have a big nose. Now I’m wondering if I have a big nose.
Anyway, it’s the second part that hurt my brain. “You believe what you are”. It seems to contradict the first part. Or at least trap you in an ongoing loop. If I believe what I am, and I am what I believe, so what I believe becomes what I am, yet what I am is what I believe. So how do I change what I believe to become something new if I believe what I am already?
At first, I thought, easy, just change what I believe. But this became confusing. If I am what I believe (big nose Nikky), then I’m going to believe what I am (big nose Nikky). Maybe that’s why it’s so difficult to consciously change your beliefs. It’s hard to believe what you can’t see, and easy to believe what you can see.
Although this is a very simple example, I’m sure it’s a lot more complicated. And because our beliefs are stored in our subconscious, we're often not aware of them and it’s difficult (but not impossible) to change.
Identifying and Changing Beliefs
Firstly, how do you become aware of your beliefs when you can’t consciously access them? You could try hypnotism, but you don’t need to. You don’t really need to know the specifics, just look around you, look at your life. Your beliefs are right there in front of you. You are what you believe right? So, look at your life. If there’s something that comes easily to you, a skill, money, anything, you must have a supportive belief here. For example, chocolate comes easily to me. Somewhere in my subconsciousness I must believe that I deserve a lot of chocolate. I like that belief.
Ok, be serious now. I guess we're supposed to be looking for the beliefs that affect us in a negative way. What we want to change. I struggle with procrastination when I want to begin writing something new. I’ll often eat chocolate to distract myself, you know, because I deserve chocolate! But somewhere in my subconscious I must have a belief that I’m not good enough to write, or that I suck at writing, or I don’t deserve to succeed. I don’t think that I need to know exactly what the believe is, just the general gist of it. But I’m proving that I am what I believe and I believe what I am because I get stuck in this procrastination loop for weeks before I finally begin a new project. I’m reinforcing this belief. Good one Nikky.
So how to change these unwanted beliefs? You may have consciously tried to change certain beliefs and found it nearly impossible. I’m impatient, if I don’t want to believe something anymore then I think I should be able to instantly change that belief, it’s my mind after all. Unfortunately, I learned that it doesn’t work like that. Dammit.
Living in the Subconscious Mind
During the first seven years of life the brain is in theta waves, the world of the subconscious mind. Before you become “conscious” you live in theta from the ages of 0-7. During this stage, children are more connected to their inner world. They live in a world of imagination and abstract, rational thinking hasn’t developed yet and they believe almost everything they are told.
During these initial seven years, everything a child sees, hears and experiences has a long lasting impact, as it’s stored in their subconscious. These subconscious "programs" will go on to form their beliefs, determining a lot of their behaviour and habits as adults.
According to Stem Cell Biologist and Author, Dr Bruce Lipton, as adults we spend 95% of our time living in the subconscious mind, basically on auto pilot. The majority of us are so preoccupied with thoughts of the past, daydreaming, or worrying about the future that we allow the subconscious mind to take over. Therefore, our subconscious mind is responsible for almost all of our actions, decisions, behaviours and emotions.
The conscious mind is who we really are, your identity, your spirit. It holds you wishes, aspirations and desires. The conscious mind is very creative, working in conjunction with the subconscious mind. This is why you can hold a conversation and still walk or drive your car without thinking about it. You learnt how to walk or drive your car a long time ago, and this was stored in your subconscious so you don’t have to consciously think about it anymore. But there’s a hell of a lot more stored in your subconscious mind that may or may not serve you well, such as habits, fears and beliefs.
Teaching the Subconscious Mind
The subconscious mind has very little creativity. It’s where habits and patterns are formed, and is much more powerful than the conscious mind. When you learn something complex, the subconscious mind remembers it as a program. Without your subconscious mind you’d have to re-learn how to walk each morning when you got out of bed; and that would suck.
So, if my habits and beliefs were learned and stored away during the ages of 0-7 then that’s it, I’m stuffed. I can’t change it now, can I? Actually, I can, it’s just not as simple as it was before the age of seven.
The conscious and subconscious minds do not learn in the same way. The conscious mind is very creative and can learn by reading, watching a video or attending a lecture. The subconscious mind is a habit mind. It’s a lot more difficult to change the subconscious mind (a bit like me), it’s resistant to change (a bit like me), but it’s definitely possible. Once you recognise what you want to change, it’s all about repetition.
You may read a self help book and your conscious mind will understand it completely, but nothing in your life changes. This is because you only read it once and this is not how the subconscious mind learns. If you repeat the message over and over, or practice the new habit over and over, then eventually the subconscious mind will cotton on. This is why we almost always fall back into old patterns. It’s not easy to stick to a new belief or behaviour long enough for it to take hold.
I guess this also works the other way around. Bad habits stick because we keep reinforcing them by repeating them over and over, so the subconscious mind will hang on to that. So, to break it, you need to stop and replace it with something else. I guess I could replace my procrastination habit with not procrastinating, but in my opinion, chocolate can play a part in both habits.
So, you really are what you believe and you believe what you are. But now I understand how to jump into that belief loop and create a new belief loop, or just eat some Fruit Loops.