Excerpt from Awakening the Brain
There is a concept in neuropsychology called Theory of Mind, which is considered to be one of the brain’s functions. We all have a theory about what is in the minds of other people. After years of knowing each other, we think we know what is in the mind of our parents, children, partners, or colleagues. We develop a theory based on past experience of what they like and don’t like and what they have or have not experienced in life. We have a theory about what is in their mind and in our own.
In your brain, that theory represents a neural network of connections that access many varied experiences you have had with and without another person, which is the basis for your interpretation of them. This Theory of Mind is part of what I am thinking about when I talk about the “eyes” you see with. Often we think we know what is going on with someone we have known well, only to discover a whole new dimension of their experience or thinking that is only now surfacing. Where we get in trouble is when we think we know what is happening and are no longer open to the growth and change in others, holding them back from moving into a new dimension of themselves because our theory of mind is not open to change.
The “eyes” of a scientist or an explorer, on the other hand, are looking for the signs of new discovery. This is the “how” of your focus in contrast to the “what” you focus on. Letting my mind wander during acupuncture had been a habit that often produced good insight into the meaning of conversations and ideas for treatment plans. But on that day, indulging in mind wandering was a whole new experience. I was developing a fresh theory about how my thoughts and emotions affect my body as I watched my muscles respond to those thoughts and emotions. It is often the experience we don’t want that really gets our attention.
Because of that experience, the way I viewed my thoughts and my cough expanded my theory of my own mind, the role of emotions embedded in the thoughts, and the ability I had to influence my body. That insight gave me a whole new dimension of information for my theory about me and my ability to regulate myself. If you can be aware of your thoughts and the emotions they activate in your body, you can use that information to regulate your autonomic nervous system and stay in a state of optimal arousal.
Have there been times when you have felt sensations in your body as you anticipated something coming up in your day? If the sensations were exciting, inspiring, or hopeful, did it help to stay in touch with them as your day progressed until you got there? Having something to look forward to enhances everything else you are doing. If the thought turned your stomach, tightened your shoulders, or caused your heart to pound with anxiety, did you listen and let go of those sensations before engaging in the next thing? It doesn’t work to your advantage to take an anticipated problem into an unrelated situation. Shift your state and focus on why you want to be where you are and give your best to it. Don’t let your thoughts and emotions work against you. You can take charge of them.
This also leads me to thoughts on what it means to use only 10 percent of one’s brain. When I am in a rejuvenating activity like acupuncture, which opens the flow of energy in my body, but I am entertaining worrisome thoughts that trigger body-tensing emotions, very little of my focus is on the reason I am there, and the internal climate I am creating is the opposite of my declared intention. My full brain is not accessing my full nervous system and body to align with my intention. Then I am actually working against myself by splitting my focus and applying only a small portion of my brain power, awareness, and felt sense to what I say I want. There is often a whole lot going on in there that we are completely unaware of but can awake to and direct.
Knowledge is power. When you are sensitive enough to be aware of the emotional effects your thoughts have on your body, you are finally in a position to have some neurochoice about regulating that process in the direction of the outcome you want. Now that you more fully understand what is going on in your brain and body, you have the ability to exercise neurochoice to do something about it.