healthy brain

How Your Thoughts Create Your Brain

Of course you know that your thoughts are generated by your brain. But you may not have considered that in many very real ways, your thoughts create your brain, too. Let’s see how this can be so.

How Thoughts Change Your Brain

Every thought creates a neural connection. If you think a thought often enough the neural connection will grow strong, particularly if there’s an emotional attachment to it. Conversely, if a memory has little use, is rarely stimulated, or has no emotional attachment, eventually those neural connections will largely wither away from disuse.

Thoughts also change your brain by stimulating the production of brain chemicals which can change the structure and function of your brain.

A good example is what happens to your brain under stress. When a situation you perceive as stressful occurs, it increases your level of the stress hormone cortisol.

Prolonged exposure to cortisol literally excites some of your brain cells to death, particularly in the hippocampus where memories are stored. This alarmingly can cause measurable shrinkage in this part of the brain.

Conversely, stress feeds the amygdala, your fear center, causing it to grow, leaving you more fearful and anxious.

Excess cortisol halts the formation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein which acts like fertilizer to the encourage the growth of new brain cells.

Research suggests that chronic stress stimulates proteins that might even be the cause of Alzheimer’s.

Thoughts That Don’t Serve You

Psychologists have labeled certain negative thought patterns as cognitive distortions. These are common ways your mind will try to convince you of something that isn’t actually true.

See if any of these thought patterns sound familiar to you:

  • Obsessively dwelling on an unpleasant event.
  • Seeing everything as black or white with no middle ground.
  • Using words like “always” and “never”.
  • Jumping to conclusions.
  • Catastrophizing – seeing the worst in every situation.
  • Taking things personally.
  • Blaming others for your problems.
  • Blaming yourself for things outside of your control.
  • Being driven by “shoulds”, “shouldn’ts”, and guilt.
  • Going to any length to be right.

Most of us think this way at least some of the time. It’s pretty easy to see how these kinds of thoughts are working against not for you. They can lead to a lot of unhappiness, not just for you but for those around you.

But changing your thinking is hard. Are there any fool-proof ways to make it easy?

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

Besides years of psychoanalysis, is there anything that you can easily do to change negative thought patterns?

You can take some wise advice from an unexpected source – a popular bumper sticker that says “Don’t Believe Everything You Think”.

Next time you catch yourself falling into one of these patterns, remind yourself that you don’t have to believe it just because you thought it. Recognize a negative thought for being what it truly is – a cognitive distortion – and challenge it instead.

You may recall a popular self-help book from the 90s – You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought. The next time you find yourself thinking negatively, remind yourself that this is true.

Your thoughts are powerful.

They create brain chemicals that are either adding to or subtracting from your brain health, ability to cope with life, and happiness.

Quiet Your Mind with Meditation

One of the simplest and most effective techniques to gain control of your thoughts is with meditation.

Over 1,000 studies have been published proving the health benefits of meditation. People who meditate have stronger neural connections between different parts of the brain. Their brains show less atrophy due to age and have more neural synapses.

Regular meditators experience improved focus and concentration, greater creativity, stress reduction, better sleep, and even improved immune function. Meditation can make you happier, smarter, and more resilient to handle life’s ups and downs.

Continually monitoring yourself for negative thoughts and challenging them is no easy task. You have to be vigilante and you must be willing to look at yourself with unflinching honesty.

But being a “mind warrior” is worth the effort.  Gaining control of your thoughts is one of the best things you can do to improve your brain, your happiness, and overall quality of life.

Depression Doing the Thinking at
Building the Evidence for Meditation at


Brain fog, lack of focus, anxiety, insomnia, feeling overwhelmed, or not being happy are signs that your brain is not working as well as it should. Deane Alban teaches how to keep your brain operating at peak performance throughout your life at Stop by to learn how to avoid the most common and dangerous brain mistakes that almost everyone makes, then sign up for her free newsletter and special report “5 Causes of Brain Aging“.

  • This was quite an interesting article and I would even go one step further and say our thoughts create and determine our entire life.

    Thoughts lead to mental images, feelings and to specific actions (or avoidance of action) and the total sum of our thoughts, feelings and actions determine if we are successful or unsuccessful, happy or unhappy, wealthy or broke…

    There isn’t really that much we can control in our life, but we can get 100% control over our thoughts and mental images and about how we respond to daily events (our actions) and that way we can shape and model our entire life.

    • Anders Hasselstrøm

      Hello Robert.

      I agree with your post but I want to add one perspective to what you are saying. I remember when I read the first book about changing through thought patterns: “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. I’m sure you have read it before. I thought to myself: “OK, if I think and visualize enough I can be successful in all I do”. However, what I want to add is that success is a combination of thoughts and action. You can’t think yourself to success but you can make actions to become successful. A positive mindset supports your actions to success.

      Stating the obvious? Maybe. I needed that when I was new to this :-) It all comes down to the power of the decisions you make. If you are curious I would recommend reading this:

      Have an inspiring day.

      Anders Hasselstrøm

      • ABSOLUTELY! We are creators and we are body, mind and soul and in order to create we need thought, passion and action.

        As Albert Einstein said: Nothing Happens Until Something Moves…

        If there is no action, absolutely nothing will happen. However, if there are thoughts and mental images that are aligned with our goals and love and passion for what we are doing, inspired action will start “flowing” naturally and effortlessly.

        So, yes, action is absolutely required. Hard work? – Not necessarily :-)

    • Mushroom overlord

      Our thoughts do not create and determine our entire life, that is absurd! There are certain areas of expertise that I will never be suited to based on my size and also partly due to genetics… geography and culture and upbringing also largely influence personality and many of ones beliefs though arguably these are amenable to change with transformation based practices.

  • Josh Emmanuel

    awesome post!

    Love the idea of being a “mind warrior”. There’s definitely some precious real estate at stake – the “space” which our thoughts occupy! One thing that’s helped me is to keep and store the good thoughts, and “picture” the negative thoughts having wings and flying away. They just pass by!

    Thanks for the article!

    • Thank you for your kind words, Josh. Love the imagery of negative thoughts flying away!

  • This is fascinating — I’m always interested to know what happens to the brain and which areas are affected when you think and mediate.

  • Although meditation is common place these days, many still fear it. Thing is, meditation can be as simple as shutting everything off and being quiet for a few minutes and breathing. We have become so used to having gadgets to occupy our every waking moment the thought of quiet is frightening.

    As far as believing the thoughts we think, I also promote challenging them. It is far more beneficial for every reason to challenge that which does not feel good.

  • The human brain is very complicated and strange. Overall I found we had many things unknown about the human brain, trying to control it really difficult. I want to develop it themselves

  • Great article!

    Hope you don’t mind if we share it on our blog

  • GreedTheBrain

    I love how PickTheBrain chooses to make the links no-follow after all
    the work that these guest bloggers have put into making their articles.

  • Thank you for your very informative post. The signs you mentioned really helps me to change my way of thinking. Can you suggest some steps on how to properly meditate that can help your mind to rest for a bit from the negative thoughts?