Positive Thinking and the Biology of Belief

Have you ever had those days where everything just seems to go wrong? From the morning coffee wrong order, to hitting every red light on your way to work, to your boss starting in on you from the moment you walk off the elevator. It’s almost as if the world found out where you were hiding and decided to follow you around with that cold, black cloud. Well…hold up…just one second. That’s actually not a black cloud, that’s just your negative outlook and I know what you’re about to say… “ohhh, not another one of these posts!” If you can’t hang, I get it…but that’s just your negativity outshining your positive thinking…or lack there of. It’s been proven that negative thinking yields negative results. So that means that positive thinking yields positive results, right? Freaking a big “hells yeah!”

If you ever come across a book by Bruce Lipton, Ph.D., entitled The Biology of Belief, make sure to pick it up , it’s a fantastic read. It kinda changed my life when I read it. But he starts by giving a bit of a biology lesson. Humans are made of cells. Cells are the smallest functional and structural unit of a DNA structure
human being, well…all organisms. Most of the cell’s structures are called organelles, we can think of these as tiny organs. Organelles are equivalent to our own organs and tissue of the human body. Lipton then goes on to compare the “biochemical mechanisms employed by cellular organelle systems are essentially the same mechanisms employed by our human organ systems.” Which is interesting if you think about. The smallest functional unit that makes humans human, are essentially little humans — ha! Each cell is an intelligent being that can survive on its own…like a human. Cells have systems that are equivalent to our respiratory, digestive, and nervous systems. Pretty neat, eh?

Well, I think it’s neat! And it starts to tell the story of how we as humans (and cells) interpret things. Cells are basically humans that can survive on their own. When cells are removed from the body, they will actually seek out environments (and other cells) that support their survival — like humans. We analyze all these different factors in the outside world and determine whether or not it’s capable of supporting our survival. It’s our biological imperative. For those of you who don’t know what a biological imperative is:

Biological Imperative — an organisms need to perpetuate its own existence. Things like survivalism, territorialism, reproduction, seeking a better way of life, etc. are all biological imperatives, it’s mechanisms that we are born with.

But the point I’m trying to make is that even the tiniest structure (the cell) has these imperatives, they can survive on their own, and they seek out environments that they feel helps them survive. But how does all this play in to positive thinking? Well…that’s a great question!

Forget about Darwin and survival of the fittest

Darwin only had some of it right! Survival of the fittest is something we’ve heard and believe over and over again. That the handsomest man will get the girl, the smartest woman will get the high paying job, Darwin portraitthe strongest dude can never be beat. But this way of thinking is flawed and it traps people, it traps them to lead the lives they believe they were born to lead. That who they are and what they’ll do is ultimately decided for them because of the genes that they were born with. We are not powered by our genes, but by our environments, and the way we choose to interpret certain factors.

If you’re sick, you go to your family doctor. He takes a look at you, he might take some blood work, but he can’t figure out what’s wrong with you. He sends you to a specialist. That specialist digs a little deeper, gives you an X-Ray and MRI, but can’t figure it out. But if we take a step back and look at your environment and the things that you’ve been eating, touching, or around, you might see the problem. Holistic healing is starting to get a bit bigger in the states and takes a look at not just you, but your environment and the stimuli you receive because that’s the more practical path to get healthy.

How many people do you know that say stuff like “I’m a ticking time-bomb, my father had a heart attack, I’ll probably die before I’m 50” or “Well..my mother was depressed, so it’s just natural that I am too, it’s just in my genes.” – Too many, that’s for sure. And I’m not saying that their concerns aren’t valid, but they’re definitely not helping their situations by believing it and repeating it over and over. The reality is is that single-gene disorders (like cystic fibrosis) affect less than 2% of the population. So, people born with genes that they think “aren’t good” are trapping themselves. Most of us should be able to live very happy, healthy lives, but we don’t because of the environments we seek out, and the way we interpret stimuli.

Back to cellular biology

Scientists made a huge breakthrough during the 20th century about the cell’s structure. If you know anything about cells they are made up of a nucleus, Golgi apparatus, ribosomes, mitochondria, cytoplasm, a membrane, and a few other things. For the longest time, scientists thought that the nucleus of the cell was its brain, but when they removed the nucleus (called enucleation) the cell still survived for a few months. You would think that the since the “brain” of the cell is removed it would die right away, like us humans. But it didn’t. The only reason why it died after a few months is because it couldn’t reproduce itself, so one could argue that the nucleus of a cell is it’s reproductive organ.

a cell

Then what’s the brain of the cell? Well, Bruce Lipton P.h.D, would say it’s the membrane of a cell. The part that separates the cell’s internal parts with the outside environment and also interprets that environment. If you remember above I said that each of the cell’s organs are called organelles, and they mimc a human’s reproductive system, digestive system, nervous system, and the like. And there are different types of cells; eukaryotes, prokaryotes, etc. A eukaryote is an advanced cell with many organelles. A prokaryote — not so much, it doesn’t have nearly as many organelles. So what is its intelligence? The membrane. The membrane is the only organelle found in every single cell. Pretty cool, right?

The membrane of a human is our skin. And what does our skin do? It interprets the outside world. Now, I’m not saying that our skin is our brain, I know that isn’t true, but it does play a big factor into our daily lives. The way a cell operates is molded by its interaction with the environment, same as humans! We are molded by our interaction with our environment. When we mess up a speech at a public gathering, we get embarrassed and never want to publicly speak again. When a child goes to the circus and sees a clown, some get scared and end up having coulrophobia for life. But this doesn’t have to be the case.

Humans, just like cells, are able to store prior stimuli and experiences into memory, which can affect the way you interpret new stimuli as well. So, if you think about it, the interpretation of one’s environment comes down to two things: your experience and your belief. What you know, and what you think. You can always change what you think.

Nocebos: The opposite of placebos

I’m sure everyone here knows what the placebo effect is. In medical treatment studies there are usually two groups of people; the control group, and the experimental group. The experimental group receives the real drug, whereas the control group gets a placebo (often times a sugar pill). But there are some really incredible outcomes of a placebo, people believe that they are getting the real drug and ultimately their disease seems cured. Doctors and scientists equate this with positive thinking or euphoria that comes from belief. Well, the opposite of that is the nocebo effect. Nocebos are detrimental effects on your health.

In 1974, a doctor by the name of Clifton Meador, had a patient (Sam Londe) who thought he was suffering from throat cancer (cancer of the esophagus). Now, in 1974, throat cancer was 100% fatal, so when Meador’s patient died a few weeks later, it was no surprise to anyone who was around him. But lo and behold, when they did the autopsy on throat cancer patient Sam, they found no signs of throat cancer. He didn’t actually die from cancer, then what did he die from? Well…no one really knows, but I’d make a strong argument that he died from the belief he was going to die. That’s not possible, is it?

Emotions, Chemical Communication, and the Power of our Minds

We have two minds as humans; conscious and subconscious. Our conscious minds are what makes us aware at the present moment. Our subconscious minds gives us accessible information. It enables us to drive on the highway and still talk to our passengers without stopping the car to converse.

As humans we have this unique function that converts chemical signals into sensations that can be experienced by all of our cells. Our minds tell our bodies that these signals are emotions. But as we’ve evolved over time, the portion of our forebrain is the seat of the “self-conscious” mind, which can observe our behavior and our emotions, and can also access our long-term memory. So as we move through our environments, we can make decisions based on all these factors — they way we feel, the way we think, and what we know.

emotional smiley faces

We can observe the behavior we’re engaged in, evaluate it, and then decide to change it if we want to. But we can also learn and acquire the perceptions of other people, which I find fascinating. Now all these things we learn or acquire, can become hardwired in our brain. How many times were you told that eating candy was bad for you as a child? Probably many? But is it bad for you — not in moderation, in fact it can be quite pleasing in moderation. We can change our “hardwired” beliefs any time we desire, we just have to start doing it.

The Biology of Belief

How many people with HIV don’t exhibit signs of being sick, or ever get full-blown aids? How many terminal cancer patients recover their lives through spontaneous remissions? Why do some people burn their feet while walking on hot coals and others do not? Well…because it’s the biology of belief. Beliefs control biology.

Take an example of one experience, let’s say your significant other breaks up with you, they dump you. And let’s say that that relationship you were in was awful, your friends kept telling how bad the other person was for you, they made you feel bad about yourself and all that stuff.  But you view the breakup as the worst thing to ever happen to you, and you can’t imagine living your life without this person (we’ve all been there!). You become depressed, you don’t feel good, your body starts to ache. You have to realize that our perception impacts our behavior and our bodies, regardless of whether or not our perceptions are accurate.

The point I want to make is that YOU have the power to believe what you want. And then that belief can control the way you interpret other experiences and you can shape the life you want for yourself.

Let’s go back to the placebo effect, there are pharmaceutical companies that test out their drugs on two groups, control and experimental. The control group gets a placebo, but there are lots of studies that show that control groups have the same rate of recovery as their experimental counterparts who are receiving the real drug (uh-oh pharmaceutical companies!!).

A Baylor School of Medicine study, published in 2002 in the New England Journal of Medicine, evaluated patients who were having knee surgeries because of debilitating knee pain. Dr. Bruce Moseley, who was the lead author for this study, stated that “all good surgeons know there is no placebo effect in surgery.”  This study separated patients into 3 groups.

  • The first group got their damaged cartilage in the knee shaved off
  • The second group got their knee joint flushed out, removing material thought to be causing the inflammatory effect
  • The third group got “fake” surgeries. Dr. Moseley made 3 incisions and simulated getting the real surgery

The results were pretty interesting! The two groups who received the real surgery improved, as expected. But the placebo group improved just as much as the other two groups, pretty cool, huh? Reporters flocked to the patients in the placebo group and got footage of them walking around and playing basketball, doing things they “never could’ve done” before the surgery. The placebo patients didn’t find out for two years that they had gotten fake surgeries. Tim Perez, one of the placebo group patients had a revealing quote after he was told about his surgery — “In this world anything is possible when you put your mind to it. I know that your mind can work miracles.”

Yes, your mind can work miracles…but so do you!

Your mind can do some pretty amazing things. If it can get your cancer to go into remission, or make you walk after a fake knee surgery, then it can by all means make your life better!

Positive thinking and the will to strive for more has been a huge player in my success.

Positive thinking and the will to strive for more has been a huge factor in my success. Notice how I added “the will to strive for more.” Positive thinking is super important, but you also have to do things to actively make your situation better. Learn something new, talk to someone new, put yourself in a place you’ve never been before….and think positively about it.

So, the next time they mess up your order at your local coffee shop, remember a few things. One — thinking positively about it won’t miraculously change your order to what you wanted it to be. Two — but it will send out a signal to the person who messed it up and they’ll be more open to fixing it if your positive attitude shines through. Three — positive thinking will lead to something better and more fulfilling, maybe even a refund for the mess up!

Belief controls biology, so believe in something great and control your life!


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