Are your thoughts ageing you?
Thoughts are invisible and immeasurable yet, that doesn't mean they are not incredibly powerful—everything we have created begun as a thought. Anyone who has meditated for some time begins to realise the untamed nature of the mind.
Thoughts seem to descend on us endlessly. Some beneficial, many not. Our brain is wired to keep us alive and conditioned by thousands of years of looking for possible dangers; it's no surprise that most of our thoughts can be negative. You may have noticed that you attract more negativity when you are in a negative frame of mind. If you are unaware of your negative thought patterns, you will create pathways in your mind leading to more negative thoughts - 'neurons that fire together wire together'. This is why it is essential to become aware of what your brain is doing when it's on autopilot.
The good news is that the opposite is true - we can train our brains to be in a state where more gratitude and positivity can surface and lay down pathways for that to become our default setting.
Western science is only now starting to understand how our thoughts affect our body. Something that has been known and studied in the East for thousands of years.
The power of your mind
Some of my favourite studies on the power of the mind over the body were conducted by Nobel Prize-winning scientist Elizabeth Blackburn and health psychologist Elissa Epel. They looked at the effects of our thoughts on our telomeres - telomeres are a strong indicator of our biological age.
They shorten as we age due to oxidative stress-mediated DNA damage. Telomere shortening is associated with ageing, mortality and ageing-related diseases.
Not surprisingly, our telomeres can change depending on the foods we eat, the exercise we do and our overall environment. What wasn't known is how much of an impact our thoughts have.
The findings have been startling - "People who score high on measures of cynical hostility have shorter telomeres. 'People with cynical hostility tend to get more cardiovascular disease and metabolic disease and often die younger. They also have shorter telomeres.
'In a study of British civil servants, men who scored high on measures of cynical hostility had shorter telomeres than men whose hostility scores were low. The most hostile men were 30 percent more likely to have a combination of short telomeres.'
Negative thoughts that lead to negative emotions which shorten your life by directly impacting your physiology. What's empowering about this knowledge is that positive thought driven by a neural or optimistic outlook can protect your telomeres, slowing down the ageing process even reversing it in some instances.
This highlights that ageing is a dynamic process and very much within your control.
You can watch a fantastic Ted Talk with Elizabeth Blackburn here.
Given that our thoughts have such a powerful impact on our ageing process, what other effects can they have on our body's ability to heal itself?
And, what will be discovered by science in the coming decades? I think we're just starting to glimpse at the possibilities of our mind to heal our body and even create our very reality.
Considering what's currently going on in the world, we're all experiencing new levels of stress. Now more than ever, it's essential for us to focus on what's positive in our lives. To know what we can control and what we can't and release the tension around the latter.
Things that have helped me become more aware of my thoughts
Simple things that have helped me become more aware of my thoughts and subsequent emotions is my daily practice of meditation. It has taught me to catch extended periods of negative thinking. I know I have very little control of what pops into my head, but I can become aware of it. Being aware, I can then tell myself; it's 'another one of those'. This stops my thoughts from hijacking my consciousness and takes me out of a reactive mode.
Mindful moments, yes, I know, it's been said a million times. To me, mindfulness involves placing my awareness outside of myself and not simply going on thinking autopilot. An example is- when I'm walking, I try to be aware of the trees. To experience the wind on my face and to feel the ground under my feet. It takes practice, but when I am conscious like this, it anchors me in the moment.