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Research Paper


E-ISSN No : 2454-9916 | Volume : 3 | Issue : 7 | July 2017


Dr. Preetha Menon Assistant Professor (Sr. Gr.), Amrita Darshanam – International Center for Spiritual Studies, Amritapuri, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Amrita University, India . ABSTRACT Research indicates that by a phenomenon called neuroplasticity, the brain is capable of rewiring as a result of continuous and persistent practice which manifests itself as a change in behaviour of the person. It can be inferred that a similar condition can be brought about by regularly following a 'Thought Diet'. Going by the maxim, 'We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think', consciously and persistently having optimistic and proactive thoughts, one can change the brain wiring and attain a default positive orientation towards life which can have numerable benefits in all phases of life. A brief review of literature on neuroplasticity and the effects of negative and the positive thoughts have been included. The importance of spirituality in youngsters has been addressed. The article implies the importance of evolving training modules of 'Thought Diet' for youngsters and school children. The article includes recommendations for areas of future research and for current applied practice. KEY WORDS: Neuroplasticity, Thought Diet, Behavioural Responses, Negative and Positive Thoughts, Spirituality. INTRODUCTION: There is so much literature available on nutritious diet, diet for building stamina, diet for reducing weight, diet for beauty etc. We are bombarded with cookery shows on every other national and state television channels. Except for a few motivational programmes on some channels, very little do we find programmes on developing positive thoughts. We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world Buddha This revelation from the quintessential Buddha drives home the fact that we are the result of the thoughts we harbour. Rewiring the Brain Neuroplasticity or cortical plasticity refers to the ability of the brain to reorganize neural pathways according to new experiences. It is the capacity to change through learning experiences, and learning means acquiring new knowledge and new skills, benefiting from instructions or experience. The phenomena of learning, memorizing, acquiring new knowledge and skills correspond to structural and functional changes in the brain. Research developments confirm that neuroplasticity is present all through our lives, whenever we are learning or memorizing something new. Empirical data have been overthrowing the centuries-old notion that the human brain would be immutable. Neuroplasticity has been considered as one of the most extraordinary discoveries of the 20th century (Doidge, 2007). Research on neuroimaging fetched Eric Kandel in 2000, Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine. His research confirmed the human brain's power of neuroplasticity and its ability to change its structure and function in response to experience. Every new experience demands an effort of adaptation, inducing the process of integrating new information, i.e. a learning process. Learning, as well as thinking and acting, may change both the brain's functional and physical anatomy (Duman, Nakagawa and Malberg, 2001). Over the past decade, neuroplasticity research has enriched the biopsychosocial perspective by demonstrating that psychosocial experiences not only influence neurobiological processes but may actually change the structure of the adult brain. These structural changes consist of increased arborization of neurons, enhanced synaptic connectivity, and even the genesis of new neural tissue. Although neuroplasticity research is in its infancy, recent findings suggest that the effects of psychosocial experiences such learning and mental training on cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functions may be mediated by alterations to the architecture of the brain (Garland and Howard, 2009).When the nervous system changes, there is often a correlated change in behaviour or psychological function. This behavioural change is known by names such as learning, memory, addiction, maturation, and recovery. When individuals learn new motor skills, such as in playing a musical instrument, there are plastic changes in the structure of cells in the nervous system that underlie the motor skills. It now appears that virtually any manipulation that produces an enduring change in behaviour leaves an anatomical footprint in the brain (Kolb, Gibb and Robinson, 2003).

Recent discoveries in neuroplasticity prove the phrase “mind over matter.” By consciously having repeated thoughts and repeated motor actions, one can rewire the physical brain to some extent. These changes could be monitored with neuroimaging studies (Hall, 2008). It was found that factors such as environmental enrichment, exercise, and learning, and treatment approaches such as Electro Convulsive Therapy and long-term antidepressant administration have been associated with increased neurogenesis; whereas chronic stress, illness, and depression have been correlated with decreased neurogenesis (Kays, Hurley and Taber, 2012). In nutrition, the word diet implies the intake of specific nutrition for health or for weight-management. In the current context, we use the words Thought Diet to imply harbouring specific healthy thoughts on a regular basis for mental health and management of emotions. Research findings on neuroplasticity have immense implications on evolving training modules of 'Thought Diet' for youngsters and school children. Though individual thought processes are different, there could be a creative selection of the parameters catering to groups and sections of individuals. For example, 'Thought Diet' for prosocial behaviour, compassion, leadership etc. could be evolved incorporating elements of visualization and affirmations. Debilitating Effects of Negative Thoughts Chronic stress relates to how we manage problems. The longer our stress periods last, the more damage it does to our mind and bodies. Stress can also make our existing problems worse (Salleh, 2008). Studies show that unmanaged stress can cause heart attacks, arrhythmias, and even sudden death (Krantz, Whittaker and Sheps, 2011).Our thoughts affect us physically and emotionally (Correa, Paso, Leon and Jareno, 2010) and the average person is said to have over 30,000 thoughts a day. If most of those thoughts are negative in nature, it would be like consuming poison. Scientists are discovering the precise pathways by which changes in human consciousness (thinking) produce changes in our brain and bodies (Ornstein and Sobel, 1999; Chopra,1994). This consciousness activates our genes and changes our brain. Science even shows that thoughts, with their embedded feelings, turn sets of genes on and off in complex relationships (Garland and Howard, 2009). A study on the “Local and nonlocal effects of coherent heart frequencies on Conformational Changes of DNA”, showed that feelings of anger, fear and frustration caused DNA change shape. The DNA tightened up, became shorter and switched off many DNA codes, which affected the quality of expression. It was surprising to note that the poor quality of the DNA codes was reversed with feelings of love, joy, appreciation and gratitude. The researchers also found that HIV positive patients harboring positive thoughts and feelings had more immunity (Rein and Mccraty, 2001). Genetic and environmental factors, including diet and life-style, both contribute to cardiovascular disease, cancers, and other major causes of mortality, but various lines of evidence indicate that environmental factors are most important. Overly enthusiastic expectations regarding the benefits of genetic research for disease prevention have the potential to distort research priorities and spending for health. It has been found that only 5% of cancer and cardiovascular patients can attribute their disease to hereditary factors (Willett, 2002).

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International Education & Research Journal [IERJ]


Research Paper

E-ISSN No : 2454-9916 | Volume : 3 | Issue : 7 | July 2017

Interpersonal lapses frequently ruin relationships. Theorists hold that the responses victims adopt toward their offenders have ramifications not only for their understanding, but also for their emotion, physiology, and health. A study examined the emotional and physiological effects that resulted when participants rehearsed hurtful memories and nursed grudges compared with when they developed empathic perspective taking and imagined granting forgiveness toward real-life offenders. Unforgiving thoughts induced aversive emotion, and significantly higher corrugator electromyogram (EMG), skin conductance, heart rate, and blood pressure changes from baseline. Forgiving thoughts evoked greater perceived control and lower physiological stress responses (Witvliet, Ludwig and Laan, 2001). Chronic stress may cause disease, either because of changes in the body or because of the habits they resort to (like overeating and smoking) for coping with stress. Job strain coupled with lowered decision-making choices is associated with increased risk of coronary disease (Krantz and McCeney, 2002). Effects of Positive Thoughts A Canadian study looked at health outcomes of over 1,700 adults for ten years. Findings show an association between “positive affect” –feelings of joy, contentment and happiness and reduced risk of heart disease, a common result of stress (Davidson, Mostofsky and Whang, 2010). About half of the participants in a study had fewer instances of chronic headaches after learning how to control “catastrophizing,” or constantly having negative thoughts about their pain (Thorn et al., 2007). In another study, researchers examined the association between “positive affect” — feelings like happiness, joy, contentment and enthusiasm — and the development of coronary heart disease over a decade. They found that for every one-point increase in positive affect on a five-point scale, the rate of heart disease dropped by 22 percent (Davidson, Mostofsky and Whang, 2010). Positive emotions bring in feel good factor in individuals. Plus, the balance of people's positive and negative emotions contributes to their judgments of life satisfaction (Diener and Larsen, 1993). Researches have demonstrated that individuals experiencing positive emotions exhibited patterns of thought that are significantly broadened and diverse (Isen, Johnson, Mertz and Robinson, 1985), flexible (Isen and Daubman, 1984), creative (Isen, Daubman and Nowicki, 1987), integrative (Isen, Rosenzweig and Young, 1991), open to information (Estrada, Isen and Young, 1997), and efficient (Isen and Means, 1983). People experiencing positive emotions show increased preference for variety of behavioural interests (Cunningham, 1988; Kahn and Isen, 1993). Isen has suggested that positive emotions produce a “broad, flexible cognitive organization, and ability to integrate diverse material” (Isen, 1990). Research indicates that positive emotions could enable increases in dopamine levels (Ashby, Isen and Turken, 1999). The broadened thought–action repertoires accompanying positive emotions are thought to be important because they can build a variety of enduring personal resources. Being playful, for instance, can build physical resources (Boulton and Smith, 1992), social resources (Aron, Norman, Aron, McKenna and Heyman, 2000) and intellectual resources (Leslie, 1987; Panksepp, 1998). In an experiment done with 104 college students who viewed a film that elicited (a) amusement, (b) contentment, (c) neutrality, (d) anger, or (e) anxiety, it was found that, compared to neutral and negative states, positive emotions broadened the scope of their attention (Fredrickson and Branigan, 2005). Researches show the physical and emotional benefits of faster recovery from cardiovascular stress, a greater sense of overall happiness (Herrald andTomaka, 2002; Fredrickson, 2001). Positive attitudes such as gratitude, serenity and feelings of connectedness to others have been found to impact health and wellbeing, and they could be developed and practiced (Fredrickson, 2013; Diener and Chan, 2011). Fredrickson and her colleagues claims that in order to neutralise the negativity bias and experience a harmonious emotional state, we need to experience three positive emotions for every negative one. This could be done consciously by individuals who are “wired” for positivity. These positive emotions counterpoise the physical effects of negativity and help build psychological resources that contribute to a fulfilling life (Fredrickson, Mancuso, Branigan and Tugade, 2000). It is not just the foods we eat that can lead to elevated levels of 'bad' cholesterol. If we have a positive, upbeat outlook, we will more than likely experience lowered cholesterol levels and better heart health (Boehm et al., 2013). Intervening Effects of Psychological Interventions Participation of individuals in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction was found to be associated with changes in grey matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking (Holzel et al., 2011). Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is basically about managing one's problems by changing the way one thinks and behaves. Neural reactivity in the amygdala has been found to be excessive in patients with anxiety disorders. Findings of the study suggest improvement-related structural plasticity impacting neural responsiveness within the amygdala, as a result of intervention involving CBT (Mansson et al., 2016).


The goal of the study done by Paquette et al. (2003) on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which constituted the neuroimaging investigation of the effects of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) using an emotional activation paradigm, was to investigate the impact of CBT on the neural correlates of spider phobia. Findings suggest that a psychotherapeutic approach, such as CBT, has the potential to modify the dysfunctional neural circuitry associated with anxiety disorders. They indicated that the changes made at the thought level, within a psychotherapeutic context, were able to functionally rewire the brain. Psychotherapeutic interventions involving Behaviour Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (Porto et al., 2009), Transactional Analysis, Gestalt Therapy and Multimodal Therapy are all effective in bringing about changes in the thought process of clients thereby being agents of change in their neural circuitry, manifested as adaptive behavioural changes ( Messina, Sambin, Palmieri and Viviani, 2013). Spirituality Starts from Spiritual Thoughts Spirituality encompasses a sense of interconnection to everything outside us, a feeling of oneness and it also implicates a search for meaning in life. These feelings are believed to be universal human experiences and are existential in nature. People may describe a spiritual experience as sacred or transcendent or simply a deep sense of aliveness and interconnectedness. All these initially appear as thoughts and later it becomes understanding, beliefs and experience. Spirituality is about attempting to find a meaningful connection with the allpervading life, which can bring about an expanded sense of self, resulting in positive emotions such as peace, awe, contentment, gratitude, and acceptance. It is hard to find meaning and connection in life if we are ruminating over negative emotions. Likewise, it can be difficult to cultivate positive emotions, such as gratitude and compassion, if we do not recognize a larger perspective or sense of interconnectedness in the world. Thus, emotions and spirituality are distinct but linked, deeply integrated with one another (Krentzman, 2016). An international survey with 6725 youth in eight countries provided a global portrait of the spiritual lives of 12–25 year olds. The development and psychometric properties of core spiritual development and religious/spiritual engagement across nations and religious traditions were described. Finally, a person-centered analytic technique was used to explore profiles of the unique ways spiritual development manifested itself in the lives of young people. Results suggested that spiritual development was an active process among the majority of youth across diverse religious and cultural backgrounds, with most having spiritual development unfold without particularly strong engagement in explicitly religious or spiritual practices (Benson, Scales, Syvertsen and Roehlkepartain, 2012). Spiritual development is the process of growing the intrinsic human capacity for self-transcendence, in which the self is embedded in something greater than itself. It is our innate orientation that propels the search for connectedness, meaning, purpose, and contribution. It is framed both within and outside of religious traditions, beliefs, and practices (Benson, Scales, Syvertsen and Roehlkepartain, 2012). Though thoughts follow a developmental process, teachers do account for this process in their classroom. Teachers who Ÿ

provide experiences of awe for their students through art, music, nature, or studying great people are helping their students connect to something larger than themselves.


teach prosocial skills such as gratitude, compassion, empathy, mindfulness, and altruism are helping their students develop positive relationships.


relate the content of their classes to students' lives and who take the time to get to know and cultivate their students' interests and passions are helping their students develop meaning and purpose.


incorporate altruism into their curriculum, providing opportunities for students to make worthwhile contributions to society and develop empathy and compassion for others (Zakrzewski, 2013).

Spiritual thoughts should ideally be incorporated in the daily interactions while grooming youngsters as it can pave way for their holistic development (Sathpathy, 2010; Bone, Cullen and Loveridge, 2007). Many times it is the teacher who kindles spiritual interest in pupils who later on pursue the same for higher revelations in their lives (Schwebel, 2017). Implications and Recommendations for Further Research Ÿ Thought Diet could be evolved for enhancing prosocial behaviour, leadership skills, compassion etc. in youngsters. Ÿ

Spiritual Thought Diet is recommended as it can bring about holistic development in individuals.


Positive Thought Diet could be a part of the treatment procedure for depressive patients.


Longitudinal research involving various Thought Diet could be done to study their far-fetched effects on individuals.

International Education & Research Journal [IERJ]

Research Paper

E-ISSN No : 2454-9916 | Volume : 3 | Issue : 7 | July 2017




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