Our Senses and Goal Achievement (Sensing)
The growing understanding of our brains and bodies’ interconnectedness also impacts our explorations of ways sensory elements can influence thinking, learning, and change. Norman Doidge (2015), a medical doctor who has been a pioneer in the field of neuroplasticity, suggested that light, sounds, and movement impact the brain, moving us either toward or away from our desired result.
We need natural light to flourish, and all light impacts our eyes and skin, and internal organs. Humans are also quite sensitive to color. Russian researchers Martinek and Berezin (1979) found that different colors have different effects. They found that “…some colors stimulate bodily enzymes to work more effectively and can turn processes in our cells on and off and affect which chemicals they produce” (Doidge, 2015, pp. , 121). Doidge, whose work is in the realm of physical healing, wondered if light therapy could help in rewiring brain cells. He discovered promising therapies using laser light therapy for a variety of medical conditions.
Doidge (2015) also concluded that sound therapy could rewire the brain, often permanently. This conclusion rests on the work of Dr. Stephen Porges. Porges found that specific sound frequencies link to whether we feel safe or in danger. This finding explains why we experience a fight or flight reaction when we hear a noise that startles us. When we feel safe, our parasympathetic nervous system turns off the fight or flight reaction, allowing us to connect more fully with others (Porges, 2007; 2017). While we set goals using our prefrontal cortex, we process sounds in the brain’s subcortical area, underneath the top layer of the cortex. Menon and Levitin’s (2005) laboratory research found that music increases the connection between areas involved in reward processing, resulting in a dopamine release in the insula. The insula is the part of the brain involved in helping us pay attention to body cues. Doidge reported that “brain scan studies show that when the brain is stimulated by music, its neurons begin to fire in perfect synchrony with it, entraining with the music it hears (p. 345).” He concluded that music is one way to change the brain’s rhythms, which can change behavior.
Moshe Feldenkrais, whose work is referenced by Doidge (2015), was first in the Western World to suggest a solid mind-body connection. Feldenkrais believed that motor movement, thought, sensation, and feeling were all strongly linked to the functioning of our brains. Even the tiniest, almost imperceptible movements can influence changes in our neural wiring. Doidge recounted lab experiments by Dr. Michael Merzenich, a neuroplasticity researcher, who validated Feldenkrais’s assertions and added that we learn best when we pay attention to new and novel experiences.
Cognition and Goal Setting (Thinking)
Cognitive scientists have also contributed knowledge about the impact of our thoughts on learning, goal achievement, and change. Like real or imagined physical threats, negative thoughts can trigger a threat response and activate the amygdala (Disner et al., 2011). Leary and Tate (2007) identified five dimensions of mindfulness. One dimension is self-talk, which they characterized as a running inner commentary that includes self-evaluation and critical judgment, which becomes less self-critical with mindfulness. Leary and Tate’s work suggests that negative thoughts can get in the way of the neural rewiring that has to happen to change behavior.
In addition, researchers (Cresswell et al., 2005) found that reinforcing one’s personal values reduced stress and allowed participants to focus. Korb (2015) suggested that once we have decided on a goal and why it is important to us, our natural stress responses decrease. Woo and Dutcher’s (2018) research further validated that affirming personal values enhance our ability to perform. Berkman (2018) reported that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex receives value signals as part of the neural link between what’s important to us and the behaviors we choose. Being aware of this link between values and desired behaviors can help in goal achievement. Recent studies (Bryan et al., 2011) suggested that a simple linguistic change in describing one’s identity can stimulate positive action. For example, just the mere fact of switching from the word “voting” to “being a voter” increased voter turnout in a state election. Berkman (2018) that linking desired behavior to “one’s core values and sense of self” (p.39) will increase the likelihood of goal achievement.Download Article 1K Club