Positive Messaging And Its Effect On The Brain

Are you wondering what effect positive self-talk has on the brain? Find out how emotions alter the structure and biochemistry of the brain and hormones and how self-talk literally shapes your body and brain.
Animation of a heart and a brain walking hand in hand

Thoughts Create Our Reality

Quantum physicists are quick to tell us: thoughts create our reality. This is something that we all know, but often forget.

For example, think of a time when you thought something would be easy, ‘a piece of cake.’ My guess is, you did it effortlessly.

Now, think of a time when you imagined something would be challenging, difficult, and problematic. Oops. You were right again.

Was it the event? Was it the conversation or interaction? Or was it your mindset that laid the blueprint, set the coordinates, and created the impression of ease or difficulty?

As it turns out, our experience of events is intricately linked to our thoughts, feelings, images, and physiology.

Molecules Of Emotion

The mind-body connection is not just a concept, it’s a fact proven by science. Dr, Candace Pert, an American neuroscientist and author of Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel the Way You Feel has studied this connection for decades. She has researched how feelings and thoughts trigger specific biochemical responses.

In simple terms, Pert explains that emotions, feelings, and thoughts promote positive or negative moods. This affects our state of well-being. Thoughts and feelings impact our brains, organs, and bodily systems with multiple feedback loops. It’s only our language, not our biochemistry, that keeps the mind-body in separate lanes.

The Brain Changes Itself

According to Dr. Norman Doidge, author of The Brain That Changes Itself the brain literally changes it’s function and structure, with thoughts and imaginations. This means that our thinking, self-talk, and visualizations are not just random fluff that floats by without an impact. Instead, our self-talk has a functional and structural effect.

Our thoughts direct the shape, function of our brains.

I don’t know about you. But this makes me sit up straighter. It makes me want to understand how this works. I’ve got to take a closer look.

Let’s do that now.

Neurophysiology of Self-Talk

How we speak to ourselves, negatively or positively, affects our mood, emotions, and physical functioning. This has broad impact as neurotransmitters and hormones touch every aspect of our health. This includes for example: heart health, digestion, weight gain or loss, anxiety, energy, mood and focus.

Negative Self-Talk

Speaking negatively to yourself might look like a little thing. But it has far-reaching effects. Here’s a snapshot:

A stressful internal dialogue creates a perception of danger. This triggers the release of cortisol, a stress hormone. In addition, it pushes the adrenal glands to increase the release of catecholamines: dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.

Elevated cortisol can decrease the actual volume of the left pre-frontal cortex of the brain. This is the part of the brain associated with positive emotions.

Essentially, negative inner dialogue activates a cycle of stress.

Negative self-talk creates physiological responses that impact the brain and nervous system. These in turn contribute to seeing circumstances in a negative light—such as perceiving that you’re not good enough, strong enough, or resilient enough.

Positive Self-Talk

Now, let’s look at the flip side: positive self-talk.

When we’re speaking to ourselves in calm, gentle, and encouraging ways—our body responds. Neurotransmitters such as GABA and Serotonin are released. These keep anxiety in check and generate feelings of self-worth. Our level of happiness rises.

Uplifting neurotransmitters such as dopamine promote motivation, drive and interest. When we’re feeling in love, everything seems possible, do-able and inviting. We’re happy, engaged, and participating in life.

Talking To Your Best Friend

Dr. Kristin Neff, known for her work on self-compassion, advises talking to yourself like you would talk to your best friend.

It makes sense, really. We can get upset with other people because they say something that seems careless, rude, or thoughtless. However, if your best friend was listening in your inner dialogue, they’d be shocked.

We can be highly critical, judgmental, and downright nasty to ourselves. Not just occasionally. It’s quite common for people to be very hard on themselves. It might be the words you use ‘shoulds’ or ‘shouldn’ts,’ and a lot of swearing. It could be a judgmental tone. It might be cold and demanding, with impossibly perfectionist standards. If this sounds familiar, you can fill in the blanks.

Neff outlines methods for changing critical self-talk. As this kind of inner dialogue may be quite familiar, the first step to resolving it is awareness. With curiosity, interest, and ongoing compassion, it is possible to change critical self-talk for gentle, encouraging, and positive self-compassion.

What We Tell Ourselves

Thinking, feeling and speaking to ourselves positively is a smart investment. You’re investing in not only feeling good in the moment, you’re investing in tangible benefits: happiness, health, brain function, brain structure, organ health, and overall systemic health.

Positive self-talk has many rewards including feeling upbeat, joyful, full of energy, motivated, and open to new experiences.

If it’s not your natural instinct, or you tend to be more pessimistic, take heart. It can take time and energy to build a new habit. However, with steady focus and diligent practice, experts assure us that positive self-talk can become a new home-zone.

With practice, you can learn to have a positive inner dialogue. This is likely to increase your chances of feeling a sense of well-being.

This is especially important as we age, and experts advise this helps with managing uncertainty. Without question, we are encountering unprecedented uncertainty. It is a good time to reflect on areas of life that we can control, influence and manage.

While we may not be able to change the weather, climate, public health, or broader issues—one thing is certain. We can influence how we speak to ourselves. This is entirely up to us. It is fully within our sphere of control and influence.

Like transforming any habit, this may take some awareness, practice, and time.

Assistance Club Summary

The #1 idea: What you say to yourself really does matter.

Take time to learn the skills of positive self-talk. Practice talking to yourself with care, compassion, and kindness. It may feel funny or a bit odd at first. However, you’ll get better at it with practice.

As you think, imagine, and speak positively to yourself, the brain changes. It literally changes physical structure. This has a positive impact on your health, energy, and well-being.