Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Mental energy - What drains it and what renews it

Mental energy is your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes. It is the self-talk that runs through your head when you silently converse with yourself. A full reservoir of mental energy leads to greater clarity of thought, greater creativity, better performance, stronger focus, a greater ratio of successes to failures, more flexibility of thought, and realistic optimism grounded in your past successes.

You use up your mental energy by thinking negative thoughts, focusing on the same task for more than 1 ½ hours, shallow breathing, and being overwhelmed by stress.

You gain mental energy by becoming aware of your Gremlin thoughts and rewriting them as positive and supportive. You create more cognitive energy by consciously redirecting your attention from negative thoughts towards positive thoughts. Your mental energy grows though the use of your imagination and visualization exercises that will be discussed later in this chapter. Mental energy is replenished through deep breathing, relaxation exercises, stretching and exercise.

Mental energy is made up of those functions which take place in the brain and the mind – your cognitive processes. While the emotional brain (the right side of the brain) works in an associative manner, the thinking brain (the left side) works in a linear and logical manner. The primary functions of the thinking brain are to analyze, plan, reflect upon, memorize, prioritize, compare and sort incoming data from our senses and prior experiences and arrange that data into meaningful chunks, such as perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. The brain helps us to make sense of past, current and future situations by using data from our past experiences as well as sensory data. Of course, the brain also regulates many of our bodily functions.

The brain is the most complex system known to humankind. It contains over one hundred billion neurons, or brain cells. When put together end-to-end, there are more than 2 miles of brain cells in your head. Each brain cell has an average of ten thousand connections to other brain cells. That means that there are more connections in your brain than there are stars in the universe.

The simple fact that there is more of anything in my head and that it works even remotely correctly is absolutely awe-inspiring to me. The fact that I can communicate with you by writing or speaking and you can understand what I am conveying is amazing. To me, this is perhaps the greatest proof of a higher power – that there are more connections in my brain than there are stars in the universe and that I can move my body, laugh, run, and speak is truly a miracle and a gift.

However, the brain does not work perfectly. The brain artificially pieces together a respectable version of reality by analyzing and reconstructing millions of pieces of partial truths and incomplete sensory data. Given the complexity of the task, the brain does an admirable job of creating a somewhat cohesive representation of reality. Yet, it’s not perfect. Our perception of reality is not 100% accurate. There is a great deal of room for operator error and individual interpretation.

Your senses take in over 4 million bits of information per second. You are aware of only 2,000 of those 4 million bits. These 2,000 tiny pieces of information are filtered and selected based upon your preconceived notions, judgments, emotions, and thoughts.

Think about that for a moment. You are aware of less than 1 percent of the total information that comes in through your senses. So what you pay attention to matters enormously in terms of how you view the reality around you. Another way of looking at this is that you create your own reality by what you attend to, how well you manage your emotions, and the content of your thoughts.

By focusing on certain situational elements (e.g., “I’m running late.”), cultivating a particular outlook (e.g., “People are out to get me.”) and holding on to old ways of thinking (e.g., “Life is meaningless.”), you create one reality. This is probably the reality that you are in right now. However, this is only one version of reality out of many.

By changing your outlook (e.g., from pessimistic to optimistic), or by discovering more optimistic ways of thinking (e.g., meaning exists in every situation), or by focusing on situations in a new way, you can literally change the world around you. For instance, you are waiting in line at the bank and the line is moving painfully slowly. You can choose to focus your thinking on elements that will worsen or improve your emotional state. Thoughts that typically will worsen your emotional state include the following:

“This always happens to me.”
“I am going to be late for my meeting.”
“I don’t have time for this.”
“I am not putting up with this anymore. I am changing banks.”

On the other hand, here are some thoughts that will improve your emotional state while waiting in line:

“This line isn’t a big deal. I can wait.”
“I’ll take this time to focus on my breathing.”
“I’m sure the bank teller is working as quickly as he can.”
“If I’m a few minutes late for the meeting, it won’t be the end of the world.”

By changing your thoughts, you can create new versions of reality for yourself. You can cultivate optimism, remind yourself to slow down and breathe, calm yourself, and negate catastrophic thoughts.

There is not one objective reality. There are actually billions of different realities because each one of us creates our own version based on our unique set of prior experiences and tendencies. The experiences, feelings and attitudes which we bring to the situation shape and filter our view of reality.

If you'd like to hear more about the power of negative and positive thinking, please take a look at the top-selling Guide To Self radio shows at

Have a wonderful day!

Dr. John
Guide To Self(C) 2005.


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