THE BLOG
10/26/2011 06:27 pm ET Updated Dec 26, 2011

What You Think Is What You Get

When I was a child, I was surrounded by the positive energy of aboriginal cave drawings, healthy home-cooked meals, sunshine and the crystal waters of Australia. One of the reasons my childhood is such a sacred place in my mind is because everything changed when our family moved to America. I never quite fit in with the girls at school, I didn't speak the language the way my classmates did and it began to seem like if something could go wrong for me, it would. Around this time, my thought patterns shifted from mostly positive and hopeful to more and more pessimistic, and interestingly more and more went wrong in my life.

As I was trying to pay my way through college and working as a nurse's aide, I used to drive a Volkswagen, which meant the engine was in the back. I can't tell you how many times I was rear-ended and had to pay for engine repairs! The thing was, nothing surprised me. I was at this point in life where I'd get hit and say, "It figures. If something bad is going to happen, it will happen to me."

It wasn't until my 30s that I began to get serious about my negative thought patterns and how they might be affecting my energy and my life. I decided to tell myself I was worthy enough to have good things happen if I wanted, and that I would have to start telling myself so. Around this same time Louise Hay's book, "Heal Your Body," was being read by millions of people all over the world. Louise Hay was and continues to be a beacon of light for me. She's written about, taught and embodied the power of what positive affirmations can do for our lives -- and our health. In a recent conversation with her, I was reminded of just how powerful the mind is.

Interviewing Louise Hay and Cheryl Richardson

I had the great privilege of interviewing Louise Hay and bestselling author and life coach, Cheryl Richardson last month. This dynamic pair has just published a fantastic book called, "You Can Live an Exceptional Life." I was thrilled to read it and to talk with them about it. At one point in the interview Louise echoed what happened in my own life and what I've seen in so many of my patients. She said:

You know a lot of people think that life sucks. Now, if that's your affirmation, how can you possibly bring on good experiences? See, we have the choice of deciding what we want to feel about ourselves and about life. And what we choose to feel and think is what we're going to get.

This was certainly true for me. Once my thinking shifted, my life followed.

Thoughts can change our physiology

Some of my patients, family members and friends think working with their thought patterns is a bunch of crap. They don't really believe you can make serious changes in your life by simply thinking differently. But the study of epigenetics (meaning control above genes) has shed light on the fact that our environmental signals are what regulate gene expression and activity in our bodies -- and part of our environment is our thoughts. Former cell biologist and medical school professor, Bruce Lipton, Ph.D. writes in his book, "The Biology of Belief," "This new awareness reveals that our genes are constantly being remodeled in response to life experiences. Which again emphasizes that our perceptions of life shape our biology." [1]

Cheryl Richardson brought up the use of sexual fantasies as proof that thoughts can change our physiology. Most women can agree that at some point in their lives a sexual fantasy has led to some form of arousal in their physical body. Why couldn't this work with other kinds of thoughts and fantasies? The Institute of HeartMath has collected thousands of studies to support the idea that feeling love and warmth within can create better health all around. Internationally recognized scientists, Candace B. Pert, Ph.D. and Bruce H. Lipton, Ph.D. have both written books on the concept that our thoughts and emotions can change the physiology of our cells.

We can't change everything at once

I'm not going to pretend that changing our thought patterns is easy. In fact, our reactions to certain stressful events are programmed into the part of our brain known as the amygdala, and it takes a certain amount of re-patterning to change that response. I've written a whole article on releasing negative patterns, but here are some basic steps to begin changing your negative thought patterns:

1. Notice how you respond to negative events and situations in your life. Is there a pattern there?

2. Explore where your response is coming from. Often our experiences as children weigh heavily on how we think as adults and once we realize where a thought pattern comes from, it's much easier to change.

3. Determine if your response is authentically true to who you are and if it's serving you. If not, think of another way to respond and gently remind yourself every day. Before you know it, the pattern in your brain will have shifted. And once our thinking changes, our bodies can change.

Keep in mind that feeding your body sound nutrition can make a big difference in your thought patterns as well. But Louise reminds us all that we can't make huge changes all at once. She told me:

We don't have to heal the world today. We can do small steps. First, make our mind feel comfortable, get our heart warm and glowing, start to allow our body to work well, and have the atmosphere around us full of people responding in a much more kind way. When we get these things, everything starts to fall into place. It's the tiny little steps that we are willing to make that begin the process.

Having healed herself of cancer, Louise has been there. She understands first hand, how changing our thought patterns can promote healing.

How we think holds a place among great medicine

Of course, healing is never about one thing and one thing only. As a functional medicine practitioner, I've seen again and again that healing is about what we eat, our nutrition, how much we exercise and take time for ourselves, our metabolism, our digestion, what genes we've inherited and how we communicate with those genes. It's about our past and our present relationships. And the bottom line is that there is a unique recipe for each of us to be healthy.

A wonderful place to start is by noticing how you think. Are you talking to yourself in a negative way every day or every time you look in the mirror? The first step is to notice. And then you may get to a place where you can catch yourself before running those negative scripts and shift them to positive scripts. Once we start to say more positive things to ourselves, our bodies will eventually feel those messages, and our lives will change. I hope you'll read my full interview with Louise and Cheryl, but for now I'll leave you with one last quote from Louise Hay:

We are all divine, magnificent expressions of life, and when we recognize this, then life flows more smoothly. One of the affirmations I've been using for the last two years a lot is: Life loves me. Life loves me. Life loves me. I say it a lot, and I get more and more examples of how life loves me because this is my affirmation. This is what I'm choosing to believe.

For the full conversation with Louise Hay and Cheryl Richardson, see my interview, "Your Thoughts Can Change Your Life."

References:
[1] Lipton, Bruce H. 2005. "The Biology of Belief," p xv. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc.