#45 – Positive Thinking and The Superpower of Perspective

As I walked Merritt and Keller to the bus stop the other morning, I was greeted by a version of the moon that hasn’t been seen from Earth for more than two hundred years. It cast an indelible image in that morning sky that was cause for pause and reflection.

Where was this moon for the last two hundred years, and why is it just now coming back? Did it always exist but just wasn’t visible? Did a combination of factors come together to create this version of something that we see every day?

Everything is a version of itself in a snapshot of time. You are different now than you were when you read the title of this post. Our reality is shaped by the collection and processing of information from our external environment, which is further cross-examined by our experiences and beliefs. When you walk outside, you feel the sun on your face, maybe a little breeze at your back and the ground beneath your feet. Do you think about the fifteen pounds of force from the air above you in the atmosphere? When you acknowledge your friend’s new yellow shirt, do you think about the light reflecting from the shirt to your brain at a frequency of 570 nanometers, or do you think of the word, “yellow”?

Perception is how our body becomes aware of something through our senses.

Life is movement.

The processes within our cells, the proteins connecting with signals, the frequency of light, the vibration of sound waves, the electrical pulses in our brain are all forms of movement.

Some quick background …

  • Cells are machines constructed of proteins
  • Think of proteins as pipe fittings with the ability to form in unique combinations
  • Pipe fittings are fixed structures that can twist based on the interaction with a signal
  • External signals from our environment generate internal responses in our cells
  • The internal responses drive biological change at the cellular level

Dr. Bruce Lipton is a cellular biologist whose research postulates that our genes do not control our biology, and our cells are controlled by environmental signals. According to Lipton, our cells are not programmed, but rather they continually adjust to our environment. Our environment, or more importantly, how we process the signals that come from our environment, can affect our biology.  Lipton compares the genetic information in our cells to the programs on a computer with specific associated functions. The two basic programs in our cells support either growth or protection. Positive signals promote growth and negative signals promote protection. Negative signals generate stress responders that result in a fight or flight response, which can shut down the immune system and redirect activity in the brain to more reactive and less creative behavior. Long-term negative signals can even affect our genetics. Lipton’s research presents that our beliefs can color our perception, which determines how environmental signals are processed, how our cells respond and how our DNA can change to accommodate that perception. It becomes a feedback loop perpetuating the condition supported by the input signal.

Gene-culture coevolution also validates the connection between behavior and biology, which extrapolates Lipton’s ideas to the larger group or culture.

In gene-culture coevolution as now conceived by biologists and social scientists, casual events ripple out from the genes to the cells to the tissues and thence to brain and behavior. By interacting with the physical environment and preexisting culture, they bias further evolution of the culture.

Edward O. Wilson from Consilience – The Unity of Knowledge

If there is even a minute possibility that how we process external signals can affect our biology, shouldn’t we consider the lens we use to view those signals? If there is a chance that positive thinking, present moment awareness, gratitude and calm demeanor could improve our health and enhance our creativity, isn’t it worth exploring?

Life has everything in it, but you will only see what you have perception filters to see. You were taught perception filters. You were taught by your parents, you were taught in school, you were taught how to see life.

Dr. Bruce Lipton

Perception can not only change our biology, but it can influence our perspective.

Perspective is the position that serves as the basis for an experience. It can be the physical placement of the camera when a picture is taken, a focal point for your eyes in a piece of graphic art, or a point of view that you hold on a particular topic.

Living is interactivity.

Scientifically speaking, life is based on movements generated by electrical charge within strands of proteins, but living is about interactivity. It is about the unique combination of diverse entities coming together to form something new. Our ability to change perspectives, even temporarily, is a superpower that is accessible to everyone as long as we make the effort to see it. It can invoke empathy, foster creativity, and spark innovation. From the position of our head and the directed focus of our eyes to the books we read, the conversations in which we participate and the experiments that we conduct, the concept of perspective can be both liberating and limiting. If previous perspectives become iron-clad modes of operation, rather than loose references points, our cognitive biases can be relentlessly constraining. By processing information through multiple lenses in formulating our own realities, we can find ourselves connected to something larger with a knowledge of something greater. Ideas that were deemed crazy from one point of view are genius when processed by another discipline. Questions generated from a deep history in a particular specialization may lead to progress within that particular discipline but can limit the potential for interdisciplinary innovation. Have you ever been absolutely stumped by a challenge, question or experiment only to find clarity by sharing it with a friend? A quick recalibration can be exactly what you need to embrace the problem. Sometimes these engrained experiences are difficult to overcome and require a hard reset.

How do we find and harness the power of new perspectives?

Take a walk. Taking a walk is a consistent habit of some of the most creative and successful people in history. Physically removing yourself from that specific environment creates space and enough separation from the task to reboot and let your subconscious process the information.

da Vinci’s lens. Leonardo da Vinci was known to identify three perspectives on any project or experiment. Take a picture of something inspiring from three separate points of view. Does it change the nature of the subject of the photograph? Does it inspire a new thought process?

Cold shower. I’ve previously written on the benefits of finishing a shower with two minutes of cold water. Whenever I am struggling with a mood or have hit a wall with a particular assignment, this hard reset always works.

Embrace the beginner’s mind. Our brains have developed shortcuts based on our experiences, and we are subconsciously seeking connection to these patterns throughout our everyday lives. Once we find that a particular experience doesn’t align with those patterns, we become uncomfortable. Fostering the beginner’s mind through unfamiliar experiences and learning new disciplines will open doors to a discovery that you never knew possible. The next book on my desk is Bertrand Russell’s Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, which will definitely push the boundaries of my comfort zone.

Virtual mentors. One of the most interesting examples of harnessing alternative perspectives comes from a book written in 1937. In his book, Think and Grow Rich, Napolean Hill presented the idea of an “imaginary council meeting”, where he would harness the perspectives of men whom he admired.

Long before I had ever written a line for publication, or endeavored to deliver a speech in public, I followed the habit of reshaping my own character, by trying to imitate the nine men whose lives and life-works had been most impressive to me. These nine men were, Emerson, Paine, Edison, Darwin, Lincoln, Burbank, Napoleon, Ford, and Carnegie. Every night, over a long period of years, I held an imaginary Council meeting with this group whom I called my “Invisible Counselors.”

The procedure was this. Just before going to sleep at night, I would shut my eyes, and see, in my imagination, this group of men seated with me around my Council Table. Here I had not only an opportunity to sit among those whom I considered to be great, but I actually dominated the group, by serving as the Chairman.

Napolean Hill from Think and Grow Rich

Stay positive. You are what you think.

How we collect and process signals from our external environment can affect our biology, and our biology can support or hinder our creativity. Negative thoughts can start a biological reaction that redirects all resources to a mode of protection through our fight or flight response. There is a scientific basis to support the power that positive thinking has to influence biology. I’ve found that my consistent regiment of gratitude practice and meditation clears the way for a positive mindset.

Try a new lens. You are the collection of your experiences.

Like the components of complex systems, our experiences serve the greater understanding of the whole. The more varied our experiences, the more inputs we have to create that understanding. By maintaining an openness to new perspectives, I’ve been able to create a consistent path of discovery and learning. Embracing new points of view doesn’t mean that you dilute your personal framework. It actually makes it stronger.

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More on Bruce Lipton

Consilience – The Unity of Knowledge

How Cell Signaling Works – Khan Academy

How Your Thoughts Change Your Brain, Cells, and Genes

Think And Grow Rich – Napoleon Hill

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